How to Pick the Perfect Cannabis Cultivar

There is a wide variety of cannabis cultivars to choose from. This guide will help explain what cultivars are, how they are grouped according to appearance and effect, and where terpenes come into play. It will also provide specific tips for selecting cannabis products that suit your needs. We’ve included five questions for you to ask at the dispensary as you search for the right cultivars for you.

What are Cannabis Cultivars?

Cannabis cultivars, also referred to as “strains,” are the various versions of the cannabis plant that have resulted from hundreds of years of cross-breeding, both by the forces of nature and the genetic manipulations of scientists and growers around the world.

Cultivar is a more appropriate term than strain when referring to the plants. Strains refer to different varieties of bacteria, fungi, and viruses, while cultivars are cultivated plants.

Different cultivars offer different effects, flavor profiles, resin production and cannabinoid profiles (the specific amounts of cannabinoids within a cultivar), among other differences. Each unique cultivar can present a specific experience unique to that plant, and the various versions of each cultivar are even more nuanced.

Broad Leaf vs. Narrow Leaf vs. Hybrid Cultivars

Broad Leaf (BLV)Hybrid LeafNarrow Leaf (NLV)
  • Fat and bushy
  • Wide leaves 
Varies based on genetic lineage
  • Skinny and lanky
  • Thin leaves
HeightShorter plantsVaries based on genetic lineageTaller plants
  • Calming
  • Sedating
Varies based on genetic lineage
  • Energizing
  • Uplifting

*Effects associated with, but not limited to these cultivars

Broad or Narrow Leaf: Which Cannabis Cultivar is Right For You?

Why cannabis cultivars are grouped by shape and size

The cannabis industry has long been accustomed to three generic groupings of cultivars, BLV (also commonly referred to as “Indica”), NLV (referred to as “Sativa”), and Hybrids. Due to advances in technology and a greater understanding of cannabis cultivars, breeders have been able to mix different phenotypes of BLV and NLV plants with one another to create hybrid varietals that offer characteristics of both BLV and NLV plants.

For example, a breeder might attempt to create a cultivar that is energizing and uplifting, while also offering calming properties. This attempt to create a specific suite of effects has led to a largely hybrid market, composed of various mixes and backcrosses to offer these unique experiences.

Why you should consider terpenes when shopping

Furthermore, new research suggests that terpenes play major role in the effects associated with cultivar groupings. You may notice that not all BLV cultivars have the same effects. This is due to distinct terpene differences.

Terpenes have been shown to have additive benefits when used in combination with cannabinoids, which is known as the entourage effect. If you recognize a specific terpene such as Limonene or Myrcene that is pleasant to you, seeking that terpene out in other cultivars may prove a more effective method of selection than by leaf variety alone.

When looking for terpenes, follow these steps:

  • Step 1: Identify what the cannabis smells like. You don’t have to know the name of the particular terpene or what it does to recognize whether it appeals to you or not, or what it reminds you of.
  • Step 2: Once you know what the smell is, look for and request other cultivars with similar aromas. If you prefer lemons, then cultivars that give a citrusy aroma would likely contain similar terpenes.
  • Step 3: Compare the terpene concentrations of the cultivars that you’ve identified and make a note of any terpenes that are common in your selected options. You can then use these as a point of reference for future selections.

5 Questions to Ask About Cannabis Cultivars

  1. What is the genetic lineage? This will help you recognize familiar cultivars. Note that there is a large variety of phenotypes within a cultivar, so shopping by name alone won’t necessarily get you what you’re looking for. 
  2. Which leaf variety does it possess? Sometimes this is visually discernible, other times you may have to ask. Big, bulbous, fat buds are likely to have BLV traits and genetics. Longer, thin buds with matching leaves will lend themselves towards NLV cultivars. Hybrids are best identified with the help of your Happy Valley Host.
  3. What effects do consumers typically report experiencing? The goal here is to get an idea of whether or not other consumers are finding success with this cultivar for needs similar to yours. While each person’s endocannabinoid system differs, others who experience similar effects are a good place to start when looking for a post-consumption review. 
  4. What do the lab test results reveal? This will help you discern the potency of cultivars from a THC, CBD and terpene profile standpoint. You can then search for cultivars with similar profiles.
  5. What terpenes are in this cultivar, and in what concentrations? Some states such as Nevada have mandatory testing for terpenes, while others may have brands that elect to add terpene testing. In lieu of testing, budtenders may be able to guide you through identifying the aromas that you notice. Recognizing which terpenes are pleasant to your body will help you identify cannabis products that will work well to maintain your homeostasis. 

Start Simple and Learn as You Go

The best way to familiarize yourself with various cannabis cultivars and their effects is to try out a few. The more you experiment with different terpene and cannabinoid profiles, the better accustomed you’ll become to selecting similar cultivars. High-quality products will have detailed information on their packaging labels that you can use to make an informed decision.

Start with the experience that you are seeking and browse cultivars that may fit those needs. Consider what THC percentages and terpene profiles have worked well for you in the past. Ask about cannabinoids and terpenes and compare with cultivars that you have previously enjoyed.

Also, keep track of the cultivars that you try, their effects, and what you like about them. Use the Journal Chat feature in our iPhone or Android app — simply answer a few questions about your experience, then compare your entries and use them to narrow down options that suit your needs. 

To learn more about how the endocannabinoid system system, trichomes and terpenes, read The Ultimate Guide To Cannabis Science.

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