Your Beginner Guide to Marijuana Strains

With the legalization movement gaining momentum all over the world, breeders and growers are going above and beyond with creating new strains, each having their own unique set of effects, aromas, and flavors.

For some people, weed is just weed; they fancy the very act of smoking and just like to get high from time to time. But for a weed connoisseur, the world of cannabis strains is a true wonderland — with all that beautiful genetics to offer both recreational and medical users.

Marijuana strains can be broken down into three basic categories: indica, sativa, and hybrid. There’s also one less popular type of this plant — cannabis ruderalis.

In this article, we’ll shed light on how to classify marijuana strains by their appearance, geographic origins, and effects. We’ll also cover the subject of terpenes and different ratios between THC and CBD — the two major cannabinoids in marijuana.

Basic Classification of Marijuana Strains

As mentioned, marijuana strains fall into one of the following categories:

  • Indica
  • Sativa
  • Hybrids
  • Ruderalis

All varieties originated in different regions of the globe and have unique traits that help us tell the difference between one another.

Indica vs Sativa

In the next section, we take a sneak peak into each of these marijuana varieties.

Indica vs Sativa: What’s the Difference Between These Two Plants?

Cannabis is one of the oldest agricultural crops — with a 5000 year-long record of cultivation. The plant has evolved over the years to adapt to different climates. Both indica and sativa marijuana plants are unique to different parts of the world.


Cannabis indica plants originated from colder parts of the globe, mostly from mountain regions of Pakistan, Turkestan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Nepal. The majority of landrace indica strains were bred in the Hindu Kush region, hence the “Kush” name in many indica buds.

Cannabis sativa plants are native to the countries near the equator, such as Columbia, Mexico, Thailand, as well as to several Indian and African countries.


Both indica and sativa marijuana strains vary in terms of their physical appearance and chemical makeup. 

Sativa plants are usually much taller than their Indica counterparts, reaching up to 25 feet. Sativas also grow tall branches, and thin leaves, allowing the sun to shine through the flowers. If you’re growing a sativa strain, be prepared for generous yields after around 60–90 days. The buds of sativa flowers have a loose structure and are shaped into cones. 

Indica strains grow small and bushy, reaching less than 7 feet on average. These plants produce densely packed flowers with increased resin production on their surface. Indica varieties are known for their pungent aroma and a relatively short flowering period. Typically, an indica plant is ready for harvest within 40–50 days from the flowering stage.

Growth Habits

The height of sativa marijiuana strains makes them better suited for outdoor fields. They require more care and patience to maximize the yields, but the result will pay you off.

Growth Habits

Indica plants are usually grown indoors. They might not give you as generous yields as sativa strains, but the amount of resin on the nuggets makes up for that. Not to mention that indica marijuana strains have a shorter flowering time.


Marijuana strains produce different effects depending on the selected flowers.

Sativa buds are known for their cerebral stimulation and an uplifting, sometimes even euphoric high that also boosts creativity, prompts chattiness, and makes the user more focused.

As such, sativa marijuana strains are better for daytime use, especially if you need something to spice up a meetup with friends or when you’re a creative soul needing inspiration. Sativa buds are the go-to strains for those who are into wake n’ baking, as they keep the user uplifted throughout the day while sending away fatigue.

Indica strains work a bit differently. They actually have quite the opposite effects. This type of cannabis tends to make users sedated — the high is mostly focused on the body and brings down physical relaxation that melts away muscle tension, pain, and the whole spectrum of physical discomforts.

If you want to smoke or vape an indica strain, we recommend keeping it for the evening.

What Are Marijuana Hybrids?

Marijuana hybrids offer consumers the best of both worlds. They are grown by cross breeding different strains of marijuana. The result is a combination of different genetic traits from each strain in various concentrations.

There are three types of marijuana hybrids:

  • Indica-dominant hybrids
  • Sativa-dominant hybrids
  • Balanced hybrids (50/50)

Following that pattern, a sativa-dominant strain will show the majority of its sativa traits with some gentle hints of indica. By the same token, indica-dominant hybrids produce mostly body-focused effects with some cerebral notes of sativa.

Finally, a 50/50 hybrid will carry a well-balanced profile of effects due to the even ratio of both species — you can use 50/50 hybrids throughout the whole day.

Ruderalis: A Very Rare Type of Cannabis

The least common type of weed is Cannabis Ruderalis. These plants aren’t popular because they lack psychoactive effects. Still, marijuana breeders tend to use ruderalis for crossbreeding strains due to their ability to produce the auto-flowering effects.


How to tell if you’re looking at a cannabis ruderalis plant? This variety grows dense and short, reaching up to 25 inches. It looks more like an indica plant.

The Real Difference Between Various Marijuana Strains

This system of categorizing marijuana strains is very convenient and allows the user to get a general idea of what to expect when smoking different buds.

However, the indica vs. sativa classification isn’t the most accurate way of predicting the effects of marijuana. In fact, the geographic origins and the appearance of a plant has nothing to do with how it affects your body and brain.

It appears that the driving factors behind the unique effects of marijuana strains is more complex than we think.

Here’s how Dr. Ethan Russo, an esteemed cannabis expert, says about the above system:

“The way that the sativa and indica labels are utilized in commerce is nonsense. The clinical effects of the cannabis chemovar have nothing to do with whether the plant is tall and sparse vs. short and bushy, or whether the leaflets are narrow or broad.”

