If you’ve ever been inside a dispensary, whether that’s medical or recreational, you know that there are usually ludicrous sounding claims for every strain of marijuana the store has. One might be “perfect for anxiety,” while another is best suited for chronic pain. Much of this is probably BS.
When it comes to weed strains, there are two terms to know: sativa and indica. Both are different types of weed that typically promise two different effects; sativas are known as a more cerebral high, while indicas are for zoning out. A strain of marijuana is genetic blend of the two, usually called a hybrid. Hybrids are all that exist these days, as a 100% pure sativa or indica strain has likely long been lost. These hybrid strains of weed generally get goofy names like Purple Kush or AK-47. The problem is that there might not be a huge difference between sativas and indicas, at least genetically.
For legal reasons, as John Oliver pointed out on Last Week Tonight, research on marijuana has been pretty difficult, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. One bit of research published in Plos One took a look at 130 different plants at a genetic level in hopes of figuring out what exactly made each strain different. It turns out, maybe not that much. Speaking with Wired, researcher Sean Myles explains it like so:
But the Indica/Sativa divide wasn’t well supported in the data. Like, Jamaican Lamb’s Bread, which is supposed to be a Sativa strain, was pretty much identical to some Afghani Indica. “They’re not totally wrong, but the split is nowhere near as accurate as you’d need to be in another horticultural crop with a formal classification system,” says Myles.
Speaking with Motherboard, Myles, continues on, pointing out that from a botany angle, we just don’t really know that much about any of this:
We may loosely call things “indica” or “sativa,” Myles continued, and that’s a fair rule of thumb for describing their physical traits and psychoactive effects. But since nobody was keeping track of marijuana with the methods of a modern agriculturist some 5,000 years ago, we don’t know what a “pure” sativa or indica really is, DNA-wise, he said. Who’s to say what the defining characteristics of a pure sativa or indica really are?
Which is all to say that when you’re out shopping for weed, it’s probably not the best idea to go in with the expectation of those two effects. Don’t, for example, grab a sativa and then expect to suddenly have an amazing revelation about the true meaning of Beauty and the Beast. Likewise, if you take an indica-dominant hybrid and don’t feel the calming effects, that doesn’t necessarily mean another strain won’t work in the future, just that the particular strain you have isn’t living up to those expectations.
Even if those differences did genetically matter, there’s still one more problem: there’s no naming convention for weed. A reasonable person would expect that all “haze”or “kush” varieties were similar, like you would with an IPA or lager. That’s not the case though. Those names mean absolutely nothing.
Since weed cultivation has been underground for so long it’s lost any sense of consistency. A grower can clone a plant from another grower by cutting and they’ll know what they’re getting, but if they grow from a seed, it’s much harder to know anything for sure. Over the years, different growers have made different combinations using tons of different things. In that time, everything’s been pretty convoluted. Plus, even though marijuana is legal in a number of states, that product cannot cross state lines, so there’s still no chance for any consistency outside of your local shop.
So, what is one to do? Rely on what we do know. We can see the level of tetrahydocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) in each plant and most weed shops will show the percentage of each in a strain. Myles suggests taking a look at the percentage of THC and CBD content in a strain instead of a description, name, or whatever the dude at the weed store tells you. How those things effect you specifically will take some time to suss out, but at least you’ll know what you’re getting into. Likewise, don’t pay attention to any other branding, because it means absolutely nothing. A Strawberry Kush in California will be totally different than a Strawberry Kush in Washington.