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Understanding the Difference Between Marijuana Strains

Chane Leigh

by Chane Leigh

July 19, 2021 05:30 pm ET Estimated Read Time: 12 Minutes
Medically reviewed by Dr. Abraham Benavides
Understanding the Difference Between Marijuana Strains

When going to the dispensary, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the products and strains to choose from. There are a ton of different strains on the shelf thanks to marketing strategies and innovative cannabis breeding. With so much information out there, it’s hard to know what to purchase when starting this journey. Let’s look at marijuana strains in more detail, so you can make informed decisions as a newcomer to medical marijuana.

  1. What Are Marijuana Strains?
    1. THC vs. CBD: Is There a Difference?
    2. Sativa vs. Indica: Do These Categories Matter?
    3. Most Popular Marijuana Strains
    4. Exotic Strains 
  2. Considerations When Choosing a Strain
  3. Popular Ways to Consume Marijuana
  4. Final Takeaway

What Are Marijuana Strains?

Strains are variations of the same plant species. In marijuana culture, strains refer to “different breeds of cannabis” that are bred for specific characteristics like aroma, cannabinoid and terpene profiles, and effects on the mind and body. Cannabinoids are organic compounds found in cannabis and you can read more about them here.

Most strain names are created for marketing, to hint at the characteristics of a strain, or as a nod to the lineage. For example, terminology like “tangy” and “orange” identify strains that smell like citrus fruits, while strains with “diesel” in the name share a gasoline-like pungency. Meanwhile, names like Afghan Kush and Acapulco Gold refer to the geographical origins of the strain.

Growers and cultivators of marijuana are always creating unique strains and introducing them to the market, and growers cross-breed strains to produce new strains with combined traits. For example, to create a strain containing high quantities of the cannabinoid cannabigerol (CBG), growers would select two strains (one male and one female) containing CBG and breed them.

The female and male plants are then placed in close proximity, so the male can pollinate the female. The female plant produces seeds containing characteristics of both plants. Breeders then take the seeds and do what is known as backcrossing, which is when the new strain is bred with itself or with a parent to strengthen its qualities. Backcrossing may have to be done multiple times to get the desired end result. Let’s look more closely at some of the differences between strains.

THC vs. CBD: Is There a Difference?

Different strains contain varying amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), the two most popular cannabinoids. It may be surprising to hear that THC and CBD are both psychoactive; in other words, they both affect the brain. However, the main difference is that THC is intoxicating while CBD is not. THC is what creates the “high” from marijuana use and can alter perception. CBD actually has the ability to counteract this intoxication and is popular for its medicinal benefits. For this reason, many medical marijuana users opt for CBD-dominant strains to avoid the intoxicating effects of THC.

Sativa vs. Indica: Do These Categories Matter?

In the past, indicas were considered to be more relaxing and sedating, while sativas were considered to be more uplifting and energizing. It is important to understand that the categorization of indica, sativa, or hybrid strains is outdated and is an inaccurate means of describing what to expect from strains. This is because strains have been interbred to the point that no pure “indicas” or “sativas” exist.

You can learn more about the sativa and indica categories here: Indica vs. Sativa vs. Hybrid Cannabis Strains.

Instead, science has begun to change how the industry categorizes marijuana products. These important and more relevant categories have been labeled as Type I, Type II, and Type III. In short, Type I is considered to be THC-dominant, Type II is a balanced quantity of CBD and THC, and Type III is CBD-dominant. There is also Type IV, which is CBG-dominant, and Type V, which is industrial hemp with little to no cannabinoids. Types IV and V are not usually found in dispensaries due to market demands for Types I-III. These more meaningful categories allow consumers to select the type that best suits their needs.

While there are countless strains of marijuana, some have gained popularity for their signature characteristics like taste, smell, and particular psychological and physical effects. Some would even go as far as to call these popular strains legendary. Let’s have a look.

Strain 1: Amnesia Haze

Amnesia Haze is said to be an energetic and uplifting strain with citrusy, lemony, and earthy flavors and contains the terpene geraniol. This strain is a previous Cannabis Cup Winner and is anecdotally associated with increased levels of happiness and energy. Its energizing effects make it a good choice for social events and physical activities like hiking and exercising.

Strain 2: Blue Dream

Blue Dream has a sweeter smell and tastes like berries. It has a reputation for delivering a relaxing effect as well as stimulating focus. Blue Dream is anecdotally a long-lasting strain that has more balanced effects and an enticing aroma. This strain would pair well with activities such as yoga, watching a movie, and hanging out at a dinner party. It’s also a great choice for beginner home grows.

Strain 3: Bruce Banner

You may recognize the name of this strain as it was named after the alter-ego of the Marvel character the Hulk. Bruce Banner induces euphoria, creativity, and increased energy all while relaxing the body. This strain has a citrusy and earthy taste with a hint of diesel; contains limonene; and makes for a good daytime strain. It pairs well with activities like outdoor adventures and creative projects. The high THC content also makes it a popular choice for pain relief.

