One of the most intimidating things about anyone new to the world of cannabis is that there is just too much information out there, and it has formulated its own language. The language is far from universal, which can be very intimidating for the novice weed smoker; description names of strains such as the OG Kush, Northern Lights, or Sour Diesel make absolutely no sense. And until recently, you pretty much just had to rely on the person selling to you to be educated enough to know just what you were getting. "This is really good stuff." doesn't exactly win my vote of confidence in anything. Describe things to me like a contestant on Top Chef, and then I'll feel sufficiently informed.

It reminds me of the time a friend handed me $20 to buy wine for her because my parents owned a liquor store; only she forgot the vital fact that a) I don't drink alcohol and b) I don't know anything about wine. I think I recall asking her if she wanted a red or white, which was the extent of my knowledge on the subject. She requested white, so I spent the whole $20 on a bottle of something that had a pretty picture on the label. I proudly brought my selection to her place for movie night, thinking I had made a good choice. She sneered and said, "You could have gotten two bottles of something just as nice for that much money." Oh, I'm sorry, I must have fallen asleep in amateur sommelier class at school! Maybe you go buy your own wine next time and don't rely on me for family discounts, Tammy*.

Unlike bottles of wine with pretty pictures on the front, there's not very much information to go on when you're faced with a variety of selections of weed. This is where the salesperson you purchase from should be extremely well versed and know as much about their product as possible. If you go into a dispensary, the sales team is likely a fully educated staff of budtenders who can give you the ins and outs of each strain, and they should be able to tell you how each one will benefit you. If the person you're buying from doesn't have any idea what you're getting, you can have anything from a paranoid freak out to wondering why in the world you don't feel a single thing.

Lets start with the very basics. There are three primary species of cannabis to choose from: the Indica, Sativa, and a hybrid. There are also notable differences based on THC and CBD levels, which I will later get into. I will give a few select examples in each category so that you can get a feel for what is what, but I will try not to go into information overload.


Now an Indica is a species that originates from the Middle East and outside of Southeast Asia. It's a shorter, more compact looking plant with bushy leaves, and the expected effect is going to be a lot more calming and relaxing. It's best for people who are naturally high strung or have trouble sleeping, but I personally wouldn't recommend it unless you have a romantic night planned of falling asleep on the couch while Netflix autoplays TV shows. Generally if something has the word "kush" in the name this is most likely what you will be getting, and it will have sweet, citrusy notes when you consume it. Best way to remind yourself is word association. Indica=In Da Couch (as Doug Benson always says). Kush=Cushions, time for a nap. Strain examples that belong to the Indica family: Banana Kush, Skywalker, Mr. Nice.


A Sativa, on the other hand, is the species which originates primarily from South America and Africa. They are a noticeably taller and leggier counterpart to their cousin, so the cannabis plants shown in movies are most often are non psychoactive variations of Sativa plant. These are the plants that are most often associated with getting the giggles, going on long rants, and possible paranoia. It's the preferred choice for appetite stimulation and headaches, since consuming it will still allow you to be somewhat active. As with associating the word "kush" with an Indica, generally if you see the word "haze" or "diesel" anywhere in the name it is most likely a Sativa. The smell is the more sour of the two primary species, so it gives off an ammonia like aroma. Some examples of Sativa strains include Purple Haze, Alice in Wonderland, and Sour Diesel.

A Hybrid is just as it sounds, a cross breeding of the two above mentioned primary species of plants, to give you a blended mix of each of their traits. This is where it gets a little tricky as each strain will either be Indica or Sativa dominant, depending on what what traits they are being bred for. As with the examples above, your best guess on what is going to be more dominant lies within the name of that individual strain. Some fun examples of hybrid strains include Dr. Who (Indica dominant without the sleepiness), Pineapple Express (Sativa dominant, there's no way they'd have that many hijinks on an Indica), and Snoop's Dream (Indica dominant that will give you his general vibe, supposedly a blend of the rapper's two favorite strains).


So what is the difference between THC and CBD, and why should we care? Well for one, THC and CBD mean all the difference in whether you are looking to primarily get high and stimulate appetite, or treat serious muscular pain.

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the component responsible for the high feeling, which lasts about 2 hours. Any time someone mentions how they got too high, they were probably consuming a THC heavy strain or they can have a sensitivity to it. It's also the one that is most commonly tracked in any standard drug test. I should also note here that Marinol is a legal, synthetic version of THC. This is a Schedule III drug used most commonly to treat nausea and as an appetite stimulant for cancer patients going through chemotherapy, and is considered no more addictive than alcohol. This is where I want to get on my soapbox about the hypocrisy, but I digress.

CBD refers to cannabidiol, the component most commonly found to treat for serious muscle, joint, and nervous system pain. It is a natural anti inflammatory, and does not give off the same high effect as THC. When you hear of people treating child patients for serious illnesses using medical cannabis, it is most likely related to using a CBD heavy strain. There are nearly a hundred more chemical compounds that make up marijuana, but these are the two primaries which will give you an idea of what effect it will have on you.


If you are brand new to the world of cannabis, it's best advised you go with a strain that is higher in CBD than THC, such as Harlequin, since it will ease you in a lot more easily than going straight to something very heavy in THC. This is the ideal path to go on if the cannabis treatment you're seeking is medical rather than recreational. Alternately, if your consumption is primarily recreational and you are a more seasoned pro, you might be more comfortable with a THC heavy strain such as Pandora's Box. Just take note of the name and go a little easy on it at first.

I hope this 101 on the different options makes strains sound a little less confusing, and the language a little less intimidating. I'll do a follow up soon on the different ways all of these things are consumed. I was going to add on to this post, but rightly deserves its own chapter.

*Not her real name, she just reminded me a lot of Tina's friend on Bob's Burgers

Top image via Harborside Health Center in Oakland, CA