What are cannabis strains?

What are cannabis strains?
May 27, 2024
6 min read

A strain or cultivar of cannabis refers to a specific genetic variant of cannabis. Different strains may have differences in effects, aroma, appearance, and growth. Some strains may suit some patients more than others due to differences in their production of cannabinoids and terpenes.

What are cannabis strains?

Difference between strains

Effect on the body 

Different cannabis strains produce different effects. Some impair sleep and are better suited for daytime use, whereas other strains may induce lethargy during the day and are best reserved for nighttime use. 

Each strain also varies in terms of the “character” of its effect. Some may produce a more mind-altering effect despite having the same THC percentage or potency. Some strains are more likely to cause anxiety or forgetfulness than others – this depends on the compounds present in the plant and the patient’s body chemistry.


Different strains may have completely different smells due to the flavour compounds they contain. The spectrum of cannabis aroma is infinite—common smell descriptions of cannabis cultivars vary anywhere from sweet, fruity aromas (citrus, stone fruit, berries) to floral aromas (lavender, hops, jasmine) to more “savoury” aromas such as bread/cake, garlic, spices, and even struck flint and petrol.

The smell of cannabis is so complex due to the wide range of flavour compounds it naturally produces, such as terpenes, flavonoids, esters, Volatile Sulfur Compounds, and more. Different strains of cannabis produce different aromas depending on their genetics, and due to the possible psychoactivity of terpenes, the aroma of cannabis may have implications as far as its effects.

Why are different strains created?

Breeders create different strains for different reasons, seeking advances in vigour, health, and growth speed or differences in aroma, effect, or chemical composition. Breeding new strains allows for the creation of unique and exotic cannabis strains, some producing rare combinations of active ingredients and providing medical cannabis patients with an even greater range of options.

How are different strains created?

New cannabis strains are created through selective crossbreeding. This is achieved by pollinating flowering female cannabis plants with the pollen from a male plant. Seeds are then produced, harvested, and replanted. Plants grown from these seeds are selected for in what is called a ‘pheno hunt’ (short for phenotype hunt), which involves growing out many different seeds of a particular strain, to observe the genetic variance. Then, the most desirable plant (often the most vigorous, potent, healthy, or odorous) is selected. Its genetics are then stabilised through crossing and backcrossing (crossing with plant siblings or previous generations). Then, a stable cultivar has been created, which can serve as a ‘mother plant’ from which cuttings are taken.

Cannabis lineages

There are three main cannabis lineages: Kush, Skunk, and Haze. These serve as the genetic building blocks for all modern cultivars. These lineages arose from crossing landrace varieties (pure, unhybridised cannabis genetics) during the prohibition decades of the 1960s – 1980s.

  • Kush is a cannabis lineage originating from the Hindu Kush, a mountain range extending between Afghanistan and Pakistan. This region contains pure Indica landrace strains such as Afghan Kush and Hindu Kush. Kush strains grow quickly and are broadly appealing, leading to their popularity among growers and patients alike. Classic Kush aromas are earthy, woody, and sweet, often reminiscent of petrol, pine, mint, vanilla, citrus, and berries.
  • Skunk was the first high-potency hybrid to become widely available. First bred by David Watson, aka Sam the Skunkman, Skunk #1 and a plethora of its pungent progeny became widely available during the 1980s and 90s. Skunk was born from a cross between a Mexican sativa, a Colombian Gold sativa and an Afghani indica. In addition to its famous skunk-spray smell, Skunk cultivars can express various aromas ranging from sweet citrus to burnt rubber, decaying meat, and parmesan cheese.
  • Haze is a long-flowering sativa-dominant lineage with a characteristic mango and incense aroma. First created by the Haze brothers in the 1960s and 70s, Haze strains are the backbone of many modern sativas. The origins of Haze are unclear, but it is said to originate from a cross of several sativas such as Mexican, Colombian, Thai, and South Indian.
Where can I find information on a certain strain?

If you are looking for information on your medical cannabis prescription, Catalyst by Honahlee or Canna Reviews are large databases of medical cannabis products. Here you can find information on the genetics of the strain you were prescribed.

If you are looking for information on the lineage of a particular strain, Seedfinder is the best resource. They maintain a database of over 32,000 cannabis varieties, providing helpful information on lineage, growth, history, aroma, effects, and more.

What’s the difference between a strain and a cultivar?

A strain is a genetic variant of a given species, commonly used in the context of microbiological organisms. A ‘Cultivar’ is a plant variety cultivated by humans using selective breeding. While these terms are used interchangeably, ‘strain’ is a word that is more specific to viruses, bacteria, and fungi. For this reason, the word ‘cultivar’ is preferred when referring more specifically to plant varieties.

We hope this article on cannabis strains has been useful and informative. If you have any more questions about the cultivars you were prescribed, be sure to ask your prescriber. 

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Please note that this blog was not written by a licensed medical practitioner and therefore is not providing medical advice. We do not endorse the use of cannabis or any other illicit drugs. Like any medication, cannabis has potential negative side effects and should only be used under the guidance of a qualified medical professional. For the latest information on cannabis prescription and use, please visit the TGA website. If you are considering cannabis as a treatment option, we encourage you to consult with a licensed healthcare professional.

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