As a newcomer to cannabis medicine, it can feel a little daunting to try to decode the language on a typical cannabis menu. Luckily, SWADE’s emphasis on cannabis education is here to help—whether you speak with one of our in-store experts or follow along with us here, on the blog.
The best place to start when considering what type of cannabis will suit your purposes is with the strain basics. There are more than a thousand strains of cannabis that have been bred over the last several decades—these are bred to purify and strengthen particular strains, but they can also be bred to enhance specific characteristics, such as potency, terpene profiles (more on that later), the plant’s yields, and other elements.
Modern cannabis is usually denoted as being either an “Indica”, “Sativa”, or a hybrid of the two. Armed with just these few terms, you’ll be much more able to determine which strain is right for you—no matter where you’re shopping.
Here’s a quick overview of the common differences between these varieties, and what to expect when you partake.
Chances are you won’t be asked to identify an Indica by the plant, but nonetheless it’s helpful to know that the Indica plant itself is short and bushy with short, wide leaves. Indica tends to smell more musky, earthy, and skunky than its Sativa counterpart—something that’s often reflected in the names of the individual strains.
When consumed, Indicas usually result in a “body high”—that is, a feeling of physical relaxation. An Indica can have effects such as stimulating the appetite, aiding in sleep, and relieving pain. In general, Indicas are recommended for nighttime use, since they can have a sedating effect (sometimes called a “couch-lock”, which is just what it sounds like—a feeling of not wanting to move from the couch).
Indicas are often beneficial for patients with arthritis, fibromyalgia, and cancer, and they offer some relief for pain and inflammation, making them a favorite of anyone with chronic pain.
By contrast, the Sativa plant is tall and slim with long, thin leaves. The Sativa plant takes longer to grow than an Indica plant, and yields less medicine. It tends to smell sweet, fruity, or spicy because of its terpene profile. This too is often reflected in its name—so you can reasonably expect a strain named “Mandarin Cookies” for instance, to be Sativa-dominant.
When consumed, Sativas yield more of a “head high”. This type of high promotes alertness, uplifting and euphoric feelings, creativity, and increased energy. (Some users even call this “cleaning weed” because of how productive it makes them.) Sativa is better for the daytime, as it can help keep you going throughout the day.
Sativa strains tend to be beneficial for users with psychological disorders like depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
Hybrids are, in many ways, the best of both worlds. They are unique strains that are bred from two parent plants of different types to create a hybrid that possesses many or most of the beneficial medical properties of both its parents.
Breeders can “cross” any two strains they desire in an effort to create a new strain that delivers the best possible medical efficacy. Sometimes strains are created particularly for diseases like lupus, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, and epilepsy, based on the needs and desires of patients with those conditions.
Since many diseases have side effects like depression, anxiety and insomnia, patients can use hybrids in an attempt to address both the core condition and the daily symptoms. The blending of both physical and mental benefits makes it easy for users to hand-pick strains that may be tailor-made for the type of daily effects they are experiencing.
The best way to explore new strains
While expert opinions and insights from our strain guides are a great place to start, everyone is different, which means that no two experiences with a particular strain will be the same. That’s why the best way to determine your favorite strain is to keep a journal or notebook detailing your experiences. There are always new strains to try, so even a less-than-ideal experience is a valuable way to learn more about the world of medical cannabis and what works best for you. Try to be open and curious about each new experience, and see what you can learn as you work toward finding your new favorite strain!