The 10 Best Cannabis Strains For Beginners
Learn about the 10 best cannabis strains for beginners and why it’s important to choose your strain wisely.
The world of cannabis strains can be a confusing place to find yourself in. Even for the seasoned enthusiast, sorting through the thousands of available choices is quite the task.
The good news is that navigating and finding your way through strains (and all their crazy names) isn’t actually as complicated as it seems. Remember, cannabis is an experience. Finding the right strain for you should be something you enjoy, not a chore. And having a solid understanding of the basics can really make things a lot easier.
Here’s everything you need to know about cannabis strains. We’ll be covering what exactly strains are, how they’re categorized and why choosing the right strain can make a massive difference (especially if you’re new).
We’ll also be going over our top 10 no-brainer recommendations for the best strains beginners can try.
What Exactly Is A “Strain” Or “Cultivar”?
To the untrained eye, all cannabis essentially looks the same. With its iconic serrated leaves and distinctive flowers, it can be easy to assume that weed is just, well, weed.
But the reality is that there are actually thousands of different kinds of cannabis on the market today, each having its own distinct characteristics and different effects.
When people talk about “strains”, this is what they’re referring to – variations within the cannabis plant.
You may have also heard the term “cultivar” being used to describe cannabis as well. Technically speaking, the word strain usually refers to variations within microbiology and virology rather than plants. In horticulture, the term cultivar (as in “cultivated variety”) is more commonly used. This refers to plants that have been selectively bred for desirable characteristics and are applicable for modern cannabis (more on selective breeding later in this article).
With that said, the two terms are often used interchangeably, and the word strain has become absolutely ubiquitous in the world of cannabis (although referring to them as cultivars are becoming more common).
What Is A Landrace Strain?
Cannabis has been around for a long time. Its cultivation dates back at least 2500 years, and it has been used for everything from textiles and rope to herbal medicines. It’s believed that the plant originated in Central Asia and, thanks to its incredible versatility, was later taken and introduced to almost every corner of the world.
If you’ve done a little research into the topic, you may have heard the term “landrace” being thrown around to describe certain strains of cannabis. Basically, landrace refers to the original strains after they migrated out of Central Asia.
As the name implies, they’re typically coined after the region that they developed in. Durban Poison, for example, comes from the areas in and around the port city of Durban in South Africa. Hindu Kush refers to the pure Indicas (more on that later) that are native to the mountains of Pakistan. These small handfuls of original strains were cultivated in these areas and evolved over many, many years, adapting to their environments and taking on a number of different traits.
This distinction is important because prior to the 1970s and the evolution of modern breeding practices, these were what most users consumed – and the cannabis we grow today is very different.
Are Landrace Strains Better Than Modern Strains?
Most of the cannabis that’s on the market today are combinations of these original landrace strains. Over time, cultivators began to crossbreed, selecting for specific, desirable traits. The result is that we now have quite literally thousands of strains (or cultivars) in existence, with endless combinations of different characteristics.
These new strains usually come with their own name to distinguish them. These names can reflect anything from the parent strains they came from, to the effects they’re purported to have, to their physical appearance.
All of these factors can go into a strain name – and sometimes the process can get convoluted.
A great example of this is “Hawaiian Snow”, named for the frosty appearance of its buds. Another great example is “OG Kush” – the “Kush” part of the name likely refers to its original lineage from the Hindu Kush. The “OG” part is up for debate though – some say OG is slang for “original gangster”, others maintain that it refers to “ocean grown”.
To make matters more confusing, there are multiple strains that have been crossed with OG Kush, resulting in a lot of cannabis that bears the name “OG” in reference to this fact.
So are landrace strains the best cannabis strains? Are they better than modern cultivars? Or is it the other way around?
That largely depends on who you ask. There’s no question that the advancements in inbreeding over the last few decades have brought us a variety of choices in cultivars that cannabis users in the ’60s could only dream of.
