There are thousands of cannabis strains, each with their own unique chemical profile that affects everyone differently. On top of that, new cannabis strains are being created all the time. It’s impossible to keep up with the latest strains. But, with such a variety of strains, do strain names alone tell you what kind of experience you’ll have?
In some cases, especially in the black market, marijuana strain names have become nothing more than a marketing gimmick to attract users who want that strain name. In reality, each cannabis plant has a different chemical composition based on its environment that can have different effects on everyone’s specific endocannabinoid system. Even strains with the same name can vary in cannabinoid and terpene content between crops.
Unreliability in Cannabis Strains
Unreliability in strain names can be rampant in the cannabis world. In some cases, unreliability between cannabis strains can be brought on by cannabis growers who intentionally change a strain’s name to a more popular one. Furthermore, growers who haven’t stabilized their strain genetics can end up with inconsistent characteristics between each plant. Master breeders spend many years crossbreeding distinct phenotypes of a large batch in order to achieve their desired characteristics.
Similarities in THC Content
One study from the University of British Columbia (UBC) Okanagan examined cannabinoid profiles of 33 strains grown by five licensed producers. According to the findings, THC and CBD percentages were similar across most cannabis strains. Professor Susan Murch told Scienmag that “in a structured program we would keep track of the lineage, such as where the parent plants came from and their characteristics.” Informal breeding programs have prevented a precise chemical breakdown of strains.
Researchers also found differences among strains in the minor cannabinoids that were previously undiscovered. While they are present in trace amounts, further research into the effects of these minor compounds could shape the medical cannabis field.
Reliable and Unreliable Strains
Leafly and their lab partners tested the reliability of popular marijuana strains grown in the U.S. and Canada. Based on their findings, the most reliable strain names were White Tahoe Cookies, Purple Punch, Blue Dream, and Gelato. Granddaddy Purple, Bubba Kush, Girl Scout Cookies, and Blueberry were also relatively reliable, albeit, not as much as the aforementioned strains.
Strain name reliability is determined by the level of similarity in terpene and cannabinoid content between strains with the same name. In theory, reliable strains would have a similar chemical profile from grower to grower. The most unreliable strain names were Pineapple Express and Durban Poison. That means that if you get any of those strains, you’ll likely have wildly varying experiences due to the differences in chemical profile between strains.
Leafly’s data also measured “how similar two flower products with the same strain name would be to each other if strain names were randomly assigned.” They measured the level of consistency between samples after “randomly shuffling the names attached to each data sample.” Surprisingly, the level of reliability for products with randomly assigned names was similar to the reliability of strains like Blueberry and Granddaddy Purple.
Leafly mapped popular strains’ terpene profiles to determine the similarity between batches. Blue Dream was considered a fairly reliable strain with a common concentration of myrcene, pinene, and caryophyllene. About 80 percent of Blue Dream flower products tested had a similar terpene profile. The reliability of the strain may be due to the wide clone availability during the early 2000s that kept the genetics stable.
Myrcene is one of the most commonly found terpenes among cannabis cultivars. According to the data, about 40 percent of cannabis flowers have myrcene as their dominant terpene. Myrcene was the most common terpene in 54 percent of the Blue Dream tested. 24 percent of growers had a pinene-forward Blue Dream with myrcene concentrations following close behind.
Unreliable strains like Durban Poison were shown to have wildly varying chemical profiles between flower products. Durban Poison’s most common terpene was terpinolene, but the data shows that the strain had no distinct chemical profile. Its inconsistency could be due to its origins in Durban, South Africa and its rarity among growers. Furthermore, the rarity of such strains has increased counterfeit issues because of growers looking to make a quick buck.
How to Find a Consistent Experience
Most cannabis strains you’ll find at a licensed dispensary will be the actual strain it purports to be. There may be some differences in the chemical profile due to cultivation methods and environmental factors. The best way to maintain as close to a consistent experience as possible is buying strains from the same grower or brand. Some growers will even spring for terpene testing to show consumers the levels of terpenes that may dictate their experience.
New lab testing methods can be used to determine a strain’s purity, potency, and consistency, but most cannabinoid tests still have a wide range of variance (often as much as 3%). Despite growers’ best efforts, varying environmental conditions will create plants with the same strain but varying levels of cannabinoids, terpenes, and chemical compounds. Customers can rely on strain names from their favorite growers, but the full range of chemical compounds is more important when determining how the strain will affect you.