The Differences Between CBD Hemp Flower Strains
Sour Space Candy. Island Time. Berry Blossom.
They’re fun names to say, sure, but they’re also much more than just cool branding. Hemp is a plant that comes in many different strains, each with its own unique history and, more importantly, its own profile of terpenes, phytonutrients, and cannabinoids.
There are countless hemp strains out there, owing to the millennia-long history of people creating hybrid plants and growing hemp that suits their particular needs. Knowing the cannabinoid profile of each and every strain on the market would be a full-time job in its own right. It isn’t entirely necessary, though. Knowing just a few of the most common strains and what makes them unique can go a long way in finding a hemp flower that works for you.
Indica and Sativa Hemp Strains: What’s the Deal?
You’ve probably heard people talk about Indica strains and Sativas trains before, as the terms are used commonly by both medical cannabis budtenders and in the hemp industry. The terms Indica and Sativa are a sticky subject, to say the least. Botanists, growers, and sellers are often using the terms to mean totally different things, and they are often misused or misunderstood. So, what do these words mean and do they actually matter?
Let’s back up a bit:
Cannabis sativa is the botanical name given to the cannabis plant. It was classified and named by “the father of modern botany” Carl Linnaeus in 1753, long before the modern distinction between hemp and marijuana was made. Linnaeus mentions his interest in growing C. sativa plants under different conditions in his “Dissertation on the Sexes of the Plants.” He grew the plant in two groups: one in which he kept the male and female plants together, and one where they were separated. He wrote that the group in which both genders were kept together flowered and produced fruit, which ripened in July. In the group where he separated the plants, the female flowers kept growing for much longer in the absence of pollen from the male plants. Linnaeus noted “it was certainly beautiful and truly a spectacle.”
As we mentioned in our History of Hemp Part I blog, cannabis has been cultivated for one of two purposes: as a fibrous industrial material or as a psychoactive plant used in folk medicine and religious practices. These two plants look very different: the fibrous tall and stalky and rich in CBD, the psychoactive variety has higher THC levels and is shorter and stockier like a bush. The fibrous one is generally well-suited to the temperate climate of northern Eurasia and North America, while the psychoactive variety favors places like southern Asia.
Since Linnaeus’s initial classification the botanical community has had pretty steady debate over whether these are two different species or subspecies of one plant, C. sativa. The main issue here is the level of influence of humans on the plant’s evolution. Cannabis was one of the first plants humans domesticated and over the millennia people have altered every characteristic of the plant to fit their needs. As such, botanists aren’t even sure if a wild cannabis sample exists anymore. That makes classification tricky.
One solution is to say that both the psychoactive marijuana plant and fibrous hemp plant are actually the same species, Cannabis sativa. This species can be divided into two subspecies: Cannabis sativa ssp. Sativa (the fibrous and stalky plant, typically referred to as industrial hemp)and Cannabis sativa ssp. Indica (the short, bushy plants, typically called marijuana). The Indica varieties typically have much higher THC content, while Sativa plants generally have higher CBD and little to no THC.
Another is to recognize these two plants as two entirely different species. The argument for this is pretty obvious thanks to the physical differences and variance in cannabinoid content between the two plants. As mentioned above, it isn’t possible to tell if these differences are the result of a natural process or human meddling, which is why many botanists are straying from this definition.
Cannabis ruderalis, on the other hand, is generally thought of as its own species. The ruderalisplant is much shorter than either the Sativa or Indica subspecies plants. C. ruderalis plants thrive in areas of Central and Eastern Europe with conditions that would kill Sativa and Indica plants. This plant only grows to be about one or two feet high and its flowers contain large amounts of CBD and virtually no THC. C. ruderalis plants are not very common, especially in the United States.
So Why Do People Say Sativa and Indica Hemp Strains?
This may seem like a weird tangent, but the terms “Indica” and “Sativa” are frequently misused. If you’ve paid attention to the hemp or medical cannabis industries, you’ve probably heard Sativa and Indica get tossed around quite a bit. Sativa is often associated with active, invigorating effects, while Indica is thought to be relaxing and calming.
