Medically Reviewed by
Jason Crawford

Article Last Updated on December 22, 2022

It’s 2021 and the cannabis industry is booming. There are over 700 cannabis strains on the market, and breeders aren’t stopping at those as new strains are created each day. Since cannabis use is on the rise and the legal cannabis market for recreational and medical marijuana is expected to reach $43 billion in 2025 according to Forbes, a bit of information on popular strains and how you can differentiate between them will definitely benefit you.

When you go into a dispensary, your budtender can give you all the information on the different strains they sell, including their cannabinoid content (CBD and THC levels), their terpene profile, as well as the effects they produce (energizing, uplifting, sedative, etc.). However, if you’ve ever found yourself smoking a strain and loving it, without knowing which one it was, this article is for you. We’ll go over the steps you can take to find out how you can distinguish between different strains of cannabis.

Types of Cannabis

There are three main types of cannabis plants that belong in the marijuana family:

  • Cannabis Indica;
  • Cannabis Sativa;
  • Cannabis Ruderalis.

You can find marijuana which is solely Indica, Sativa, or Ruderalis, although hybrid strains are most common. 

Cannabis Sativa

The cannabis Sativa plant is characterized by long, slender, and spiky leaves which have 13 fingers. The plant leaves can come from male or female plants and can be light or dark green. The female plants produce resinous buds, while the male plants are known as hemp. Hemp plants are rich in cannabidiol (CBD) and are mostly used medicinally, compared to female plants which are high in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and are mostly used recreationally.

Cannabis Indica

Cannabis Indica, on the other hand, grows shorter and bushier with wider leaves that contain 7-9 fingers which are colored olive-green. Cannabis Indica plants were mostly grown in India for their medicinal properties, and they’re widely used today by medical and recreational users in various hybrid cannabis strains.

Cannabis Ruderalis

Cannabis Ruderalis is the third species of the cannabis plant which grew in eastern Europe and was allegedly used by the Mongols as a treatment for depression. The leaf of the Ruderalis plant is similar to the Indica leaf, however, it’s smaller, narrower, and can contain from 5 to 13 fingers. The THC content of the Ruderalis species is lower than all the other species of cannabis plants. Due to its characteristics, cannabis growers are trying to crossbreed Ruderalis and Indica plants to create strains with shorter growing seasons. 

How to Identify Cannabis Strains?

After giving you the general information on the three types of cannabis, we’ll dive into how you can differentiate between different cannabis strains.

The Shape and Size of the Bud

The first thing that differentiates a Sativa from an Indica is the shape and size of the bud. Indica strains have thick, short, and chunky buds, while Sativa strains have longer and more narrow flowers which are very different from the densely packed Indicas. So, keep this in mind the next time you’re looking at your cannabis flower – pure Indicas od Indica-dominant hybrids have denser buds, and Sativa-dominant strains have leaner flowers.

The Color of the Flowers

Another method for figuring out the type of strain is looking at the color of the flower. The dominant colors you find in different cannabis flowers are:

  • Purple – which appears in cannabis strains like Purple Kush, Purple Haze weed strain, and others.
  • Yellow and orange – are the typical colors you find in strains like Lemon Kush, Grapefruit, and others.
  • Reddish buds – typical for strains like Predator Pink, Pink Flower Shaman, and others.

Take into consideration that the color of the cannabis buds can be affected by environmental factors, so don’t base the identification solely on color.

The Smell and Taste of the Buds

You probably know that the smell of weed comes from the terpene profile, so, when figuring out different strains of cannabis, smelling them will come in handy. Below, we’ll go over how your cannabis bud might smell.

  • Earthy (The earthy smell is generally connected to Kush strains, and the most classic ones among them are Afghan Kush and Hindu Kush which are the base for a lot of other strains all over the world).
  • Skunky (If your buds smell skunky, that’s a clear sign that you’ve come across a Skunk strain or a hybrid that contains Skunk).
  • Citrusy (Marijuana smells that smell citrusy probably have some terpenes that you can find in citrus fruits like limonene. If your bud smells citrusy, you probably have Lemon Kush, Lemon OG, or some similar strains to those on your hand).
  • Berry (A bud smelling like berries indicates that the strain you’re smoking may be in the lines of Blueberry, Fruity Pebbles, or other cannabis strains.
  • Diesel (If the buds have a smell similar to diesel fumes, you may have come across Sour Diesel, Blue Diesel, or some other hybrid deriving from these strains).
  • Sour (This category of cannabis strains combines all the strains which smell sour, including Sour Kush, Sour Diesel, and others).

The Way You Feel

How weed affects you may also help you figure out what strain you’re smoking. If you’re experiencing an intense head high, topped with creativity and feeling energetic, you may have come across a Sativa, or a Sativa-dominant hybrid.

If you’re experiencing an intense body high, along with feeling relaxed and getting the munchies, you’ve likely been smoking a pure Indica, or an Indica hybrid.

Finally, if the effects are balanced and you’re experiencing both a head high and a body high, you may have smoked a hybrid that has the same proportions of Indica and Sativa.

Final Thoughts on Identifying Weed Strains

If you go through the steps mentioned above, you’re very likely to identify which strain you’ve been smoking, and if this is not enough, you’ll have at least narrowed down the options. If all else fails, you have two options that will probably get you closer to figuring out the strain you have on your hands.

The first one is taking your bud, visiting your local dispensary, and talking with the budtender. They’ll probably know which strain it is. And if all else fails, you can try online marijuana analysis recognition interpreters like Leafly’s MARI. You only need to upload a picture of the nug, and MARI will check it using an algorithm to determine which marijuana strain it is.

A passionate advocate for the benefits of cannabis. Fraser Horton, who has a background in botany and a strong love of nature, has spent years researching how cannabis affects the body and mind. He established Leaf Nation in 2020, where he has devoted himself to educating people about the legalisation of marijuana and its safe and responsible use. Fraser is committed to highlighting cannabis’ potential for improving wellness and working to dispel the stigma associated with its use.


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