What types of marijuana are there? Cannabis species, strains and varieties

The types of marijuana generate confusion and there is a lack of consensus on their classification. Even a simple search on the Internet may surprise us to find totally obsolete information in the first results. And it is normal: not even scientists agree.

In today’s post, you will discover what are the types of marijuana, strains and varieties of cannabis. We’ll explain why “indica”, “sativa” and “ruderalis” are no longer used, and you’ll find out how to get the high quality types of marijuana you can buy today.

Introduction to types of marijuana: species, strains and varieties

The cannabis plant is incredibly diverse in terms of its genetics and appearance. Each plant has a unique combination of genes resulting in differences in shape, size, color, cannabinoid content and aroma. This genetic diversity allows the plant to produce a wide variety of compounds and to generate very different specimens.

Over the centuries, humans have taken advantage of this characteristic of cannabis to experiment with the plant through crossbreeding and genetic improvements, which has resulted in the CBD flowers that you can find in our cannabis storeas well as hundreds of other types of marijuana with and without THC, in every shape and color imaginable.

What exactly is a type of marijuana?

When we talk about types of marijuana, we refer to a combination of interrelated terms: the species, strains and varieties of cannabis. These concepts are closely linked and are used to describe the different categories that exist within the world of marijuana.

Cannabis Species: Sativa, Indica and Ruderalis

All varieties of cannabis, including industrial hemp and marijuana, belong to the same species: Cannabis sativa. Although there are differences between these plants, they can all interbreed and produce fertile offspring, which, by definition, makes them the same species (1). Therefore, the existence of three species of cannabis(Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, Cannabis ruderalis) is totally ruled out.

The separation into species according to the shape of the marijuana leaves or the height of the plant is also not correct (1, 2). On the Internet you can find pages that mention the existence of the three species sativa, indica and ruderalis. Although it is outdated, it is not absurd information: it has an interesting historical basis. Taking as a reference one of the most detailed current monographs on the classification of cannabis (1), we summarize it below:

Cannabis sativa: The only accepted species

In the past, hemp was used in Europe for its fiber and to obtain seeds and oil. In 1753, Linnaeus named this plant Cannabis sativa (“sativa” = cultivated). Later, in 1785, the botanist Lamarck described a type of cannabis from India that was used for narcotic purposes and had large buds, calling it Cannabis indica (“indica” = from India). The different uses to which the plant was put led to the development of genetic variations and different characteristics. In other words, the domestication of cannabis gave rise to apparently different plants.

But domestication, according to taxonomists and Linnaeus himself, does not give rise to new species, but to variations within the same species. For this reason, Cannabis sativa is the only accepted name for the cannabis plant. cannabis plant It includes both industrial hemp and the different types of marijuana. We went more in depth on the subject in the post on the differences between hemp and marijuana .

Cannabis indica: the type of marijuana discovered by Lamarck in India

Cannabis indica is not an accepted botanical species, although it has been proposed as a subspecies to designate plants high in THC (the psychoactive compound in marijuana) and moderate in cannabidiol (CBD).

On the other hand, at the commercial level, “indica effect” strains are said to have relaxing body effects, for pain relief, insomnia and anxiety. In contrast, there is also talk of “sativa effect” strains: varieties with high THC content, with stimulating and euphoric mental effects , which are used for the relief of stress, depression and lack of appetite. In any case, the supposed sativa and indica effects are concepts that escape from botany, purely commercial claims and that also present some controversy. If you are interested, we talked about it in the differences between indica and sativa .

Cannabis ruderalis: an obsolete designation

Cannabis ruderalis is a species proposed by the Russian botanist Yanischevsky in 1924 from wild cannabis specimens growing spontaneously outside of cultivation. These plants were adapted to short seasons and, therefore, did not have time to grow large and vigorous. Today, it is considered that the species C. ruderalis does not exist (neither as a species, nor as a subspecies or variety), but simply as cannabis plants that have developed in a stressful environment (it is seen that even Yanischevsky himself observed that plants of his supposed species reached heights of 2 meters or more when they were well fertilized).

So, how do we designate wild cannabis plants? As summarized by De Meijer (4), today’s Cannabis plant is the result of a long, extensive and complex process of domestication by humans. The current hybridization, mixing or genetic variation is so great that any natural evolutionary pattern has been blurred. Therefore, it is questioned whether there are currently “truly” wild types of marijuana.

