The first time you walk into a cannabis dispensary, you are likely to be greeted by strange, even fantastical names on different containers of dried flower. Names like “Sour Diesel” and “Grandaddy Purple” distinguish different types of cannabis, or strains, and are intended to help you get the exact effects you want and need. 

There’s just one problem: If you are new to cannabis culture, you probably don’t know what different strain names mean. Before you take home some random strain and hope for the best, here is a guide to help you understand and evaluate different strains, so you can select one that you will love. 

Indica, Sativa or Hybrid? 

Before cannabis research, biologists classified cannabis into one of three species: cannabis indica, cannabis sativa and cannabis ruderalis. Cannabis ruderalis is essentially non-psychoactive hemp, so you are unlikely to see this term in a dispensary in Tucson. However, indica and sativa became terms used to describe strains with different types of effects. Short and bushy, indica plants were believed to effect deep relaxation and pain relief. Conversely, sativa plants were tall with thin leaves, and they have been associated with increased energy and creativity. Over the years, cannabis breeders have mixed sativa and indica genetics to create hybrids, which have different amalgamations of effects. 

Unfortunately, indica and sativa aren’t exactly scientific. Recent genetic research has discovered essentially no difference between indica and sativa strains, which means that any purported differences are more likely the result of factors like cannabinoid and terpene content or the reactions of individual users. 

Even so, dispensaries use the terms “indica” and “sativa” to describe the most common effects of a certain strain. Thus, it helps to know what these terms indicate, so you can select a strain that will help you achieve the high you expect. 

Cultivation Conditions 

You might take the time to ask your dispensary’s budtenders about the growing conditions of the strains you are interested in purchasing. Most places demand that cannabis be grown indoors — either because the law mandates this or because the climate makes indoor cultivation necessary. However, outdoor cultivation is possible in some regions, like Northern California and Colorado. Some stoners believe that outdoor cannabis farms produce higher-quality bud, and knowing where your strain is sourced can help you decide for yourself whether weed grown indoors or outdoors is better. 

You might also make note of whether a strain is raised organically or not. Pesticides and fertilizers can remain on cannabis flower after processing, and they can impact the quality of the bud during use as well as the health of users for years to come. 

Appearance, Aroma and Flavors 

Long before you use a cannabis strain, you can learn about its likely effects thanks to its appearance and aroma. For example, many cannabis nugs are dark green in hue, but other colors can have certain indications: Purple bud is often believed to offer more intense euphoria; orange hairs are associated with energy; blue hues cause heavy highs and deep relaxation; and wisps of black can denote a psychedelic strain. Additionally, you should look at the flower’s structure, as tight buds are associated with relaxation and loose buds with energy. 

Next, you should take a deep whiff of the strain. Terpenes are compounds associated with plant aromas, like pine, citrus and lavender. There are over 400 terpenes in cannabis plants, in different combinations, and many dispensaries label the most dominant terpenes on the strains they have available for sale. Because terpene profiles can affect the effects of a strain, recognizing the terpenes present in a strain will help you identify if that strain is for you. 


A high price tag doesn’t always indicate a superior strain — but it usually does. Growers and dispensaries charge more for strains that are subject to higher demand, usually either because they are rarer than other strains or because more cannabis consumers value that strain. If you can spare the extra bucks, you might sample some top-shelf strains during your next dispensary visit, just so you can compare the wares at your pot shop’s different price points. 

Strain names aren’t always indicative of how they will impact users, so being able to evaluate a strain is a valuable skill. The more you practice evaluating a strain, the better you will be at finding the strains you will love.