Beginner's Guide to Cannabis Plants and Strains
The legalization of cannabis has opened a lot of doors for people who may have been curious about pot, but never wanted to break any laws. It’s easier than ever to walk into a dispensary, pick out the type of weed you want to smoke, and be on your way.
If you’re new to the world of cannabis, your first visit to a dispensary might be overwhelming. There is not just “one type of pot.” Budtenders can offer you all types of funny names for different types of highs. How do you know where to start? What if you want to experiment with cannabis, but you don’t want to get high?
This guide will help you answer all of those questions. There are many types of cannabis plants. Once you understand the different categories of cannabis strains and plants, you will be able to make a more informed decision at the dispensary.
Cannabis: Hemp vs. Marijuana
Cannabis is a genus of plants in the family Cannabaceae. It’s an umbrella term - underneath this umbrella is hemp and marijuana. These are both cannabis plants, but they have very different reputations. Hemp is a revered plant. Its fibers are used in rope and clothing. Hemp seeds are considered a superfood. You can even buy hemp milk at health food stores. Marijuana, on the other hand, was demonized and criminalized for decades. (Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.) It’s used primarily for ingesting and getting high.
What’s the difference? One chemical compound called THC.
THC is one of over 100 active ingredients in the cannabis plant. It’s the only one that is intoxicating. When THC hits your brain, either through smoking, vaping, or ingesting marijuana, you will start to feel “stoned.”
Some cannabis plants have more THC content than others. If a plant has less than .03% THC, it is considered hemp. If the THC content reaches over .03%, the plant is considered marijuana. (Marijuana strains that you smoke typically contain between 9-25% THC, although these numbers vary.)
Both hemp and marijuana may also contain CBD. CBD is another active ingredient that is used in oils, beverages, and beauty products to reduce inflammation and anxiety.
The Three Species of Cannabis
Hemp and marijuana are not different species of the cannabis plant. There are three species of cannabis, although only two are typically sold as marijuana.
The three species of cannabis are: -Cannabis indica -Cannabis sativa -Cannabis ruderalis
If you have been to a dispensary or researched marijuana before, you might have heard of “sativas” and “indicas.” These are the two broadest categories of marijuana plants.
These two species are native to two different climates, evolving into plants with slightly different appearances. Sativa plants are taller and skinnier. Indica plants grow wider and lower to the ground. Cannabis users aren’t as concerned with these differences, but they may notice a difference in how the plants make them feel.
Sativas generally provide a more focused “head high.” They are often the better choice if you want to smoke earlier in the day and you want to stay awake. Indicas, on the other hand, are more likely to put you to sleep. They provide a more noticeable “body high.” If you’ve ever felt “couch lock,” you were probably smoking an indica.
Different strains of weed are either sativa, indica, or a hybrid of the two. Growers have found that if you breed indicas and sativas together, you can produce a type of marijuana that has qualities of both indica and sativa.
Different Strains of Marijuana
Budtenders will first ask you whether you want a sativa, indica, or a hybrid. Next, they’ll start to throw out names and descriptions of different strains.
Strains are a subcategory under species. If you look at cannabis like you would a type of animal, cannabis would be “canines.” Sativa and indica would be “dog.” Strains would be “border collie,” “beagle,” or “Scottish terrier.”
Different strains have unique aromas and flavors. They may also make you feel more energized, euphoric, calm, or relaxed. The combination of active ingredients (including cannabinoids like THC and terpenes) will influence these different characteristics.