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All About Strains

By Tanya Davies

A beginner’s primer on medical cannabis strains

When choosing a medical cannabis product, you are going to see and hear a lot about strains. But what does this mean, exactly? In the horticultural world, a strain is defined as the “variations or descendants from a common ancestor.” The common ancestors for cannabis are sativa and indica. These two types of plants are in all cannabis products and have been crossed to create hybrids strains. So how do you decide which type and which strain is best for you? Understanding what makes a strain and how it will affect you is a good starting point.

What makes a strain?

When we look at different strains and the chemical make-ups, we need to start with sativa and indica. These are found in every strain of cannabis, but they have very different effects. Sativa is stimulating and will make you feel more energetic. While indica has a sedating effect that will relax and calm you.

Both sativa and indica phenotypes consist of cannabinoids, chemical compounds that produce the effect you feel when you consume cannabis. The two main cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is responsible for the marijuana “high” you get and produces psychoactive effects, while CBD has no psychoactive properties and 'balances out' the psychoactive effects of THC.

How are medical strains developed?

New strains are developed and grown to intensify a specific characteristic or effect and to improve or diversify an existing strain. The grower starts by setting a goal of what they want the strain to achieve. For example, better pain relief without making you tired, or a better muscle relaxant. They choose the parent plants based on the positive characteristics they want and the negative traits they don’t want.

Then, like you learned in High School biology, the male and female plants are bred. The offspring plants are then bred again, either together or with one of the parent plants. The offspring are usually bred one more time to create a more stable strain.

What strains are best for treating medical conditions?

Medical indica strains can make you feel relaxed and sleepy, which can help with chronic pain, arthritis pain, insomnia, anxiety and muscle spasms from Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis. These are usually consumed at night or just before going to sleep

While medical sativa strains can make you feel energetic and euphoric, they can help with migraines, depression, chronic pain and nausea. They are considered for daytime use, when you need to be alert and awake.

Medical hybrid strains can create the perfect mix, so you can have the positive benefits from both indica and sativa. For example, both have characteristics that are helpful with chronic pain. And new strains of medical cannabis are being developed with higher levels of CBD (higher than 6%) so you can enjoy the benefits of cannabis without the psychoactive effects of THC.

Popular medical strains

Here are some of the more popular strains, and their medical characteristics:

Girl Scout Cookies
Has a high level of THC and can help with stress, depression, pain and headaches.

OG Kush
Also has a high level of THC and helps with stress, insomnia, pain, depression and headaches.

Has a high level of CBD and helps with pain, inflammation, stress and headaches.

One to One
Has a moderate level of both THC and CBD and helps with muscle spasms, pain and insomnia.

Atomic Northern Lights
Also has a moderate level of THC and CBD and helps with stress, pain, depression and appetite stimulation.

Written by: Tanya Davies

Tanya is a Toronto-based editor and writer who specializes in health-related content.

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