If you’re new to marijuana (or returning after a long break), you may find the landscape confusing. For starters, what is a cannabis strain? What are THC and CBD?

If you’re feeling stressed by all the choices, we’d like to help you relax. In today’s post, we’ll share a curated cannabis strain guide for beginners, including some of the most popular cannabis strains. By the end, you should have a firm grounding in the basic terminology, and be able to make wise and well-informed choices.


The Basics: What Is a Cannabis Strain?

A strain is a distinct variety of cannabis plant. Think of it like apples: A Granny Smith is distinct from a Golden Delicious or a Honeycrisp. Same with cannabis strains. Each one delivers specific attributes in terms of medicinal benefits, subjective effects, aromas and flavors. And while sometimes “strain” goes by other names—a varietal, a chemovar, or a cultivar, to name a few— for simplicity’s sake we’ll stick with the good old standard “strain.”

What distinguishes one strain from another? There are a great many compounds in the cannabis plant, but the most prevalent are called “cannabinoids.” A group of natural chemicals that includes THC and CBD, cannabinoids elicit specific effects on our bodies and minds. THC, for instance, delivers the cannabis plant’s euphoric “high,” in addition to some powerful anti-inflammatory and pain-killing effects.

CBD, by comparison, isn’t considered intoxicating (though some people notice a very gentle cerebral “buzz” or uplift). But it does exert a number of very useful effects on the body, including the ability to reduce anxiety and stress. It’s also the key ingredient in the anti-seizure medication Epidiolex®, the first cannabis-based drug to win approval from the FDA. CBD also fights inflammation and pain, which is a major reason high-CBD cannabis strains are among the most popular.

All cannabis strains contain at least one of these powerful medicines, and most contain at least some of both. And while it’s far from the only well to distinguish different strains from one another, it’s a great starting point. With that in mind, here’s a list of a few of the most popular cannabis strains.


Indica vs Sativa vs Hybrid: The Changing Role of Genetics

The terms “indica,” along with “sativa,” are one of the two most recognized ways that consumers categorize cannabis. And while there’s some debate in the cannabis world as to how useful these labels—created by ancient botanists—continue to be today, we still use them at UpTop Dispensaries. Why? Because we believe they make it easier for our customers to comprehend and forecast a given strain’s effects.

Historically, the terms “indica” and “sativa” referred to different botanical varieties of the cannabis plant. Before we began to consciously cultivate and breed cannabis plants, the indica varieties grew wild in Asia, while sativas were native to balmier climates closer to the equator. While part of the same family, these plants looked very different: Sativas were taller and lankier, with more slender leaves while indicas were shorter and bushier plants with broader leaves.

These varieties also produced different effects, with indicas becoming known for their sedative benefits and body-focused experience and sativas becoming known for imparting a cerebral buzz, a sociable euphoria and stimulating creative thought.

Over time, cultivators began breeding “pure” indica plants with “pure” sativa to create many different hybrids. Today, most strains are some form of a hybrid and they can be labeled “balanced,” “indica dominant,” or “sativa dominant” based on their genetics.

While the effects of a particular strain will be impacted by its genetics (indica, sativa, hybrid), genetics do not exclusively dictate the particular chemical profile of a plant. Other factors like environment, humidity, light, water, and nutrients all play a role in what the final cannabis plant will express. So while “sativa,” “indica,” and “hybrid” can offer some idea as to what a strain’s effects will be like, it ultimately comes down to the combination of active ingredients found in that particular plant, including the cannabinoid and terpene profiles, for example.


Cannabis Strain Guide: The Top Three

Blue Dream: One of the most famous strains of all time, Blue Dream is beloved for its balanced effects, including a mellow, full-body euphoria coupled with gentle cerebral stimulation. Be aware that Blue Dream contains a hefty amount of THC, one reason we counsel our customers to “start low, go slow” when it comes to potent cannabis strains such as this one.

Harlequin: As one of the most popular high-CBD cannabis strains, Harlequin is beloved for delivering a big hit of the calming cannabinoid with relatively minimal psychoactivity from THC. Newcomers and seasoned cannabis lovers alike turn to it for relief from chronic symptoms and conditions without fogginess or disorientation.

OG Kush: At the opposite end of the spectrum is OG Kush, a potent and heavy-hitting strain originally hailing from the Hindu Kush Mountains (the home of Mt. Everest). You’ll feel as high as Everest yourself if you ingest too much at once. But taken in moderation, OG Kush treats you to a delightfully euphoric, full-body sensation of relaxation and deep peace.


Cannabis Strain Guide: In Conclusion

We hope this cannabis strain guide helped orient you towards some of the most popular cannabis strains (and what makes them special). But needless to say, if you have more questions, don’t hesitate to ask! Drop us a line anytime; we’re always here to help! You can also stop by one of our dispensaries or pursue our online menu to see what we currently have in stock. We look forward to serving you!