Finding the Right Medical Marijuana Strain for You
One of the many benefits dispensaries offer their patients is the ability to choose specific strains from a large selection of products. Patients appreciate knowing what they’re buying and take comfort in the fact that the products on the shelf are cultivated specifically for medical use and lab tested for safety and potency.
But then comes the hard part…how do you know which product is right for you when you’re facing down a dispensary menu with a dozen or more different strains to choose from? It’s a challenge that can freeze even the most experienced cannabis consumer in their tracks. Fortunately, cannabis science offers us a helpful roadmap for navigating this tricky terrain and making informed decisions at the dispensary counter.
Sativa, Indica, and Hybrid Strains
The first thing you’ll notice about most medical cannabis menus is that they’re often organized into sativa, indica, and hybrid categories. Here’s an overview of these commonly used terms:
Indica strains tend to provide a physical effect, which can be felt throughout the body. These strains are commonly used for reducing pain, relieving muscle tension, increasing relaxation, and helping patients rest. Indica strains are often recommended for nighttime use, because many patients find them helpful for promoting sleep.
Sativa strains tend to produce a more cerebral effect, which impacts mood and emotion. These strains are popular for increasing energy levels, improving focus, and combatting depression. Sativa strains are often recommended for daytime use because many patients find them helpful for providing symptom relief without interfering with daily activities.
Hybrid strains are varieties that contain similar levels of indica and sativa. These “best of both worlds” strains offer a balance between the benefits of both types.
It’s important to understand that these categories aren’t written in stone, but rather offer general guidance based on our experience with the product. They offer a useful reference point for patients seeking a particular experience, but patients often find noticeable differences between strains even within these categories. As we note below, factors such as cannabinoid and terpene content may offer more specific clues towards how an individual strain may affect you.
THC Isn’t the Whole Story
The cannabis plant’s best-known component is THC, an important cannabinoid that plays a prominent role in stimulating both the psychoactive and medicinal effects of the flower. For this reason, medical cannabis is tested for THC content and patients sometimes regard THC levels as the beginning and end of any conversation regarding the quality of an individual flower. The reality, however, is more interesting and advantageous to patients willing to look beyond THC content alone in their quest to discover the best medicine for their needs.
While it’s true that relative THC content does provide some guidance towards anticipating the strength of a given flower’s effect, it doesn’t tell you the whole story. THC is just one of several dozen cannabinoids commonly occurring in the cannabis plant, which collectively impact its mental and physical effects. CBD-rich cannabis, for example, is rapidly rising in popularity as a treatment for anxiety, seizures and inflammation, yet lacks the psychoactive effects of THC. Patients seeking symptom relief paired with milder cerebral effects may find that elevated CBD levels are an important indication that a strain will work well for them.
Other common cannabinoids include CBN, which may treat pain and insomnia, and THCv, which may have neuroprotective properties. Many other cannabinoids can be found in varying percentages within specific strains and we expect that continuing research will yield new treatment applications for cannabinoid components whose potential remains to be fully understood. Paying attention to the cannabinoid content of the strains you sample will you identify what works best and may help guide future purchasing decisions.
Darker colors may suggest a more sedative, indica-dominant effect.
Following Your Nose
Modern cannabis genetics exhibit an almost impossible array of aromas, ranging from sugary sweet citrus to pungent diesel fuel. What many don’t realize is that the smell an individual flower releases is actually an important clue towards anticipating its effects. These distinctive aromas are created by terpenes, a wide-ranging group of oils produced by the cannabis plant that determine the smell of an individual strain. Like cannabinoids, the terpene content of an individual strain impacts its effects, but with the added benefit of being detectable through flavor and aroma. For example, strains that smell strongly of lemon and pine are exhibiting the terpenes Limonene and Pinene. This tells you that flower is likely to have more energizing, sativa-dominant effects. In contrast, strains with a musky and earthy aroma may be rich in the terpene Myrcene, which is associated with more sedative indica-dominant effects.
Understanding terpenes can vastly enhance your ability to identify strains with particular attributes, but it takes time and experience to become familiar with the incredible variety of terpene combinations cannabis can express. Cross-breeding often results in multiple rich aromas co-existing within individual strains. For patients, it’s important to pay close attention to the aroma and flavor of the strains you sample, which will help you develop a stronger instinct for predicting the experience you’re seeking. You may also want to take advantage of resources like Leafly.com that provide information on the terpene profiles of popular strains.
What’s in a Name?