Key information: what you should stay with

Since there is only one species Cannabis sativa, when we talk about “types of marijuana” we are talking about commercial varieties, we are not referring to any botanical concept. In everyday life, strains and varieties are the most common terms for types of marijuana.

Current types of marijuana: Marijuana strains and varieties

All the types of marijuana we know have been achieved through a process of genetic improvement called artificial selectionin which growers and breeders cross certain marijuana plants to achieve desired characteristics, such as flowers with large buds, specific cannabinoid profiles (THC dominance, CBD, etc.), disease resistance and yield. This led to the creation of strains such as Blue Dream CBD, known for its sweet and fruity flavor, with hints of blueberries and berries.

This development is due to a combination of several factors, among them, plant genetics , together with improvements in the conditions and techniques associated with the type of crop.

Differences between strain and variety of marijuana

Differentiating between strains and varieties can be complicated, due to the lack of standard terminology and the influence of common language in the cannabis industry. Most of the time, the terms are used interchangeably.

In principle, marijuana strains represent a specific genetic line, while varieties are a subdivision based on physical characteristics and cannabinoid content. Unlike strains, varieties are not necessarily linked to a specific genetic line.

Each strain has its own name and is considered unique in terms of genetics and chemical profile: Purple Haze, White Widow,…

Or at least, that’s the theory. After the analysis of different products in the recreational marijuana market (3), it has been found that most types of marijuana with the same name have different genetics. This is because trade names do not follow a standard categorization. In the end, it is the growers who christen the vines according to their own criteria. This means that there are 40 Purple Haze with totally different genetics on the market.

At the commercial level, “strain” is often used to refer to strains of marijuana, or to indicate the progeny of a particular variety: purple strains (purple marijuana), white strains (type of marijuana with white buds)… There are several mythical strains of marijuana that have earned a legendary status in the worldwide cannabis community. Some of the most recognized include Skunk #1, Haze, White Widow, OG Kush and Purple Haze.

Marijuana Kush: Learn about this Cannabis indica strain.

Marijuana breeding

This process of genetic improvement of marijuana is known as breeding marijuana breeding. Modern breeding benefits from advances in genetics and biotechnology, but, in reality, marijuana breeding comes from much earlier: it has been done secretly and empirically, in closets, garages and basements, for most of the modern history of cannabis.

Currently, marijuana breeding has experienced significant advances due to the legalization and regulation of its cultivation in different countries. Thanks to current technology and the valuable genetic heritage of years of clandestine cultivation, it has been possible to develop new types of marijuana with chemical profiles never seen before. Thus, marijuana has gone from 4% to 35% THC in less than three decades.

The diversity of types of marijuana is reflected in the wide range of aromas, shapes and colors currently on the market. Some examples include strains such as: Lemon Haze CBD (citrus aroma), Zkittlez CBD (sweet like Skittles ® candy), Gorilla Glue CBD (for the sticky smell) and Sour Diesel CBD (sour diesel).

How do the different types of marijuana develop?

Tipos de marihuana en un dispensario. Cada variedad de marihuana tiene unas propiedades únicas.

The current types of marijuana have been developed by artificial selection, i.e. selecting plants with desired characteristics to produce equal progeny. Here we tell you about the process:

1 – Selection of parents

Marijuana is a dioecious plant, which means that it has male and female specimens. To reproduce, it is necessary to cross them and the female plant will produce seeds with a genetic mixture of both. Therefore, the first step is to select the male and female marijuana plants that will serve as parents for the cross. These plants are strains selected for having desired characteristics, such as aroma, cannabinoid content or vigorous growth.

2 – Crossbreeding of varieties

Once the parents have been selected, the varieties are crossed. This involves controlled pollination of the female plant. The female flowers of female marijuana plants (which would be the buds) are fertilized with pollen from male plants to produce seeds. Each seed can inherit different genetic traits, resulting in some genetic diversity within the progeny.

3 – Observation and selection of characteristics

After crossing, it is necessary to carefully observe the resulting daughter plants. Each seed has the potential to develop into a plant with unique characteristics, although they may show similarities. It will be convenient to see if the progeny has those specific characteristics we are looking for, such as higher resin production or a particular aroma. Plants exhibiting the desired characteristics are selected for future crosses and breeding.

