Medical Marijuana: The Differences Between Strains

Using medical marijuana to treat pain requires a person choose between different varieties.

Different Strains of Cannabis

Different varieties of cannabis are typically called “strains.” Strains can differ in many ways, including appearance, taste, and smell. For example, one strain may give off a floral-like fragrance while another might be comparable to a fruit, such as a blueberry or strawberry.

Many medical marijuana advocates believe different cannabis strains produce different physiological effects. However, recent research suggests many strains are chemically similar.1 In addition, there is no way to predict how a particular strain will affect an individual. This means people must experiment to find the strains that best reduce their chronic pain.

See Complementary Health Approaches and Marijuana for Chronic Pain

While some trial and error is usually necessary, people can work with knowledgeable health and dispensary professionals to make educated guesses about what strains will work. Professionals’ advice will be based on what they have learned from past experiences with similar individuals, as well as their knowledge regarding cannabis strains’ chemical makeups.


Chemical differences between cannabis strains
Cannabis is generally classified according to the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) content. THC and CBD are the two most well-known chemical compounds in cannabis.

  • THC is responsible for the euphoric “high” feeling that is commonly associated with marijuana.
  • CBD is believed to offer the therapeutic qualities associated with marijuana but with no psychoactive effects. CBD is also able to diminish some of the effects of THC because of the way it interacts in the brain.

See Considering CBD Products to Treat Chronic Pain

Medical marijuana classification can usually be broken into three categories:

  • High-THC, low-CBD (more euphoric)
  • High-CBD, low-THC (more clear-headed)
  • Balanced CBD and THC (mildly euphoric)

Recent research suggests that THC and CBD concentrations are not the only important factors to consider when evaluating a plant’s chemical make-up and potential effects.1 Ongoing research is needed to fully understand how marijuana helps with pain.

Categorizing marijuana strains as indica or sativa
In addition to the categories described above, marijuana strains are commonly classified as either indica or sativa:

  • Indica strains are thought to be more physically sedating and good for relaxing. Common indica strains include Blackberry Kush, Northern Light, and Purple Kush.
  • Sativa strains are believed to be more invigorating and uplifting, making them more appropriate in social settings. Common sativa strains include Harlequin, Green Crack, and Lemon Haze.

Some researchers argue that categorizing marijuana into these groups is too broad and inaccurate. These critics argue that people should focus on the chemical compounds that make up each strain when making a decision.


Avoid Using Synthetic Marijuana

Synthetic marijuana is made from dried plant material that resembles cannabis. It is treated with lab-created chemicals that are said to produce similar effects to marijuana. These chemicals have no relation to the chemical compounds found in cannabis and may be dangerous. Synthetic marijuana’s effects are hard to predict because the strength and chemicals used are unknown; the potency and makeup vary from batch to batch.

Synthetic marijuana is often sold under the names “K2 “or “Spice.” It is typically sold as dried plant material, however, it is also available as a liquid to be vaporized in e-cigarettes.


  • 1.Mudge EM, Murch SJ, Brown PN. Chemometric Analysis of Cannabinoids: Chemotaxonomy and Domestication Syndrome. Sci Rep. 2018;8(1):13090.