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  • Norma Gray

Cannabis Strain Names Explained

In recent years, as a result of the widespread commercialization of cannabis in various places around the world, breeders have become creative with their selection of cannabis genetics; consequently, there are currently thousands of trade names for different cannabis “strains” – which are, effectively, different variations of cannabis. However, while variety is indeed the spice of life, it can be extremely confusing for those new to the cannabis industry.

Logically based on location, the original, simple system for naming cannabis strains has now become more complex, with breeders often choosing names to reflect properties such as color, smell, or flavor, or the specific effects produced – consequently, novelty names such as “Sour Diesel”, “Blue Cheese”, and “Amnesia” are becoming increasingly well-known. In this article, we explain the history of cannabis strains, their evolution into modern society, and the naming process in general.

A Brief History of Cannabis

Cannabis is a genus of the Cannabaceae family, with three species widely recognized: cannabis sativa, cannabis indica, and cannabis ruderalis. All vary slightly in appearance and properties: cannabis sativa plants are tall and thin, and are known for producing flowers that have energizing and psychoactive effects; cannabis indica plants are typically short and bushy (and, therefore, often favored in recent years for growing indoors), with flowers that have sedative effects; and cannabis ruderalis plants are small in size and produce very little tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – however, they are “auto-flowering”.

Although unconfirmed, research suggests that cannabis originated in the Himalayan Mountains and around the Middle East, with five specific strains generally considered to be the oldest: Thai, Aceh, Nepalese, Hindu Kush, and Afghani. Although they varied in appearance and effects slightly due to different growing conditions, their names had one distinct similarity: they all related to geographical location. At this time, international recognition and commercialization of cannabis were non-existent, and the movement of people between different countries and continents was minimal; as a result, these original strains remained relatively unchanged for years.

A New Era of Cannabis Growing

In the 1960s, however, the international movement of the landrace strains of cannabis (strains that had developed over time in their natural environment and had not, therefore, been cross-bred) dramatically increased, and cross-breeding began to take place, thereby opening up a world of different genetic combinations and possibilities. This allowed breeders to get creative as they produced strains with specific effects, smells, colors, and flavors – and this creativity transcended into the naming process, too.

To produce a new cannabis strain, breeders must select preferred traits from two existing strains that have been selected for cross-breeding, and identify the dominant and recessive genes within them. This selection process is crucial to the new strain’s genetic stability, which in turn ensures unwanted traits that have been eliminated are not produced in future harvests. The two selected strains are then cross-bred until the desired blend has been achieved – this is often a long process that requires patience and persistence, and the name the new strain was given would often reflect this in some way.

An example of this long and arduous process lies in one of the most commonly recognized cannabis strains around the world, “Haze” – the origins of which date back to 1970s California. The Haze brothers – namely, R. Haze and J. Haze – crossed a Mexican landrace sativa and a Colombian landrace sativa, selected the best females from the hybrid, and cross-bred them with an Indian landrace male. Again, the best females from this hybrid were cross-bred with another landrace male, this time from Thailand, to produce the end product – which was obviously named after its creators once they finally reached their goal.

Getting Inventive

At this point in time, however, the most common method of naming a new cannabis strain was to reference and credit the “parent” cannabis strains, with breeders coming up with clever – and often amusing – names to reflect the unique genetic makeup. For example, Poison OG was cross-bred with GSC (Girl Scout Cookies) to make “Suicide Girl”; White Widow was cross-bred with Blueberry to produce “Berry White”; and the aptly named “Dr. Who” was created by cross-breeding Mad Scientist and Timewreck.

However, cross-breeding and selective genetics have been utilized for around half a century now, and the traditional naming system has become increasingly difficult to uphold because the ancestral lines are too complicated – it’s impossible to credit every previous strain that’s gone into a hybrid in one name without it being ridiculously long. Therefore, modern strains tend to be named in relation to their specific traits – appearance and taste being the most common. For example, going back to Haze, since its initial creation in the 1970s, multiple spin-off strains have been cultivated and sold around the world: for example, Silver Haze and Lemon Haze, which were named according to their color and taste respectively. This is also great for marketing purposes – new, novelty strain names tend to attract attention, especially among the younger population.

Different cannabis strains are created for various reasons, which can also influence the names they are given. For example, many strains that have been created specifically for recreational purposes have names that reflect their intended effect, such as “Laughing Buddha” and “Sweet Dreams”. Others, however, have been created for medical purposes, such as “Charlotte’s Web”, which was formulated for a girl named Charlotte who suffered from a severe form of epilepsy and consequently named after her.

The history of cannabis strains is long and complex – consequently, the naming process has evolved over the years too. Now, with a seemingly never-ending list of different cannabis strains available around the world, it seems like anything goes. It is down to the breeder’s creativity to choose a marketable name; these days, that usually reflects the properties of the strain, rather than where it originated from.

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