Russo isn’t alone in his skepticism. Another researcher, Jeffrey Raber, Ph. D., a chemist and founder of the first independent laboratory that analyzes cannabis terpenes, smashes the indica vs. sativa classification:

“There is no factual or scientific basis to making these broad sweeping recommendations, and it needs to stop today. What we need to seek to understand better is which standardized cannabis composition is causing which effects, when delivered in which fashions, at which specific dosages, to which types of [consumers].”

In other words, not all indicas will make you glued to the couch, and not all sativas will improve your mood and boost your energy levels.

How to Classify Marijuana Strains With Higher Accuracy

Marijuana plants are very complex, so the effects of any given strain will depend on a range of variables, such as:

  • The strain’s ratio between THC and CBD
  • Your unique body chemistry
  • The amount of consumed marijuana
  • Consumption method
  • Your tolerance to THC

Let’s start with the driving factor.

1. Mind the Ratio of THC to CBD

There are over 113 cannabinoids in the marijuana plants. All of them interact with one another to create synergistic effects. THC and CBD are the two best-researched cannabinoids that are responsible for the lion’s share of the medical and recreational benefits of marijuana.

Mind the Ratio of THC to CBD

THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid, the one that gets us high. The marijuana high involves a set of euphoric effects, such as elevated mood, relaxation, improved appetite, and relief from symptoms like stress, nausea, pain, anxiety, and inflammation.

CBD, on the other hand, is non-psychoactive. Simply put, it won’t get you high, but it also has a range of well-documented health benefits. CBD may reduce anxiety, seizures, inflammation, pain, and protect neurons in the brain against free radical damage.

When browsing marijuana strains online, you’ll typically find three categories:

  • THC-dominant flowers: these strains are most commonly used by recreational consumers and those seeking relief from such conditions like anxiety, insomnia, depression, trauma, or cancer. They work better with those who can tolerate the psychoactive effects of THC. 
  •  CBD-dominant flowers: this type of marijuana have high CBD levels with only small amounts of THC. CBD flowers induce mild euphoria with strong symptom relief. If you’re new to cannabis or don’t want to get uncomfortably high, this will be your best bet.
  • 50/50 strains: some marijuana flowers, both indica and sativa, have balanced ratios of THC and CBD. Such strains are great for consumers seeking an introduction to marijuana’s staple high.

Cannabinoids aren’t the only compounds in cannabis. Below we shed more light on terpenes, the aromatic molecules in marijuana flowers.

2. Pay Attention to Terpenes in Your Strain

Terpenes are volatile compounds that give fruits and plants their unique scents and flavors. As you may guess, marijuana is abundant in different terpenes. However, these molecules also influence the effects of cannabis strains.

Dr. Raber points to terpenes as one of the driving factors in modulating the effect profile of marijuana:

“Which terpenes cause which effects is apparently much more complicated than all of us would like, as it seems to [vary based on specific] ones and their relative ratios to each other and the cannabinoids.” 

Terpenes show a much more reliable correlation with certain effects than the sativa vs. indica morphology.

Pay Attention to Terpenes in Your Strain

For example, strains high in linalool are known to be more sedating than other varieties. Limonene, the terpene that gives marijuana its citrus aroma, reduces stress and anxiety while boosting energy levels. Pinene, the terpene redolent of exotic fruits, may stir creativity and chattiness.

That’s how experienced users choose their strains. If take a waft from one jar and they like what they feel, it’s a good indicator that they’ve found a good match.

3. Try Different Consumption Methods

There are plenty of ways to administer cannabis — each of them will give you slightly different effects.

When it comes to smoking dry flowers, the high will be heavier because the effects of smoked cannabis come within minutes after inhalation, which makes it difficult to gauge the optimal dosage. This makes the user more likely to experience the side effects of THC.

If you want to inhale marijuana in a smoke-free way, try vaping your flowers. The vaporizer will heat the herbs only to the point where it starts to release cannabinoid- and terpene-rich vapor that you inhale through the vape’s mouthpiece. The high from vaporized marijuana is cleaner and also lasts longer.

Another way to achieve longer-lasting high and symptom relief is to eat some marijuana edibles. This consumption method ensures that cannabinoids will gradually absorb into your bloodstream, which may prove invaluable for patients with chronic disorders. However, edibles have a delayed onset due to the first-pass liver effects. Usually, the effects of a marijuana edibles take hold within 40–90 minutes.

Summarizing Different Marijuana Strains

Nobody is born an expert. If you’ve just got introduced to marijuana, choosing between the abundance of strains can be overwhelming, so it’s no wonder you’re seeking guidance.

After all, understanding the differences between marijuana strains is a must if you want to draw the most out of their benefits.

Summarizing Different Marijuana Strains

Discovering new cannabis varieties is super fun. Whether you’re looking for invigorating effects or you just want to unwind after a hard day, the abundance of weed strains allows you to enjoy your herbs just the way you like them.

Just make sure to be a responsible consumer. You don’t have to prove anything to anybody — your experience with marijuana is all about how you feel. With that said, it’s best to start low and go slow to hit the sweet spot without having to deal with the side effects of THC.

What was the first marijuana strain that you’ve tried? Let us know in the comments — we can’t wait to read your stories!

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