Every other day a new cannabis strain with a new name shows up. Strain names for marijuana have become baffling, due in large part to the fact that they don’t convey much more than a marketing message. Every plant with purple leaves isn’t Purple Haze, and every skunky sativa isn’t Sour Diesel.
However, irrespective of a weed strain’s particular name – or that name’s accuracy or origins – each plant’s buds and byproducts have specific properties that make them unique.
All Great Names Have Great Origin Stories
Owing to the legal landscape of cannabis all over the world, most current strains that are found have been hybridized through selective breeding by breeders. Landrace strains are the exception. They’re cultivars of cannabis that have never been crossed and have evolved naturally due to continued exposure to elements in their natural environment. In the early days, cannabis was just cannabis.
Then, travelers brought landrace strains from different parts of the world back to breeding meccas like Amsterdam and the American West Coast. These new breeds were named after their country of origin.
Early on before widespread domestic cultivation many cannabis strains, often referred to as “OG” strains, were most commonly named after the country or region of the world in which they were originally sourced.
Afghan came from Afghanistan, Thai from Thailand, Hindu Kush from the mountain region in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Oaxacan from Mexico, and Lamb’s Bread from Jamaica.
Next, people realized that they could sell weed faster and for more money if they gave it an exotic name and claimed it was grown in a tropical locale. That’s how strains like Acapulco Gold and Panama Red earned their names.
After country or region of origin the next most popular naming method was simply describing characteristics of the flower such as its smell, appearance, flavor or the effects it had when consumed.
Some early strains were named based on a unique trait. Skunk was the first. A cross of Afghan, Acapulco Gold, and Colombian Gold, it had a sweet, pungent aroma that smelled like someone had just run over a skunk. It was the first stabilized hybrid and was subsequently used to create many others, some with Skunk in the name and many more without it.
The most popular strains also court the most controversy, with breeders and consumers both making conflicting claims about their origins. Often times it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction, especially given how young the industry is as a whole and the lack of federal legalization, which makes copyrighting, trademarking and brand protection hard.
Strain names are often lacking of any trademark or ownership rights and therefore can be contentiously used and re-used by multiple growers.
White Widow is one such strain. Green House Tolstraat, a Netherlands cannabis company with coffee shops and seed farms, won the Cannabis Cup grand prize when they revealed the White Widow strain in 1995. Their new strain also won the Bio Cup at the same event. However, Dutch Flowers was right behind it, taking the second-place honor for their version of White Widow.
These two White Widows aren’t even the only contenders for the original name. Others support the claims of a German breeder named Ingemar, who says he discovered the hybrid seeds back in the 1980s.
Other early strains named for popular features include Cheese (a special Skunk pheno with a more savory aroma), White Widow (named for a thick coating of snow-white resin), and Blueberry (an Afghan x Thai project that smells like ripe berries).
As more hybrids were created, strain names became more like formulas based on the parents’ names. Some breeders couldn’t bother to think of an interesting name, so they simply went with Northern Lights x Skunk or Afghan Kush x White Widow.
Others were a little more creative. Blueberry x Cheese became “Blue Cheese”, Critical x Northern Lights became “Critical Lights”, and Hawaiian Sativa x White Widow became “Hawaiian Snow”.
Celebrity Breeders, Crazy Names, & Exotic Strains
Today, anything goes when it comes to strain names. Breeders don’t want to reveal too much of what goes into their new crosses because they know if it’s a hit; everyone will try to copy it. They also want to stand out from the crowd because competition is stiff. Ever heard of Cheetah Piss? Yeah, we thought so.
As selling cannabis seeds turned into big business, piracy has also turned rampant. As soon as one breeder created a popular strain, the competition rushed to copy them. Or, at least release seeds under the same name.
Sometimes they were legitimate; other times, the seed company was selling inferior genetics for a quick profit. However, absolutely everyone claimed theirs was propagated by the original mother or they were gifted a cut.
Now more than ever the need to stand out from the copy cats is essential for a cannabis brand, a seed bank, or a vertically integrated grower/retailer to succeed, so names are getting more and more funky, often with recurring themes that help consumers associate various lineages with specific brands.
Understanding Taxonomy, Genotypes & Phenotypes.
The original landrace strains all fall under the taxonomic classification of the Cannabis sativa L. genus. However, under this genus, there have been identified three putative species (though we usually only see the two main smoking varieties).
Within the genus of Cannabis there exists: C. sativa, C. indica, and C. ruderalis, with the last being the much lesser-known variety, used largely for its fibers. Although all the original landrace strains fall under the same genus of Cannabis, they each fall into one of these categories of species as well.
Still, these species of the same genus contain very similar, yet slightly differing genotypes. A genotype is the total combination of genes on the chromosomes and, sometimes, in other parts of a cell. Genes play two pivotal roles in organisms.
First, they provide the physical mechanism by which individual traits and characteristics (specific cannabinoid percentages and terpene profiles) are reproduced and passed from generation to generation. This applies to both seeds and clones.
Second, and perhaps most important for our purposes here, genes regulate the morphological and physiological processes that determine the expression of specific characteristics of the phenotype.
No, you’re not going to be finding 100% “pure indicas” or 100% “pure sativas” at your local dispensary these days. That’s because despite the fact that 99% of available weed has already been thoroughly hybridized, its that effects are often more varied by user biology than the exact indica/sativa ratio of the flower itself.
Phenotype = Genotype + environment.
This tells us that varying environmental factors and conditions can induce a specific phenotype expression by impacting the role genes play. Breeders who are interested in creating new or better strains will search for new phenotypes by visual inspection and comparison to previous generations of the same line.
When dealing with seeds or clones of the same lineage, breeders may choose to alter certain environmental conditions to find hidden characteristics that may be desirable to smokers or growers that were previously buried away in the genetic code of that particular strain.
So, if you are getting into cannabis, growing your own at home, or bootstrapping your own cannabusiness, you have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to naming. The more accurate you are in terms of describing the plant, it’s characteristics and its phenotype the more informed consumers will be and the more likely they will be to try your product. Oh, don’t forget to have some fun with it too!
Herb CEO Summary
There are no hard and fast guidelines for naming strains, it’s supposed to be informative yet fun, and many cultivars and genetics companies succeed in spades.
Cannabis consumers, producers, and purveyors all know that cannabis tells a story one way or another. Strain names that reveal that story; whether it’s about the possible effects, the country of origin, the combined genetic background, or the producer’s robust sense of humor, a strain name is meaningful, even if that meaning is obscured.
Strain names are fun, they’re supposed to be fun and build into the total experience that is enjoying cannabis. What’s your favorite strain name? What’s the craziest strain name you’ve ever heard of? Are there any strain names you feel are misleading? Let us know in the comments!