Strains… There are a few widely known cannabis strains, like "White Widow" (pictured here to the right). But for cannabis growers today, there are literally thousands of strains to choose from. Each strain has it’s pros and cons. Each one produces different effects.
Unfortunately, even knowing the strain name isn't necessarily enough to tell you what to expect from a plant! There are sometimes different versions of strains by different breeders.
When there are several versions of popular strains, each version can grow wildly different from each other and produce different results. "White Widow" from one breeder may be completely different from "White Widow" by another breeder.
So while you're researching strains, always pay attention to the breeder in addition to the strain name.
Genetics play a huge role in how your cannabis plants grow, including the effects, appearance, smell and taste of their buds.
So how do you pick the right strain? These steps will show you the way.
Let’s go through that list one step at a time...
Every grower has different needs. Are you looking for medical cannabis, or non-medical cannabis? Do you need a strain that’s easy to grow? Are you just looking for the most potent strain possible? Perhaps you want to grow purple or pink buds that look like the buds you see in a magazine.
Regardless of what you’re looking for, chances are there’s a strain, or many strains, that fit your needs.
One thing to keep in mind is “Indica” vs “Sativa” plants.
These are not always the case, and characteristics vary a lot by strain, but this list should help give you an idea of what to expect in general from Indica vs Sativa strains.
The above plants were grown in the exact same environment. Notice how much a difference the strain made as far as their growth patterns.
Cannabis can be either male or female, but female cannabis plants are the only ones which produce buds. Male plants produce pollen and are generally thrown away by growers.
Most growers only want to grow bud-bearing female plants. If you're not starting with cannabis clones (where the gender is already known), feminized seeds are the only way to ensure your cannabis plant will end up making buds
Note: “Feminized” seeds means that all the plants will turn into female plants.
Regular (non-feminized) seeds will produce about half male and half female plants. Even though male plants do not make buds, the pollen from desirable “stud” male plants are essential to a complete cannabis breeding program.
Some strains are considered “easier” to grow than others. One example of this is “Northern Light” which is considered to be hardy and tends to thrive in a variety of environments, without growing too tall or out of control. Some strains are known to be relatively picky about their environments, but an experienced grower in a nice setup should be able to deal with any strain’s specific needs.
Cannabinoids such as THC are what give cannabis its effects. Here are the ones we know most about:
THC stands for “Tetrahydrocannabinol,” which is a fancy word to describe the main cannabinoid in cannabis that produces much of the euphoria and other mental effects. For medical marijuana patients, THC seems to be one of the most important cannabinoids when it comes to reducing pain.
CBD stands for Cannabidiol, a non-psychotropic cannabinoid that has recently been in the spotlight for its medical effects in fighting seizures. It does not cause the psychoactive effects of THC, and may have lots of other beneficial effects for medical marijuana patients.
CBN stands for Cannabinol, another known cannabinoid. CBN causes milder mental effects than THC, and more of a body relaxation effect. CBN levels do not have a lot to do with strain - they are raised by harvesting buds later.
When shopping around for cannabis strains, you’ll often be able to get information from the breeder about THC and CBD levels.
Low THC, High CBD
Avoid “dabs” or waxes as they can contain contaminants that aren’t appropriate in a medical setting
When shopping around for strains, many breeders will give you information about the THC and CBD levels of the buds produced by this strain of cannabis. If they can’t give you specific numbers, I recommend avoiding that breeder if you’re a medical cannabis patient.
High THC, Low CBD
Medium THC, Medium CBD
High THC, Medium CBN (by harvesting plants later)
The following factors vary quite a bit from strain to strain, and also change due to different growing methods.
Varies by strain & growing methods:
The buds of different strains look different from each other. Some buds come in green, orange, purple or pink hues. Some tend to be light and airy, while others (often indicas) tend to grow very tight, dense buds. Different strains also produce different tastes or smells in their buds.
Appearance and taste/smell are parts of the whole growing experience. If the characteristics of the bud appearance or taste/smell is the most important to you, then it's important to determine what you're looking for so you can choose the right strains to fulfill your needs.
There are many breeders that specialize in pretty, fragrant and colorful strains. There are many strains that actually have "purple" or "pink" in the name. The pictures and information given by breeders will help you find the exact strain you're looking for!
Note: I believe it's important to pay attention to bud effects, more than the appearance or taste/smell of a strain. Even if you're growing a particular strain for its looks or taste/smell, sometimes the result doesn't come out as expected due to a different environment, grow lights, nutrients, or just plain genetic variation. But if you get a strain with the effects you're looking for, you know you'll be happy at harvest time! Your growing methods have a lot less of an impact on the effects of your bud than the appearance.
Some growers are really interested in growing the most famous strains and cannabis cup winning strains of the moment, and recent strain winners. One thing to keep in mind is that newly created strains tend to be less stable and your plant may end up growing in an unexpected way. Yet many cup winners offer unique characteristics which can’t be found anywhere else.
For a lot of cannabis growers the most important thing when it comes to strain choice is to get the most cannabis bud as fast as possible. Luckily, there are lots of cannabis strains and breeders that cater directly to this market. You don't necessarily have to give up quality for quantity.
Fastest: Get an Auto-Flowering Strain
If you want to get bud the fastest possible, you want to get an autoflowering strain. These strains will automatically start making buds after about 3 weeks, and can be ready to harvest in as soon as 8 weeks from seed. With a regular strain you may be able force your plant to harvest in the same amount of time (by using the 12/12 from seed method) but you will get terrible yields.