With that said, landrace strains are becoming increasingly rare and sought after. And the fact that they aren’t commonly grown anymore means that there are cannabis connoisseurs out there who will go to great lengths to get their hands on them.
How To Categorize Your Cannabis Strains
Given that there is so much to choose from today, it’s important to understand how exactly these different cultivars can be broken down and categorized. This will make it easier to understand their characteristics and help guide you in choosing which is right for you.
Let’s start with the most basic categories – the difference between Indica and Sativa strains.
A History Of Indica And Sativa Strains
The classification of Indica vs Sativa originally has its roots in 18th Century botany and taxonomy. The first official classification and naming came in 1753 when Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus identified the psychoactive cannabis plant as Cannabis sativa in his seminal book Species Plantarum.
Later in 1793, French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck proposed the existence of another kind of cannabis originating in and around the Indian subcontinent (which he categorized as Cannabis indica).
The argument for the distinction came from the observation that the two plants appeared quite different – Cannabis sativa tends to be lighter in colour, grow taller and thinner, and have narrower, pointier leaves. Cannabis indica tends to be darker, grow shorter and thicker and have chunkier leaves.
What Are Hybrid Strains?
Hybrid strains are exactly what they sound like -strains of cannabis that have been cultivated with genetics from both plants.
In fact, the majority of what’s sold on the legal market today are hybrid strains, and they’ve been grown specifically to select for characters found in both Indica and Sativa cannabis. A good way to think about them is to think in terms of “Indica-dominant” vs “Sativa dominant”.
Do Indica And Sativa Strains Have Differing Effects?
While the physical differences aren’t really disputed, the physiological effects are.
There was a widespread belief for a number of years that, when smoked or ingested in the form of edibles, these two different kinds of plants have noticeably different effects.
Indica strains have been credited for their relaxing effects, with the ability to make users feel calm. Many have observed that an indica high is more of a “body” high than a “mind” high (“couch-lock” is a term you’ll hear commonly associated with it). They’re also associated with evening and downtime use – watching movies, enjoying good food and listening to music are all common indica activities.
If indica is considered the relaxation strain, then Sativa is the exact opposite. Commonly known for the buzzing “mind high” it’s purported to produce, Sativa strains have been linked with energy, euphoria and creativity.
So while an indica will commonly be used for activities like listening to music, a Sativa might be used for creating music.
While an indica may be used to reduce stress and induce sleep, Sativa’s are not known for making you sleepy and may be chosen when you need to be alert. Exercise, socializing and reading are also commonly associated with the Sativa strain.
With all of that said, a lot of this is up for debate.
Over the past few years, a lot of the conversation surrounding the differing effects of cannabis has moved away from the Indica-Sativa classification and onto other factors that are believed to play a more important role. Things like the various terpenes and cannabinoids (which we’ll be covering in detail) and their different combinations in each strain could have a greater impact on the overall effect and how they’ll make you feel. And a plant that’s technically an indica or indica-dominant could potentially have Sativa-like effects and vice-versa.
Despite these developments, the terms “Indica” and “Sativa” have become quite common in describing a certain kind of cannabis experience, making them important terms to understand.
How THC And CBD Affect A Strain’s Potency
Probably the biggest determining factor in how a particular strain will affect you are its cannabinoids.
Different strains have different levels of cannabinoids. And while there are over 100 that have been isolated so far, the two we’re concerned with for the time being are THC and CBD. The ratio and overall content of both CBD and THC are largely determined by a strain’s genetics (which is why it’s so important to choose your strain wisely).
CBD refers to cannabidiol. It’s a non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis that’s been used in everything from skin cream to edibles. But while it won’t get you high, the amount of CBD in a strain definitely plays a role in its overall effect. High-CBD strains can really help balance out some of the more jolting effects of THC, making everything a lot calmer.
The big cannabinoid that most people focus on is THC. It’s the psychoactive part of the plant that’s responsible for inducing a cannabis high.
