Those lucky enough to have access to a cannabis-friendly doctor may receive special recommendations for specific strains or types of products. However, most cannabis patients (whether official or self-medicating) have to do quite a bit of experimenting before they find the right fit. There are many different variables to consider when choosing the right medical cannabis strains. To make things a little easier, here is a brief guide to finding the perfect medicinal strain for you.
How to choose the right medical cannabis strains
There are two primary variable groups to keep in mind when choosing a quality medical cannabis strain. The first is the strain classification and the second is cannabinoid content. The first concerns the way cannabis strains are described in dispensaries and popular culture, the second is based on quantifiable test results.
Strains are currently classified into three broad groups: indicas, sativas, and hybrids. Though there is much debate about the accuracy of these classifications, here is a general breakdown of what these groups mean for medical cannabis patients:
Plants classified as indicas often express certain physical characteristics, such as broad leaves and short, stocky plants. However, indicas are often described in dispensaries as more sedative, physically relaxing strains that provide a heavy-bodied, numbing sensation.
Strains classified as indicas tend to have higher levels of myrcene, an aroma molecule (terpene) that provides a musky, mango-like aroma to dried flower. The higher the myrcene level, the more potent and drowsy a strain will be. Generally speaking, indica strains are thought to be beneficial for:
Though there is much debate on this topic, strains classified as sativas tend to express tall and slow growth patterns and narrow leaves. In a dispensary, sativa strains are thought to provide more energetic effects, similar to drinking a cup of coffee or black tea.
Some sativa strains are thought to have higher levels of a cannabis compound called tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), which perhaps contributes to these more stimulating effects. However, lower amounts of myrcene can drastically reduce the sedation often felt with indica strains. In general, sativa strains are thought to be beneficial for:
- Chronic fatigue
- Migraine and headache
- Moderate pain relief
- Depression (low doses)
- Focus and concentration
- Daytime relief
While the vast majority of cannabis strains out there are hybrids, hybrid strains are wildcards. Hybrids will often be described as indica dominant, sativa dominant, or well-balanced. When selecting a hybrid, its good to do a little research on the strain ahead of time to get a sense of the overall effect.
If possible, looking at the levels of myrcene in the strain will tell you about how much sedation you should expect from the bud. Myrcene levels over 0.5 percent suggest that the strain might produce some of the famous cannabis “couch-lock”. Hybrids also tend to be significantly more potent than pure indica or sativa strains.
Choosing the right cannabinoids
The next major factor to consider is cannabinoid content. While many people still think of a sleepy, psychoactive high when they hear the word cannabis, different strains can produce highly varied effects.
Some strains do not even produce a psychoactive effect at all, which may be preferred among seniors or young medical cannabis patients. It all depends on what types of cannabinoids are most abundant in the strain.
Cannabinoids are molecules thought to be unique to the cannabis plant. These compounds are what make cannabis such powerful medicine.
The two cannabinoids most abundant in cannabis are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the primary psychoactive in the plant and is responsible for the classic cannabis “high”. CBD is considered nonpsychoactive, though it can have a positive effect on mood.
At the time of writing, most strains are dominant in either THC, CBD, or contain a mix of both. Rarely do strains exceed more than 30 percent total cannabinoids. Currently, some breeders are developing strains higher in less common compounds, like THCV, but those strains are an extraordinary find in medical cannabis dispensaries.
Strains high in THC or CBD both produce different effects and may be beneficial for different types of symptoms and ailments. Here’s how they stack up:
What is THC good for?
High-THC strains are more commonly used by adults, as they do provide a psychoactive high. In general, high-THC strains and products are thought to be beneficial for:
- Falling asleep
- Appetite stimulation
- Anti-cancer activity
- Stress relief
- Depression (low doses)
- Anxiety (low to moderate doses)
- Antibiotic/ insecticidal
- Muscle relaxant
Some great high-THC strains include:
- Girl Scout Cookies (hybrid)
- Gorilla Glue (hybrid)
- Ghost Train Haze (sativa)
- Blue Dream (hybrid)
- Granddaddy Purple (indica)
2. What is CBD good for?
Strains high in CBD may have a positive effect on mood, though they will not produce a psychoactive high. Instead, they are more likely to provide a calming and peaceful experience without altered cognition. In general, high-CBD strains and products are thought to be beneficial for:
- Daytime relief
- Pain relief
- Stress relief
- Antipsychotic properties
- Anticonvulsant/ antispasmodic properties
- Anti-cancer properties
- Oily skin
- Antibacterial properties
Some great high-CBD strains include:
3. What about combining THC and CBD?
Strains considered high in CBD produce over 20 percent of the cannabinoids. However, not all phenotypes of the same strain will produce that amount. Depending on genetics and environmental factors, some strains might produce close to a 1:1 to 2:1 ratio of CBD to THC.
For many patients, opting for something close to a 1:1 may be very rewarding. These strains may have a slight psychoactivity, but they will not be overwhelming. Evidence shows that the two
For many patients, opting for something close to a 1:1 may be very rewarding. These strains may have a slight psychoactivity, but they will not be overwhelming. Evidence shows that the two cannabinoids work synergistically with each other to enhance the effects of both compounds.
Combining THC and CBD is thought to:
- Enhance pain relief
- Ease THC-associated anxiety and paranoia
- Boost antioxidant potential
- Boots anti-inflammatory potential
- Provide effective daytime relief
- Improve sleep
Some great balanced THC/CBD strains include:
- CBD Critical Cure (indica)
- Sour Tsunami (hybrid)
- Stephen Hawking Kush (indica)
- Cannatonic (hybrid)
- Canna-tsu (hybrid)
Choosing the right medical cannabis strain can be tricky. The plant may seem like a simple herb, but the potential seems boundless upon a closer look. When trying to find the right medical cannabis strain, it’s important to be mindful of both the classification and the dominant cannabinoid.
A high-CBD indica, for example, may still have a slightly sedative effect thanks to high levels of myrcene. Yet, this strain will still not be as couch-locking as a high-THC indica strain, since THC can also be considered a sedative when in the presence of myrcene.
Diving into the wild world of medical cannabis can be daunting, but budtenders and savvy healthcare professionals can also make for great on-the-spot resources when trying to find the best possible medicine for what ails you.