Cannabis Strains and Genetics

Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) was the grandfather of genetics. Most people know about Mendel’s peas and his ground-breaking work on genetics and cross breeding to produce the best plants.

Mendel’s theory was that each gene is paired, and each trait comes from a separate parent. In this way, genetics can be tweaked to produce the best characteristics of each parent, and ultimately, to help produce the best plant possible.

Just like Mendel’s peas, Cannabis strains have been tweaked for years – either to produce high THC plants, low THC plants, high CBD, or low CBD, to name just the two major cannabinoids. Moving forward, there will likely be breeding for high CBG plants since this seems to be the next hot cannabinoid.

Cannabis Strain Classifications

In the past, Cannabis was generally divided into two types: Sativa and Indica. The differences between the two most likely developed because of their native geographical locations – for example, the wider leaves of the Indica strain probably developed because of a lack of sunlight, or that sunlight access was a challenge. The plant was discovered in the Middle East and South-East Asia and adapted to the difficult growing conditions in those areas. By contrast, Sativa plants come from Central and South America, closer to the equator, with a less harsh climate so the leaves are narrow and long.

However, the current thinking is less about the two variants and more about classifying them as Narrow Leaf Varietals, Broadleaf Varietals, or Hybrids. This makes Cannabis varieties easier to identify and obviously the hybrid variety is a combination of the other two, creating a whole different category.

The hybrid varietal combines the best characteristics of both Indica and Sativa. For example, Sativa plants flower longer than Indica’s so hybrids could shorten the growing cycle while increasing the flowering period, making the plant more profitable. Sativa plants generally have lower THC levels while Indica has higher CBD levels, so cultivators have bred hybrids to meet market demand.

What Determines Strain Classifications?

Each plant classification is determined by the geographical area, soil type, hours of sunlight, local climate, and other factors such as market demand. When cultivation moved indoors, conditions had to be replicated but it was from this change that Hybrid plants were developed. Also, because of Cannabis prohibition and its (still) mostly underground aspect of the industry, cultivators have responded to customer demand to produce more potent plants.

Over the last decade and a half, the potency of Cannabis has gone from around 4% THC to upwards of 35% THC, thanks to tweaking and cross breeding. Buyers are willing to pay more for stronger product, so the demand was there, and growers fulfilled it.

Extracting Cannabis oil from plants with such a high percentage of THC means that the concentrated end-product can be incredibly strong, so buyer beware!

Can you Determine a Cannabis Variant by Sight?

The answer is “sometimes”. With the massive amount of hybridization, the physical appearance of the plant could be deceptive. One can no longer simply look at the leaf and decide it is Sativa or Indica – with hybrids, it could be either.

Ultimately, the only way to know the chemical composition of the plant is to have it tested at a laboratory. Looking at the plant and identifying it based on leaf structure simply is not effective anymore, mostly because of the massive amounts of hybrids on the market.

What’s next?

What does the future hold for Cannabis genetics? It is turning into a race to see who can successfully cater to ever-evolving consumer demands. As both medical and recreational markets open in more states, consumers are becoming more sophisticated and demanding newer forms of Cannabis derivatives in varying potencies. There is already intense genetic work underway to breed high CBG plants since this seems to be the next hot cannabinoid trend. Watch this space. Also make sure to check out or other articles on terpene extraction, hemp extraction and decarboxylation

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