And while it’s not the only thing that determines potency, there’s no question that high THC strains are generally going to hit harder than low-THC strains.
What Are Terpenes and Why Are They Important?
To the uninitiated, burnt cannabis pretty much has one distinct scent to it – that earthy, herbal pungent smell that (almost) everyone is familiar with.
Dig a little deeper though, and you’ll notice that different strains actually have different scent profiles to them. Just like a wine enthusiast can pick up on different notes, once you start on your cannabis journey you’ll start tuning in to all the wonderful tastes and smells that the plant has to offer.
One of the big reasons for this is something called terpenes, the aromatic oils that come from the glands.
What’s important here is that these compounds don’t just smell nice – they have a profound impact on the overall experience. Ultimately, it’s this combination of terpenes (there are over 100 that have been isolated so far), cannabinoids and other compounds (and the interaction that they have with each other) that really affects how a particular strain makes you feel.
What Are Some Of The Most Popular Cannabis Strains?
Over the years, a number of strains have gained a reputation amongst enthusiasts for their quality and uniqueness. They gain popularity for a number of different reasons – a unique scent profile, potency, or just a general cult following from users who simply believe that they’re the best cannabis strains around.
While a full list is extensive (and beyond the scope of this piece), here are some of the most popular weed strains today.
Blue Dream is an absolute staple in the world of cannabis. A well-balanced Sativa-dominant that’s popular for its versatility, it comes with good potency and has been used to treat a number of ailments over the years, making it immensely popular in the medical community. It has a sweet, fruity “blueberry-like” aroma, and users have reported that it can have a very wide range of effects, making it a truly versatile hybrid.
Sour Diesel is a high-THC Sativa popular for both its potency and its unique aroma. Bearing a striking resemblance to gasoline (hence the name) and orange in its scent profile, its smell is one of the most distinctive in the game (and a major “love/hate” for most people). It’s popular as a daytime go-to and is reported to help with energy, euphoria and sociability (Sour Diesel is also known as a strain that will make you laugh).
Made famous by the Seth Rogan movie of the same name, Pineapple Express is extremely popular. Like Sour Diesel, it’s a Sativa-dominant that’s known for its energizing and uplifting effects and has been used by both recreational and medical users. As the name implies, Pineapple Express has a fruity, earthy aroma to it with a hint of pineapple, and comes with a terpene profile that includes caryophyllene, limonene and pinene.
Gorilla Glue (now referred to as GG4) is an absolute banger of a strain. With its earthy, sour aroma that gives off hints of coffee and chocolate, this strain is known both for its powerful potency and sedative couch-locking effects. New users should probably steer clear, as this packs a lot of THC, and can lead to a very unpleasant experience if you’re not prepared.
The 10 Best Cannabis Strains For Beginners (Our Recommendations)
Now that you have a better overall view of what strains are and why they matter to your cannabis experience, here’s what you should be looking for as a beginner.
Generally speaking, you’re going to want to watch the potency, with one of the major considerations being THC. If you’ve ever had a bad experience with cannabis, this was likely one of the culprits – for the inexperienced user, taking in a lot of THC can be uncomfortable and unsettling. It can also (potentially) make you feel paranoid because using too much cannabis and THC at once can stimulate parts of the brain that regulate these feelings.
Fortunately, a lot of that can be managed by careful selection. A high-CBD strain is one that’s been cultivated to have a stronger CBD content and (generally) lower THC content, and these are often going to be your friend if you want to avoid overdoing it.
You’ll also want to use your nose – while this is subjective, finding a strain with a nice terpene profile that you think smells delicious is going to dramatically improve your overall experience.
With that said, here are 10 recommendations for new users. These strains are optimal for newbies because they aren’t overpowering, contain low to moderate amounts of THC and are much more “manageable” than some of the more intense strains on the market.
