What’s in a strain?

Sorting out the right one for you takes experimentation

Budtenders can help cannabis patients find a strain with the desired effects.

Budtenders can help cannabis patients find a strain with the desired effects.

Produced by N&R Publications, a division of News & Review.

For patients who’ve just received a cannabis card, the array of options for their medicine can prove jaw-dropping. Medical marijuana comes in different forms as well as different strains with colorful — sometimes confusing — names.

Blue Hawaiian. Purple Kush. NK Ultra. For newbies, it’s practically another language.

“It’s very overwhelming for a patient when they’re entering a dispensary, especially when it’s their first time ever,” says Ashley Horgan, head budtender at Safe Accessible Solutions in Sacramento. “It’s nice to be able to help them, see what effects they need and guide them in the right direction.”

Regardless of the name, cannabis in local dispensaries typically falls in one of three categories: indica, sativa or hybrid — a crossbreed of indica and sativa. (A fourth variety, ruderalis, which originated in Russia, is uncommon here.)

“At the end of the day, it’s all breeding,” explains Justin Robertson, budtender at two Sacramento dispensaries, Green Solutions and Two Rivers Wellness. “What people need to do is pay attention to the strain but also pay attention to the parent [plants’ lineage], because the further up the chain of purity you go, the more consistent results you get.”

Conversely, the more generations removed from the “land-raised” plant, the wider the variation.

Effects vary not just from strain to strain but from individual to individual.

“A lot of people forget the science behind cannabis,” Robertson says. “It’s a compound that’s being absorbed into your bloodstream that interacts with your body chemistry … but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be like Advil.

“Advil works the same for everybody; cannabis isn’t so consistent.”

Consistency is difficult to get in part because strain names aren’t like product brands. Blue Dream from one cultivator, at one dispensary, may have different properties than Blue Dream at another.

So, while both Horgan and Robertson recommend www.leafly.com as a source of information on strains, reading only takes a patient so far. In sorting out strains, Horgan says, “trial and error is the best way.”

She adds: “There are tons of strains you can choose from. There’s always going to be new ones, something different. There are always new genetics being crossed. It’s hard to keep up with.”