Although it is the cannabinoid and terpene profiles that truly determine the unique characteristics of individual varieties, strain names serve as an important reference point on the vast map of modern cannabis genetics. Becoming familiar with the most common strains and educating yourself about your prefered genetics will help steer you towards products that work for you and away from those that don’t. Product names often include valuable clues you’ll want to pay attention to. For example, anything with “Purple” in its name will likely have a more sedative effect, while “Haze” suggests a more energizing experience. Making notes of what you like and sharing that information at the counter will help us customize our recommendations. Learning the history of your favorites will also help you discover other strains with similar qualities.
Ultimately, the factors that determine which product will best meet your needs are determined by both your individual symptoms and the unique characteristics of the strain you select to treat them. The diversity of the dispensary menu is designed to provide a range of selections even within specific categories like indica or sativa, enabling patients to explore options and customize their treatment plan. As always, our staff will be eager to assist and share their knowledge to help you find what you’re looking for.
Cannabis science offers a helpful roadmap for making informed decisions at the dispensary counter and finding the best products for your needs.
Beginner’s Guide to Marijuana Strains
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Cannabis use is on the rise in the United States. A 2018 study notes that, while cannabis use among teens has decreased, American adults are increasingly using cannabis on the daily.
According to Forbes, the global cannabis industry is estimated to be worth $7.7 billion. It’s projected to hit $31.4 billion by 2021.
The industry is booming in part because cannabis can be a versatile form of medication. A number of research studies have found that cannabis has the potential to help with a variety of medical conditions, including anxiety, chronic pain, and epilepsy.
But, as any recreational or medical marijuana user can tell you, not all cannabis is created equal. Different strains of cannabis produce different effects, and thus can be used for different reasons.
If marijuana is legal in your state and you’re looking to try it, but not sure which strains best suit your needs, we’ve got you covered. Check out our guide to marijuana strains below.
If you’ve read a little about marijuana, or if you enter most dispensaries, you might see the words indica, sativa, and hybrid. Generally, most people divide marijuana into these three categories.
Indica, which originates from the Hindu Kush mountains of India, is believed to have a relaxing effect on the user. Sativa has a more energizing effect, while hybrid is a combination of the two.
Many industry experts, however, are reconsidering the indica, sativa and hybrid categories. According to Amos Elberg, head of data science at Confident Cannabis, these terms are more or less meaningless.
“We see samples of all cannabis products tested through our partner labs, and when we look at all the data, particularly of the chemical makeup of flower, we see no identifiable characteristics that are consistent with indica, sativa, or hybrid,” he explains.
“Essentially people are using these terms as catchalls for effect, but they’re not all consistent with those effects. Some indica makes some people wired, not couch-locked, for instance.”
In other words, people shouldn’t be alarmed if a reportedly energizing sativa strain has more of a mellowing effect, or if an indica strain makes them feel more bubbly and excitable.
Beyond indica, sativa, and hybrid, dispensaries might divide the types of cannabis they have into strains. Strains are essentially different breeds of cannabis, and they’re bred to have specific effects on the user.
But if the terms indica, sativa, and hybrid are essentially useless categorizations, are strain names also meaningless?
Not exactly, says Elberg.
“Not all seeds that are sold under the same name are genetically identical, or even necessarily related. Some producers may choose to create a strain name essentially as a branding exercise, or to identify their product with an existing name because they believe the product matches characteristics the market expects from product sold under that name,” Elberg explains.
There are, however, still consistencies among product sold under specific strain names, Elberg adds.
“In general, for the less common names, product sold by different vendors tends to be pretty consistent,” he notes. “For the most common strain names, however, a wider variety of different products are sold.”
If you purchase product from a quality source, the strains should be more or less consistent. Bear in mind, however, that every person reacts differently to cannabis.
The strain you choose depends on what effect you desire. As mentioned earlier, cannabis has a range of medical uses, but some strains are better for certain conditions than others.
It’s also worth researching the potential adverse effects of the strain. Many of the more common strains, which you can find below, list dry mouth, dry eyes, and dizziness as possible side effects. Marijuana also has the potential to interact with medications you might be taking. Do not operate machinery when using marijuana.
According to user reviews on Leafly, here’s what people might expect from a few of the most popular marijuana strains.
Originating from Acapulco, Mexico, Acapulco Gold is a well-known and highly praised strain of cannabis. It’s noted for its euphoria-inducing, energizing effects. It’s said to reduce fatigue, stress, pain, and even nausea.
Blue Dream is relaxing and soothing, but it isn’t a total sedative. This makes it perfect for easing pain, cramps, or inflammation for when you can’t afford to fall asleep. Plus, it’s said to lift your mood and give you a feeling of euphoria.