Strain 4: Durban Poison

Durban Poison, with its origins tracing back to South Africa, is an award-winning strain that has gained popularity for its energetic, creative, and uplifting effects. This strain also has the potential to provide a balanced combination of both a relaxing body high and an alert head high. Its smell can range from sweet orange or lemon to spicy anise. It makes for a good daytime toke and is best paired with physical activities like hiking or surfing or artistic endeavors that require focus.

Strain 5: Girl Scout Cookies

Girl Scout Cookies is a cross between Durban Poison and OG Kush and is well known for a relaxing and euphoric body high. This award-winning strain has a sweet and spicy taste and smell and is known for encouraging weight loss through its relatively higher THCV content. It pairs best with evening activities like relaxing in a comfy spot on the couch, watching TV, playing video games, or spending time with friends.

Strain 6: Northern Lights

Northern Lights is a sweet, earthy, and stimulating strain with the potential to leave your body feeling blissfully numb. It also induces euphoric effects on the mind. While enjoying Northern Lights, find a comfortable space. Perhaps hunker down on the couch and do a movie marathon. You’ll probably want to keep physical activities to a minimum and have some snacks on hand in case of the munchies.

Strain 7: OG Kush

OG Kush is arguably the most popular strain thanks to its rich smell and taste and high potency. OG Kush has a citrusy, spicy aroma and is considered to be pungent. This significantly strong strain produces physical and mental effects like increased awareness of surroundings, euphoria, and a sense of steadiness. These effects suggest that OG Kush goes well with activities like playing games, doing yoga, or attending a social event.

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Strain 8: Sour Diesel

Sour Diesel has become well known for its cerebral effects accompanied by its herbal and almost chemical taste and smell. Despite the rather powerful and potentially overwhelming flavor, the strains’ effects are euphoric and energetic as well as thought-provoking. This strain can make one feel talkative if around others but it is also a great strain for some quiet study time or self-reflection like meditation or journaling.

Strain 9: Super Silver Haze

Super Silver Haze has taken home several wins from the High Times Cannabis Cup and delivers an energetic and uplifting body high. One can expect spicy, citrusy, and skunky flavors from Super Silver Haze. The energetic effects make this strain good for daytime consumption during more physical activities like cycling, working out, or hiking. Additionally, some find the body high helps with aches and pains.

Strain 10: White Widow

White Widow was cultivated by Scott Blakey and has an earthy smell and taste, similar to pine, sandalwood, and other herbs and spices. It’s reported to deliver powerful energizing, stimulating, and euphoric effects. White Widow is well-suited for social activities like dancing, picnics, and even arts and crafts.

While these ten strains are popular, there are more that could qualify like Jack Herer, Super Lemon Haze, and AK-47. However, let’s move on to some more intriguing strains, which are less easy to locate: the exotic strains.

Exotic Strains

Many serious marijuana consumers actively seek out more exotic strains. These are strains that have unique or powerful flavors, smells, appearances, and effects. For example, Snowcap is considered an exotic strain, because of its strong menthol flavor.

Pinkman Goo, known for its pink and purple hue, is arguably the most exotic and intriguing strain out there. Legend has it that this strain was first discovered by a woman who found the seeds behind an appliance in her kitchen. The resin secreted by this plant is a “goo-like” substance with a pinkish hue.

Our last example, Frisian Duck is known for its abnormal leaves that are not easily recognizable as a cannabis plant. Thus, it’s known as “the covert strain.” This hardy strain is said to be full of spicy flavor, much like that of pepper and pine.

Considerations When Choosing a Strain

There are several considerations to keep in mind when choosing a strain. It’s important to consider where the strain was grown and how it was harvested and processed. These all impact the quality and composition of the strain. Additionally, consumers should consider what effects they desire (such as chronic pain relief or mental relaxation) as well as which cannabinoids (THC, CBG, CBN, etc.) and terpenes (myrcene, linalool, etc.) would be most beneficial for their needs.

Recall that new cannabis science has shown that terpene profiles are more likely to set specific strains apart than cannabinoid content alone, so you may want to note which ones are in your favorite strains. This can help you more accurately keep track for medical purposes, and even discover new favorite strains at a different or out-of-state dispensary.

Different cannabis strains have different effects on the mind and body. Some strains (typically referred to as indica strains) deliver more of a body high that can energize you or sedate you. Strains that produce body highs include Harlequin, AC/DC, and Jack Herer. In terms of medical conditions, these kinds of strains are good for inflammation, pain, and even nausea, which could be present in conditions like cancer, arthritis, and fibromyalgia.

On the other hand, some strains induce a head high with uplifting psychological effects like euphoria, optimism, or a creative mindset (typically referred to as sativa strains). Head high strains are commonly used by patients with conditions such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among others. Examples of these strains include Blue Dream, OG Kush, and Pineapple Express.

Looking to achieve a specific effect from your cannabis? Check out these articles:

Different methods of consuming marijuana provide varying amounts of cannabinoids and terpenes due to bioavailability. According to Merriam-Webster, bioavailability refers to “the degree and rate at which a substance is absorbed into a living system or is made available at the site of physiological activity.” In other words, only a portion of the THC or CBD you consume will actually be used by your body. Keeping this in mind, let’s have a look at methods of consumption and their respective bioavailability.


