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In the cannabis world, strains are important. There are over 2000 cannabis strains with distinct names, and many produce unique effects. However, some of these strains may not actually be genetically related to each other. When it comes to popular strains like Blue Dream and OG Kush, what you pick up in one dispensary might be a genetically distinct plant at another. Here’s why the weed you’re smoking might not be what you think.

What causes strain variety?

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In a recent interview with ATTN, Mowgli Holmes, chief scientific officer for the cannabis biotechnology company, Phylos Bioscience, explains that, when it comes to reproduction, the cannabis plant may not be so different from ourselves. Holmes explains,

The way that seeds work in the cannabis world is more like the human population. Every seed is a unique child from two different parents – and there’s just this incredible diversity because the plants spread all around the world and then all of those different varieties came back and recombined into this genetic swirl on the West Coast of the U.S. and in Holland.

Cannabis shows some uncommon traits in the plant world. Unlike the majority of plants out there, cannabis plants produce two distinct sexes. Most plants produce flowers with both male and female reproductive parts, but cannabis, like humans, produces distinct male and female plants.

Crossing individual male and female plants together produce an array of genetic diversity, offspring plants will take on the characteristics unique to both their mother and father plants, which have unique genetic profiles themselves.

Do indicas and sativas matter?

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While indicas, sativas, and ruderalis types do exist, the similarities and differences between them are more complex than expected. Unlike many other agricultural crops, the cannabis genome has yet to be mapped out.

Unfortunately, decades of prohibition have prevented researchers from following cultivation trends and studying the genetic differences between different cannabis strains and subspecies.

What exists instead of a genetic map is a wealth of lore and passed-down experiences regarding the family lineages of cannabis strains. Cannabis has been a part of human civilization for thousands of years. While the plant is thought to originate in the fertile crescent, the herb has spread out through the continents as humans have migrated around the globe.

The result is a plant that has seen a huge amount of hybridization throughout the years, much of which has occurred in basements, amongst small collections of people who discretely shared their knowledge. This process has accelerated in today’s globalized cultural environment.

Strains from all corners of the planet have been collected and used in breeding projects. Many of these plants have been backcrossed with their familial relatives, remixing the gene pool in unexpected and novel ways, if sometimes limited.

However, recent research suggests that referring to different cannabis in different “strains” only presents a partial picture of what really distinguishes plants from one another.

Unique genetics of strains

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On a genetic level, the lore about some strains varying effects may prove false in some instances. For example, some of the strains out there may be genetically identical, while others that go by the same name may be genetically unique.

In a 2015 study published in PLOS ONE, researchers tested whether or not the common description of strains matched their genetic makeup.

While the study did find a moderate correlation, most strains were more closely related to hemp than the cannabis sativa plant. Phylos Biosciences’ Holme’s tells ATTN,

In a general way, we have a sense that the names are totally, totally wrong at least 30 percent of the time. The real challenge is for consumers and especially for patients who can’t get consistent products.

Cannabis reform would permit more research and standardization in the industry, enabling researchers to map out and classify distinct subspecies and phenotypes with ease.

In the meantime, the best way to pass down cannabis information is through combining what knowledge is available along with the decades of traditional, cannabis community wisdom that has been passed down to new generations.

Would you like to show your support for cannabis reform in the United States? Contact your representative and let them know. Find their phone number at house.gov. 

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