Purple Kush is great for inducing a state of bliss so that you feel relaxed, happy, and sleepy. It’s often used for reducing pain and muscle spasms. Its sedating effects means it can be used to reduce insomnia.
A highly energizing, mood-lifting strain, Sour Diesel is great for giving you a burst of productive energy. It also has notable destressing and pain-relieving effects.
Bubba Kush is a relaxing, sleep-inducing strain. It’s perfect for helping you fight insomnia and get some shut-eye. It also offers pain-reducing, stress-relieving results.
Granddaddy Purple is another highly relaxing strain. It’s often praised for its insomnia-fighting and stress-reducing results. Users also note that it can make you feel euphoria and increase hunger, which is great if you’re experiencing a lack of appetite.
Originating from the Hindu Kush mountains near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, Afghan Kush is super relaxing and sleep-inducing. This, too, can help you feel hungry if you’re experiencing a lack of appetite, and can relieve pain.
LA Confidential is another relaxing and sleep-inducing strain that is often used to soothe insomnia. It’s also said to have noticeable anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing effects, which makes it a favorite among people with chronic pain.
Maui Wowie can help you feel super relaxed, yet energetic and creative. It reduces fatigue, too, making it great for days when you need to be productive.
Golden Goat is notable for making users feel euphoric and creative. It’s also great for reducing fatigue and stress while lifting your mood.
Northern Lights is another relaxing, sleep-inducing strain. It’s also known for its mood-lifting effects, and it can be used to relieve insomnia, pain, stress, and depression.
White Widow improves your mood, gives you energy, and relaxes you all at once. It’s said to help reduce pain and stress, as well as feelings of depression. If you’re feeling fatigued, White Widow might help you stay energized and alert.
Super Silver Haze
Another energizing strain, Super Silver Haze is said to produce feelings of euphoria, relieves pain and nausea, and lifts your mood. This makes it excellent for stress relief.
Made famous by the 2008 eponymous movie, Pineapple Express has a pineapple-like scent. It’s relaxing and mood lifting, but is also said to give you an energetic buzz. This is the sort of strain that could be great for productivity.
Fruity Pebbles OG, or FPOG, is associated with inducing euphoria and relaxation, which could make it great for stress relief. It often makes users feel giggly, helps reduce nausea, and increases appetite.
If marijuana is legal in your state and you’re interested in trying — or even growing — different types of cannabis strains, there are a number of products that can make your life a little easier.
Some people might prefer inhaling cannabis over smoking it through a pipe, bong, or joint. This desktop vaporizer heats up cannabis and expels the vapor into a balloon. The person then inhales the air from the balloon.
The vaporizer can be used with dried herbs or liquid concentrates, and can be purchased here.
Magical Butter Kit
Cannabutter — or cannabis-infused butter — is the basis of many edibles. Unfortunately, making cannabutter can be a lengthy and labor-intensive process.
This butter kit, however, makes it easy to infuse herbs into butter. It has its own heating unit and thermostat, which ensures that the product and butter are at the ideal temperature throughout the process.
tCheck Dosage Checker
The tCheck Dosage Checker tests the strength of cannabis-infused liquids — like alcohol-based tinctures. It can also test cannabis-infused olive oil, ghee (clarified butter), and coconut butter, which will help you determine how strong your edibles are before you indulge.
Unfortunately, it only checks liquids, not dried herb.
Grinding up cannabis can be time-consuming, so the Palm Mincer can be quite useful. It fits perfectly into your palm, and it can be used to chop up cannabis quickly and efficiently. What’s more it’s dishwasher safe, so it’s easy to clean off the sticky cannabis resin. You can buy it I here.
Harvest Starter Kit
If you want to start growing your own cannabis, this convenient starter kit contains everything you need to harvest it.
The grow kit includes a trimming tray, a microscope for examining the buds to determine whether they’re ready for harvest, three types of pruning shears, a disinfecting spray for your tools, a drying rack, and gloves.
Note: Even if marijuana is legal in your state, it continues to be illegal under federal law.
Sian Ferguson is a freelance writer and journalist based in Grahamstown, South Africa. Her writing covers issues relating to social justice and health. You can reach out to her on Twitter.
Last medically reviewed on September 26, 2018
Not all cannabis is created equal. Different strains of cannabis produce different effects, and thus can be used for different reasons. If marijuana is legal in your state and you’re looking to try it, but not sure which strains best suit your needs, we’ve got you covered with this beginner’s guide.