The Science Behind Cannabis: The Strains

August 21, 2019 | Custom Cannabis

In the first two installments of “The Science Behind Cannabis,” we examined the parts of the plant and identified the three main cannabis species. In part three of our series, we take a closer look at the strains.

In defining what a strain is, it’s important to learn first what a cultivar is. In botanical terms, a cultivar is short for ‘cultivated varieties’ and refers to plants that have reproduced vegetatively (e.g. from stem cuttings) as opposed to grown directly from a seed. A strain refers to the variations found within the plant cultivar. In some research, you may find the words strain and cultivar used interchangeably to describe the same thing.

By now, you’ve probably been exposed to exotic terms like Hindu Kush, Acapulco Gold and Dutch Treat (just to name a few). These are the commercial names for the more than 1000 cannabis strains found on the market. Each is unique in its genetic makeup and can even be crossbred with one another to create new strains. They are usually divided into categories like sativa-dominant, indica-dominant or hybrid (which we’ll cover in a moment).

The incredible journey

Cannabis is well-traveled. It’s like the backpacker of plants. Researchers believe its family tree can be traced back 12,000 years to Central Asia, making the plant one of history’s oldest cultivated crops. Through the years, people took it across the globe. As a plant arrived in a new region, it learned to adapt to its new surroundings. Over time, these transplants flourished and took on an identity all their own and became known as landrace strains.

Landrace Strains

A landrace strain refers to an assortment of cannabis plants that contain less diluted DNA compared to other strains. The most common landrace strains are found in areas like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Jamaica, Mexico, Central America and Africa.

It wasn’t long before these landrace strains were on the move again. Many of these varieties were collected and brought to the West where horticulturists created hybrids to further to maximize their potential.


In the plant world, hybrids are more common than you think. The stalk of broccoli sitting in your vegetable crisper is a prime example of a hybrid plant. Broccoli and several of its cousins – including kale and Brussels sprouts – are derived from a form of wild cabbage known as Brassica oleracea. This naturally growing cabbage was bred with larger flower buds to create the vegetable we know and love today.

Cannabis hybrids are primarily man-made attempts at cross breeding between sativa, indica and ruderalis plants. The process is no different from other members of the plant kingdom. It’s Botany 101 where the bud-producing female plant has to be pollinated with male plant. Growers will often create hybrids to take advantage of the chemical compounds found in each species. Those hybrids will often go through many cycles of breeding to strengthen the genes and ensure the health of future generations.

At Custom Cannabis, our growers take the process of growing strong strains and hybrids very seriously. It’s part of our commitment to developing high-quality medical cannabis for patients.

Join us for our next chapter in “The Science Behind Cannabis” series when we take a closer look at the chemical compounds known as cannabinoids. Releasing soon.