cannabis vending jars in dispensary
Navigating the cannabis strain name game is easier than you might think.

Walking into a dispensary these days can be as overwhelming as it is awe-inspiring.

Like a grocery store for cannabis, consumers are met with dazzling displays of drinks, edibles, tinctures, concentrates, lotions, cosmetics, and, of course, rows of dried cannabis flowers.

So, with all of this selection, how do you figure out what cannabis strain to buy? Armed with a sense of smell and a little knowledge, you’ll be finding your ideal cannabis flower in no time.

1. Follow your nose.

If there’s one golden rule that will help you figure out what cannabis strain to buy, it’s this: follow your nose.

All cannabis strains produce unique flavors and aromas. Some are sharp and peppery while others seduce with a sleepy musk.

When it comes to picking out the right strain, gravitating toward samples that simply smell good to you may be your best bet. Yet, the reason why might surprise you.

The aromatic bouquet in cannabis plants is produced by specialized molecules called terpenes, and every plant expresses different levels and variations of these chemical messengers.

By now, most cannabis consumers are familiar with THC, the primary psychoactive component in cannabis. However, it’s terpenes that determine the subtleties of the cannabis experience.

For example, one of the most common terpenes found in cannabis is linalool. This fragrant compound is responsible for the sweet, floral scent in lavender plants. The same aroma is also responsible for the flower’s anxiety-relieving properties.

In cannabis, however, current understanding suggests that phytochemicals like linalool work in tandem with other molecules like THC to produce strain-specific effects. In this instance, THC plus linalool may prove to be a more potent stress-reliever than just THC alone.

Some cannabis brands list the percentage and types of terpenes present in their flower on their packages. However, this isn’t an industry standard. When in doubt, it may be best to simply sniff and pick the scents that most appeal to you.

If you want to learn more about different terpenes and their effects, you can watch Green Flower's terpene tutorial here.

2. Get to know your cannabinoids.

cannabis products
Cannabinoid profiles are equally as important as terpene profiles.

Apart from aroma, trying to figure out what cannabis strain to buy can be tricky. The cannabis world is fraught with a mix of scientific and comedic terminology.

Your Girl Scout Cookies strain might be labeled with 22 percent THC and 24 percent total cannabinoid. But, what do any of these terms actually mean?

The three most common initialisms found on cannabis packages are THC, CBD, and CBN, and all of which refer to the names of specific plant compounds.

THC is short for tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the strongest psychoactive component in the cannabis plant. This is the molecule you’ll have to thank for a euphoric sensation shortly after consuming.

Those hoping for an altered state and a mellow and euphoric cannabis experience will likely appreciate a high-THC strain.

CBD, on the other hand, is the opposite of THC in many ways. Short for cannabidiol, CBD is non-intoxicating. Research suggests that the molecule may even counteract some of the psychoactive effects of THC.  

Pick up a strain higher in CBD if you’re searching for a calm, relaxed, and stress-relieving experience without a change in cognition.

Many strains will also include a mix of CBD and THC. As a general rule of thumb, the more CBD, the milder the cannabis experience.

The final cannabinoid, CBN, is typically only present in cannabis products in small amounts. Short for cannabinol, CBN is a breakdown product of THC. As THC ages, it transforms into CBN.

CBN is only slightly psychoactive. However, the compound is known to have a sedative effect, so expect strains higher in CBN to lean more toward the sleepy side. If you’re searching for a nighttime strain, samples with higher levels of CBN will likely do the trick.

3. Let your budtender know what you’d like from your cannabis.

cannabis budtender
A well-trained budtender should be able to steer you in the right direction.

People take an interest in cannabis for many different reasons.

Whether it's enjoying a vaporizer instead of a glass of wine over dinner or for managing symptoms of a disease, cannabis is a multipurpose plant beloved for many different reasons.

While budtenders certainly aren’t doctors, discussing how and why you intend to consume cannabis can help you narrow down your selections.

Every dispensary or access point offers a different selection of products and only budtenders and shop workers will be able to walk you through what is available and make recommendations based on your specific needs.

Those hoping for an upbeat and euphoric strain to take to a party will likely need a very different strain than someone hoping to ease joint pain and inflammation.

4. What about indicas and sativas?

Cannabis plants are often lumped into the category of indica, sativa, or hybrid, which can be confusing at times.

In popular culture, sativa strains are thought to provide a more cerebral and energetic experience.

Indicas, on the other hand, have the opposite reputation. Indica strains are expected to provide a sleepy, sedative, and hypnotic experience.

Whether or not the indica-sativa denominations actually tell you anything about the effects a strain will provide is a subject of hot debate. However, these terms are still commonly used in dispensaries and care centers.

One possible scientific reason for the difference between the two strain types is aroma. Strains classified as indica tend to have higher percentages of the terpene myrcene, which is a musk-scented molecule often found in lemongrass.

According to Steep Hill Labs, a cannabis testing facility strains that test positive for more than 0.5 percent myrcene will likely produce sedative effects. Many of these strains are commonly classified as indica strains.

5. Uncertain? Start low and work up.

cannabis buds weighs on scales
When you're experimenting with different cannabis strains, it helps to keep a journal where you can track the different outcomes.

If you’re completely new to cannabis, finding the right strain can be difficult. When you’re feeling overwhelmed by decisions, it may be best to start with a couple of low-THC strains and work up from there.

Strains with less than 10 percent THC or strains that have a one-to-one ratio of THC to CBD tend to be the most comfortable selections for beginners.

These choices tend to have mild to moderate psychoactive effects, making them less intimidating to novice consumers.

Those curious about the different types of effects that cannabis strains provide may want to consider buying a single gram of a more sedative strain and a single gram of something more energizing.

A budtender will be able to recommend these selections.

If you want to learn more about strain selection... 

Watch: Demystifying Strain Names

Learn how to find your perfect strain with Josh Wurzer from SC Labs!

demystifying strain names