With an auto-flowering strain you will get from seed to harvest in 8-12 weeks (depending on strain) and still get decent yields. I got over 2 ounces per plant in my last autoflowering grow under a small grow light. I planted in mid-October and was able to harvest the first plant before the New Year.
There are also photoperiod (non-autoflowering) plants that have short flowering times, but usually they'll still end up taking longer to get to harvest than most auto-flowering strains.
Biggest Yields: Get a High-Yielding Strain
If you want to get the biggest yields possible, you need to get a high-yield strain. Some strains are popular for their effects or appearance, but don't yield as high as others. You'll usually get the best yields with photoperiod strains.
Most breeders will list expected yields with their strain descriptions, so you can find the strains that yield the most when you're looking at your options.
If you're really concerned with yields, make sure to still pay attention to flowering time, too. If two strains are rated the same in yields, but one takes 4 weeks less in the flowering stage than the other, you'll end up with the most bud by getting the plant with the shorter flowering time because you'll be able to grow more plants more often.
But probably even more imortant than strain, if you're growing indoors the best way to increase your yields is to train your plants during the vegetative stage.
What characteristics are you looking for? Make your list now.
Now it’s time to create a list of possible cannabis strains. Definitely add as many as you want at first, but then I recommend narrowing down your list of strains so you’re not caught up with overwhelm. I have few strategies to help you narrow down your list.
To start, make a list of a few possible strains to grow.
You’ve already made a list of desired characteristics a moment ago. If you don't already have an idea about which strain(s) you want to grow, it’s time to make a list of possible strains that might fit your needs.
So let’s find strains that have characteristics you’re looking for.
Note for Medical Cannabis Patients: If you’re looking for medical cannabis strains, and most especially if you’re looking for high CBD, low THC strains, you want to start with clones if you possibly can.
The best case scenario is to get a clone from a trusted grower who can provide cannabinoid percentages for the buds produced by this plant.
Just because someone says a strain is “Harlequin” doesn’t mean that it necessarily has high CBD levels. Always check and ask for documentation about cannabinoid levels!
When I'm researching for a new grow, I usually start by using the website of a big seed bank. These sites give you lots of helpful information about each strain they carry. These big seed sources usually have a "strain selector" option that lets you put in the specific features you're looking for and get a list of results.
Recently I’ve been using Seedsman because they carry seeds by a lot of trusted breeders and have pretty good profiles for each strain.
Here’s how I research cannabis strains on seed bank websites:
Step 1: Narrow down Regular vs Feminized.
Let’s say I want only feminized seeds on Seedsman. After choosing Regular vs Feminized, I’m brought to a page where only feminized seeds are displayed, and I have a list of options going down the left side of the page to narrow down my possible strains.
Here you can see a list of options on the left side. There are more options if you keep scrolling down. As you click on your desired characteristics, the list of strains in the middle will automatically update so you’re only seeing the strains you want.
Step Two: Choose whether you want Photoperiod or Auto-flowering seeds
Again, you’ll see this option along the left side.
Step Three: Refine your search further
Using the options on the left side will allow you to select a variety of characteristics to narrow down list of strains.
Step Four: Start looking at the descriptions of different strains, and write down any one that appeals to you.
Note: Don’t pay attention to just THC or CBD levels. Although these are important, there are lots of other factors that will change how the buds affect you, too. Always do your research!
I recommend narrowing down to a list of just 5 strains or less before moving on to the next step
Seeing different grows featuring a strain will help give you an idea of what the buds of that particular strain tend to look like.
For each possible strain....
Picture Grow Journals
Search for a grow journal with pictures of your strain during the grow process - Type "STRAIN-NAME grow" into Google.com and look at the regular results plus the Google image results.
When looking at image results, it's important to click through to the page instead of just looking at the image so you can learn more.
These steps may give you good leads toward finding a grow journal featuring your strain, but not always. Remember to also pay attention to which breeder the grower got their strain from.
Video Grow Journals
Search for the strain name in Youtube - you may possibly find people who may have grown the strain and documented their grow with video.
Video is a great way to give you an idea of your strain might look like in the flowering stage, and lots of growers post full video grow journals on Youtube. Again, also pay attention to the strain breeder.
I like the site http://en.seedfinder.eu/ for strain research. It is one of the best ways to find out the genealogy and ancestry of a strain by a particular breeder. It has growing reviews and pictures for some strains which is really helpful, but that can be hit or miss since many strains are missing any type of grower feedback.
Some of the reviews are in German or other languages. You can translate almost any language into English by copying and pasting it here: https://translate.google.com/
Some things to look out for when researching strains
Now that you’ve learned about several different strains, I hope that one (or more) of them are sticking out as potential strain candidates!
The hardest part of strain research is taking that last leap and getting the strain. It’s going to be with you for your whole grow, and you want to make sure you’re happy with it.
But I’ll tell you a secret, as long as you buy a strain that sparks your interest (from a trusted breeder), than you’re going to love it. If you like your strain, you’ll take better care of your plants, and they will reward you!
You've done the hard work of researching your strain. This process can be fun, but also time-consuming. The best part is yet to come - growing your new strains!
One Last Thing...
One last thing to keep in mind... Looks are important to many growers, and looks are part of the whole experience when using cannabis.
...But when it comes down to choosing the strain, I recommend to first choose strains that produce the effects you like as opposed to thinking only about appearance. Some strains may not produce buds that look like what you see in magazines and online, but will give you exactly the effects you are looking for. Isn’t that why we’re all here in the first place?