This is perhaps the most common means of cannabis consumption and includes all means of smoking including blunts, bongs, and vapes. With inhalation, the THC bioavailability averages at around 30%.


Sublingual means it is taken under the tongue. Marijuana products that are taken sublingually include tinctures, oils, or sprays. The bioavailability of sublingual consumption is 2-40%. This range is wide but is generally thought of as somewhere between oral and inhalational.


Oral consumption of marijuana refers to ingestion via eating or swallowing. This can be done by consuming edibles, capsules, or oil. The bioavailability of THC via capsules or edibles has been found to be between 4% to 12%. Read about why some people can’t get high from edibles here.

Topical and Transdermal

Topical and transdermal forms of marijuana are applied to and absorbed through the skin. The bioavailability has unfortunately not been assessed in human-based research, but it appears that THC will be higher in bioavailability than CBD. Thus, THC will be absorbed faster. For more on the bioavailability of cannabis through various delivery methods, read here.

Final Takeaway

Strains are simply variations of cannabis that deliver varying effects, smells, and tastes. Popular strains are known for specific cannabinoid and terpene profiles and may be favored by medical marijuana patients for assistance with specific conditions like chronic pain and nausea. Everyone responds differently to marijuana, and it is recommended that you speak with a medical marijuana doctor about your existing medical conditions and medications. You can also speak with a cannabis coach about how to achieve a more positive experience and fine-tune your wellness plan.

Post Your Comments

Randi says:

July 20, 2021 at 7:05 pm

What is the best for sleep?
I smoke Indica vapes exclusively. Northern lights and GRand daddy are my go to. Any other good ones to sleep all night?

Chane Leigh says:

July 24, 2021 at 9:02 am

Hi Randi,
Have a look at this article on the The Sleepy Cannabinoid (CBN) ( as well as this one on Cannabis for Restorative sleep ( Strains high in the sleepy cannabinoid, which can help you, include: Blackberry, Bubble Gum, Durban Poison. However, remember to check their certificates of analysis to ensure they actually contain the cannabinoid.

Miguel Colom says:

July 21, 2021 at 7:26 am

Thank you so much! It is concise and easy to read, but very informative as well!

Victoria says:

July 21, 2021 at 9:25 am

You answered my question on the different strains. Great article ☺️.

Jim Stucke says:

July 21, 2021 at 2:07 pm

Thank you, very informative

Laura says:

July 22, 2021 at 4:00 pm

Excellent read & informative 💯☮️

Robert Kelly says:

July 26, 2021 at 1:50 pm

Great article by Chane very informative

Spencer Lauren says:

July 29, 2021 at 12:50 am

Thank you for sharing this! I buy terpene strains in MI but never really read about it this is a good piece for understanding marijuana strains.

Everything You Should Know About Traveling with Cannabis - Nobofeed says:

November 29, 2021 at 11:10 pm

[…] chronic pain you experience and anxiety, it’s something you need. In addition, you’re used to taking certain cannabis strains, and they’re something you can’t do […]

Rachel says:

January 10, 2022 at 12:23 pm

Thank you Chane for writing this article. As a newbie to marijuana’s effects, it’s helpful to know what our options are. I do wish edible brands explained more which strains are used, but I get they want to keep that “secret.” I’ve been experimenting with the 1906 line, with labels like “bliss, genius, and midnight.” They seem to work as advertised, I will be buying more of them.

PawPawSlim says:

January 21, 2022 at 11:01 am

This was an interesting read and re-affirms so much I have heard about how indica and sativa have become mis-leading differentiations.
Gotta say that I have become a Jack Herer fan and that it is our go-to when we go to the dispensary. I think everyone that I have shared it with has had positive comments.
It is available in flower and concentrate form, pens and cartridges, so is there is no reason not to go with The Jsck!

Rick Emery says:

January 24, 2022 at 6:37 am

Is there a strain or CBD to help reduce alcohol cravings?

Dwayne Smith says:

February 8, 2022 at 4:53 am

Could not stop myself from reading the whole post. Thank you for explaining everything about marijuana strain categorization so briefly.

Jacob William says:

February 10, 2022 at 5:44 am

I found this post very informative. Such brief explanation on cannabis is rare on internet. Thank you for sharing this.

Nic says:

May 15, 2022 at 9:34 pm

What is the best strain for weight loss?

Amanda says:

July 25, 2022 at 3:39 pm

I have really bad anxiety and when I’ve tried to smoke it worsens it. What is your suggestion on what to use or try. I used to smoke all the time and it’s been 18 yrs since I smoked.

Lo says:

July 25, 2022 at 3:48 pm

Cannabis potency is certainly much higher these days than it was 18 years ago that’s for sure. I would suggest finding a strain that has a higher CBD percentage 🙂

Andrew Strauss says:

February 12, 2024 at 4:43 am

This article brilliantly breaks down the nuances between marijuana strains. It helped me navigate the diverse world of cannabis, making informed choices based on effects and flavors. A must-read for anyone seeking clarity on the intricate differences among strains.


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