4 – Stabilization of the genetic line

Once the plants with the desired characteristics have been selected, work is done to stabilize the genetic line. This involves crossing the selected plants over several generations in order to fix the desired genetic characteristics and minimize possible variability.

5 – Testing and refinement

During the process of developing marijuana types, extensive testing is carried out to evaluate the quality and consistency of the desired characteristics. This involves growing the plants under different conditions and performing laboratory analysis to determine cannabinoid and terpene profiles.

6 – Reproduction and distribution

Once the genetic line has been stabilized and refined, the new marijuana varieties are reproduced and distributed. This involves the production of seeds and their commercialization through seed banks.

The best CBD flower varieties in Europe

At Cannactiva we have developed the best CBD flowers in Europe :

Debate: Controversy over the classification of types of marijuana

The classification of the different types of marijuana is a complex and controversial issue. There is no consensus on how to classify the different types of cannabis, and there is no prospect of agreement. Even the father of taxonomy, Linnaeus, was reluctant to apply a binomial method to domesticated species that may have different forms from the wild ones, such as cannabis. The debate goes back centuries: it was already raised by Charles Darwin in “The Origin of Species”.

Proposal: Subspecies and strains to classify cannabis types

In 1976, Small and Cronquist proposed to group the types of marijuana into subspecies and varieties according to their THC content and their origin (cultivated or spontaneous plants). This could be the first approximation to the current chemotype idea. It was proposed:

  • The subspecies “sativa” for plants with low THC content (0.3-1%) and therefore with non-psychoactive effects: C. sativa subsp. sativa var. indica (cultivated with low THC content) and C. sativa subsp. sativa var. spontanea (wild with low THC content).
  • The subspecies “indica” for plants with high THC content and intense psychoactive effects: C. sativa subsp. indica var. indica (cultivated plants high in THC) and C. sativa subsp. indica var. kafiristanica (wild high in THC).

Although it is possible to see this denomination in some studies, the vast majority of times only the species name Cannabis sativa L. is used.

Proposal: Strains to classify marijuana types

The marijuana industry uses the term “strains” extensively to refer to specific genetics or to advertise the progeny of a particular strain.

Since there is no consensus on an “official” classification, marijuana seed banks label each variety with a strain name and a code. This information is associated with data such as genetics, cannabinoid content, aroma and flowering time. This helps to differentiate the types of marijuana offered by their characteristics and allows growers to select seeds according to their preferences.

The use of strain or variety names to identify different types of marijuana is very useful for growers.

But there is no “universal” genetics that defines a White Widow, or a Purple Haze. This is reflected in the analysis of the different strains of marijuana sold in dispensaries in the United States, which reveals that each commercial strain has different genetics and composition, despite bearing the same name (3).

Each seed bank has strains and varieties with unique characteristics, which may be different from those of another seed bank, even if they carry the same commercial name.

Therefore, although the system of commercial strains and varieties is useful and is currently used to, say, predict the outcome of a crop, there is no standard definition or “universal” classification of marijuana strains: each seed bank or grower uses their own.

Proposal: Chemotype to classify marijuana types

Chemotyping is a way of classifying the different types of marijuana according to their chemical profile or chemical phenotype, i.e., the concentrations of cannabinoids y terpenes present in the resin or essential oil.

This proposal seems to be the most widely accepted by the scientific community because it is presented as a standard way of distinguishing varieties. It is very useful, for example, in studies on medical cannabis. It would be a first step to investigate the interactions of the different components of cannabis in its therapeutic effect, known as the entourage effect.

In short…

  • The vast majority of scientists and experts agree that there is only one species: Cannabis sativa L. There are alternative classification proposals, such as the subspecies “indica”, “sativa” and different varieties, but the chemotype seems to be the most accepted approach.
  • At the commercial level, marijuana strain and variety names are used. These categories are useful and practical, and widely used by growers. Each seed bank develops and names its own genetics (they are not “universal” or “standard”).
  • The types of marijuana you see in the stores are the result of breeding breeding, which has made it possible to develop strains with incredible genetic and chemical profiles.

So much for the subject of the different types of marijuana, all the information and the controversy surrounding this subject, which is not exactly brief. We hope you have learned on this journey through cannabis strains. All that’s left for you to do now is to experience the different types of marijuana with your own hands!