#1: Penelope (Tweed)
Penelope is a hybrid strain. It’s ideal because of the balance that it offers, both in terms of its indica and Sativa-like effects and its CBD to THC ratio. It also has a nice piney aroma, with terpenes that include pinene and myrcene. The result is a mellow, manageable experience that beginners will definitely appreciate.
#2: Black Widow CBD (Divvi)
As the name implies, Black Widow CBD is a tasty, high-CBD strain with vibrant colours, plenty of terpenes and a sweet and spicy flavour. It’s an indica-dominant hybrid that also has very low amounts of THC, making it the ideal choice for the apprehensive. Perfect for relaxing after a long day, meditating and soothing the body and mind.
#3: Marley Natural Red Cannatonic (Marley Natural)
Marley Red Balanced Cannatonic is a hybrid that provides a great balance of CBD and THC, and piney, herbal notes with spices. Cannatonic offers a nice, chill, mellow experience without any craziness.
#4: Balance (Solei)
Sun-grown in an eco-friendly environment, the name of this indica-dominant hybrid says it all. With its beautiful dark green colour and delicious citrus notes, Balance is a strain with elevated levels of CBD for a calm, blissed vibe.
#5: Foray Mango Haze Balanced Cartridge
If you’re looking for high-CBD but want something a little more energizing, Mango Haze might be right up your alley. With its fruity mango flavour, this is an uplifting Sativa-dominant hybrid that packs an impressive terpene profile, including myrcene, pinene and beta-caryophyllene.
#6: Tangerine Dream (SAN RAFAEL ’71)
Stepping away from the high-CBD strains, Tangerine Dream offers newbies a great option to get their feet wet. With its middle-of-the-road THC levels, this is a Sativa that packs just enough of a punch while still being manageable. It has a unique deep purple colour and citrus aroma, with terpenes that include myrcene, alpha-pinene, caryophyllene, beta-pinene and linalool)
#7: Blackberry Gum (Weed Me)
Blackberry Gum is an indica-dominant with dark buds and a very unique, earthy and spicy aroma, with additional notes of cotton candy and bubble gum. Grown indoors with minimal human involvement, it’s another strong but not overpowering choice for progressing newbies who find themselves gravitating towards indica options.
#8: Trail Mix Grape Ape (48North)
If you’re looking for a stronger indica to dig into in the evening without overdoing it, Grape Ape is a great choice for beginners. With its gorgeous purple colour and grape aroma, it has a terpene profile that includes alpha-pinene, beta-pinene, caryophyllene and myrcene, and packs enough of a punch to offer some pretty serious relaxation at the end of the day.
#9: Blue Venom (Delta 9)
A mellow bud, Blue Venom has a fantastic selection of terpenes, including alpha humulene, beta-caryophyllene, beta ocimene, beta-pinene and guaiol. The result is a relatively easy hitting indica-dominant hybrid with a sweet, earthy and slightly floral aroma.
#10: Sativa Bud (Simple Stash)
A great bang-for-your-buck Sativa, this strain from Simple Stash is proudly grown in Canada. It has very little CBD, but with medium THC potency, making it a strong option for Sativa-loving beginners.
Final Advice For Beginners
At the end of the day, cannabis is an inherently subjective experience. We recommend all of these strains because they’re easy-going and beginner-friendly, but ultimately it’s up to you to choose the best cannabis strain for you.
We’re living in the golden age of cannabis. Your options are endless, and this list is just a starting point. Get advice from your Spiritleaf cannabis concierge, try different things, and don’t be afraid to experiment and enjoy your cannabis journey.
Matt P is a professional freelance content creator and copywriter who has recently turned his attention to the Cannabis industry, sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm for the plant. It is Matt’s goal to support other professional, legitimate businesses in the legal market and is dedicated to doing his part to help eliminate existing stigmas. The Cannabis Content Writer provides high-quality, in-depth blog posts and web content for the legal medical and recreational cannabis industry in Canada and the US.
Content Creator and Copywriter, MATT P.