These “rules” don’t really have any bearing on the reality of hemp flowers, though. Thanks to the aforementioned hybridization of C. sativa strains the subspecies of plant isn’t actually a good indicator of the effects it will have. A plant from the subspecies Sativa might have the effects associated with Indica varieties, and vice versa.
While the short, shrubby Indica plant generally has a high THC:CBD ratio, that isn’t a universal rule. The modern desire for high-CBD and low-THC plants means more and more hybrid strains and Sativa/Indica varieties that invert expectations. Growers modify strains to fit the growing conditions and climate, as well as the market demands, so they are constantly developing Sativa and Indica plants with different cannabinoid profiles.
So how do you tell which hemp strain to get? That all comes back to the names.
Finding the Right Hemp Strain
Rather than fretting over if a hemp plant is a Sativa or Indica, what you should be looking at is the hemp strain and cannabinoid content. Cannabinoid content, as shown in Certificates of Analysis (these are included with every hemp product listed on our website), will give you a much better idea of the effects a particular flower may have on the endocannabinoid system.
Hemp strains are given to specific lineages of plants that were grown to create a specific cannabinoid profile through careful breeding. These names are often more predictive of a strain’s properties than the subspecies, although there is some variance between growers even if they come from the same seed stock.
What to Look for on a CBD Flower COA
Let’s take a look at the COAs from three different strains from Apotheca’s house brand of CBD flower: Lifter, Island Time, and Poundcake. Each of these strains has an immediately obvious difference in its maximum active CBD: Lifter at 13.38%, Island Time has 10.89%, and 11.90% for Poundcake. These may seem like minor differences, but such a distinction can be important for customers looking for a specific dosage of CBD.
Lifter also has the most total cannabinoids with 164.99 per gram. Island Time has the most CBG-A and also the lowest amount of Delta 9-THCA per gram. If you’re looking for ultra-low THC hemp strains or are hunting for a particular CBD:THC ratio, the COA is your best friend. Likewise, cannabinoids like CBG, CBN, and CBC are often sought after, but are rarely listed on product packaging. The amount of these cannabinoids in a particular flower can only be found on the COA.
How Can You Tell Which Strain is in a CBD Tincture?
Finding out which strain is in a CBD tincture, salve, or other manufactured product can be pretty tough. Most manufacturers don’t list the strain their product is made with on product packaging. If a company grows and processes their own hemp, it’s possible that they’ll include information on their preferred hemp strain on their website. If they don’t, though, you’re likely going to be left in the dark.
Fortunately, you don’t need to know the exact strain as long as you have a copy of the COA handy. All legitimate CBD products have the same COA information as raw hemp flowers and with a little research it’s easy to find a CBD tincture that has a cannabinoid profile similar to your favorite hemp strain.
Choosing the Right Hemp Strain
If there’s one thing to take away from this post, it’s to pay attention to cannabinoids. Indica-strain and Sativa-strain distinctions are misleading and won’t actually help you find a hemp flower with the properties you’re looking for. The only way to know for sure that a hemp strain will deliver the desired effects is to get a copy of a Certificate of Analysis from a reputable lab.
Of course, there is no universal “best hemp strain” that suits every customer. So how do you find the hemp strain that is right for you? It all comes down to personal preference. It’s a good idea for first-time hemp customers to start with a strain with a lower cannabinoid content and graduate to more potent strains if desired. There are always new hemp strains on the market and knowing which cannabinoid ratios you prefer will go a long way in helping you navigate the cool names and find a product that suits your needs.
Looking for a helping hand? Apotheca does a lot of of the heavy lifting for you on researching raw hemp. We carry only certified, Farm Bill-compliant hemp flowers with valid Certificates of Analysis. We even post those certificates on every product page in our store to take the guesswork out of hemp shopping online.
This post quotes Smoke Signals by Martin A. Lee, which is available for purchase here.