  1. Small, Ernest (2015). Evolution and Classification of Cannabis sativa (Marijuana, Hemp) in Relation to Human Utilization. The Botanical Review, 81(3), 189-294. doi:10.1007/s12229-015-9157-3
  2. Vergara D, Feathers C, Huscher EL, Holmes B, Haas JA, Kane NC. Widely assumed phenotypic associations in Cannabis sativa lack a shared genetic basis. PeerJ. 2021 Apr 20;9:e10672. doi: 10.7717/peerj.10672. PMID: 33976953; PMCID: PMC8063869.
  3. Smith CJ, Vergara D, Keegan B, Jikomes N. The phytochemical diversity of commercial Cannabis in the United States. PLoS One. 2022 May 19;17(5):e0267498. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0267498. PMID: 35588111; PMCID: PMC9119530.
  4. De Meijer, E.P.M. The Chemical Phenotypes (Chemotypes) of Cannabis. Pertwee, R., Ed., Handbook of Cannabis, 2014. Oxford University Press, Oxford, Oxford, 89-110. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199662685.003.0005. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199662685.003.0005

Information on types of marijuana (frequently asked questions)

How many types of marijuana are there?

The types of marijuana can be classified in many ways. According to its botanical name, there is only one species Cannabis sativa L. (the names Cannabis ruderalis and Cannabis indica are obsolete and not accepted). Depending on their genetics, there are types of cannabis that are closer to industrial hemp plants than to marijuana-type plants. Depending on the type of cultivation, whether it has been grown indoors, outdoors or in a greenhouse.
Depending on the effects it produces, whether it is attributed an indica or sativa, sedative or energetic effect. According to commercial marijuana strain names, although they are not a very reliable method of grouping them. According to their legal denomination, plants with a certain percentage of THC are automatically considered illegal drugs. This brings problems even for industrial hemp producers who exceed the ridiculously high legal THC limits.

What is the origin of the different types of marijuana?

All marijuana plants have a common ancestor, the Cannabis sativa plant. Through agricultural techniques, the development of different types of plants, with diverse genetics and phenotypes, has been achieved, allowing for an extraordinarily rich market of cannabis varieties.

What is the most potent type of marijuana?

If you think that the most potent marijuana is the one with the highest percentage of THC, you are probably wrong. There is no way to guess the most potent type of marijuana because the effect depends on several factors, such as the variety and quantity of different compounds it contains (entourage effect). In addition, inter-individual differences can be observed, depending on the consumer.

What is feminized marijuana?

Feminized marijuana is a type of seed where the Y chromosome is not found. The cannabis plant, as well as humans, has sex chromosomes, and females are XX and males are XY. The plant also has monoecious individuals that apparently have chromosomes very similar to those of females. Both males and females of some varieties can produce flowers of the opposite sex when treated with chemicals such as silver nitrate or ethephon (or even when the light regime or temperature is changed), this is called sex reversal. When a female is fertilized with her own pollen or with the pollen of another female after sexual reversal, the seeds produced do not have a Y chromosome. These seeds are called feminized since they are unlikely to produce males. Now, there is a chance, although apparently low, that these feminized females can produce pollen or are monoecious, but generally feminized seeds promise a 99.9% chance that you will only get female plants. Without a doubt, feminized seeds are the preferred choice for growers who want to maximize their yields and make sure they don’t miss out on any buds.

What are CBG marijuana strains?

CBG or cannabigerol is one of several cannabinoids in cannabis, considered the precursor of the relatively recently discovered cannabinoids THCA and CBDA. Like all cannabinoids, the plant produces it in an acid form, known as cannabigerolic acid (CBGA). This, when heated, changes to its neutral form CBG due to decarboxylation. CBG-rich marijuana strains are those that have been selectively developed for their higher CBG content, such as White CBG, Super Glue CBG and Jack Frost CBG. In addition, young marijuana plants have a higher CBG content, due to the transformation of CBG into other cannabinoids in the more developed plants.

What is autoflowering marijuana?

Autoflowering cannabis strains are a special type of plants that do not need sunlight or a change of photoperiod to start flowering. Instead, they begin to flower after reaching an age determined by the variety, between 27 and 45 days.

Dra. Daniela Vergara
Investigadora y catedrática | Especialista en cultivos emergentes y consultora de cannabis

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