Medically Reviewed by
Jason Crawford

Article Last Updated on January 2, 2023

The legalization of cannabis has expanded the cannabis industry considerably. Now, in states where it’s legal, you can freely go to a dispensary and purchase medical marijuana or any cannabis product you need or want to try just for fun. Additionally, growers are continuing to cultivate many different cannabis strains to perfection to get the best out of the cannabinoids and terpenes and produce unique strains of the highest quality.

Sometimes when you go to a dispensary and want to try something, the budtender tells you everything you need to know. Other times, a friend gives you a baggie but you have no idea just what you’re about to smoke and what to expect. Also, you might like it and not know how to find it again.

Luckily, to be able to identify a weed strain, you just need to know some key information about weed strains. Let’s see the basics first, and then we’ll get into the specifics.

Types of Cannabis Strains – The Basics

Even though there is an overwhelming variety of cannabis strains, they actually belong to three main groups: Cannabis Indica, Cannabis Sativa, and hybrids, and they all cause different effects. 

There is also another species called Cannabis Ruderalis for which there have been debates about whether it’s a subtype of Cannabis Sativa or whether it’s its own species. However, in this article, we’ll focus just on the basic three groups because they are the most commercially used.

Cannabis Indica Strains

Indica plants grow slowly, which is why they are short plants. Their stems are on the thick side and their leaves are broad. Their flowers are dense and grow very close to each other, and they’re heavily covered with sticky trichomes. This is because Indicas originally evolved in colder climates, so the trichomes served to protect them from harsh temperatures.

Some of the most popular Indicas are Northern Lights, OG Kush, L.A. Confidential, and Blueberry Kush.

The Effects of Indica

Indicas are generally higher in CBD and they are known for their calming effects. Potent strains can cause a body high that feels so relaxing it makes you feel like you’re unable to move – an effect also known as “couchlock.” Indicas are great as a sleeping aid due to the sedative effects they produce, and they can also help with pain management.

Cannabis Sativa Strains

Sativa is the complete opposite of Indica in many aspects, starting with appearance. It grows faster and higher, and its stems are leaner. The flowers are farther apart from each other and their overall appearance is less bushy. The green hue of Sativas is much lighter than that of Indicas.

Some of the most popular sativas are: Sour Diesel, Blue Dream, Durban Poison, and Jack Herer.

The Effects of Sativa

The effects that Sativas produce are also opposite of Indicas. With Sativa strains, you will get a head high rather than a body high. It will energize you and enhance your visual experience. These effects are due to the higher THC content which produces the psychoactive experience, but it also increases the chances of side effects if the strain is powerful. Sativas are great day-strains due to their energizing effects.

Hybrid Strains

As you may have guessed, hybrid strains are a cross between an Indica and a Sativa, though they can sometimes be a cross of two strains of the same group. When breeders develop a hybrid strain, they do it with the purpose of tailoring it to produce very specific effects. Hybrids gave a lot of variety to the cannabis market and they have the capacity to cater to most people’s unique needs.

Typically, hybrids will be Indica or Sativa dominant, but there are also some balanced hybrid strains. The most important thing about hybrids is to pay attention to the THC/CBD ratio and the terpene profile, which will give you a clearer picture of what to expect effect-wise. For more details on specific varieties, check out our list of the best hybrid strains out there.

How to Recognize What Strain of Weed You Have in Your Hands

So, you got some weed, but totally forgot to ask what it was and you generally have no idea how to tell them apart. Worry not! You don’t have to be an expert to know how to differentiate between strains, even if it’s just a rough estimation. 

Everything we’ve said above can be applied to practice if you learn what aspects can tell you the most about the weed you’re about to smoke, so let’s see what you should pay the most attention to.

The Shape and Size of the Nugs

First things first – how do the nugs look like? Pure Indica nugs will be heavy and densely packed in the bag, and they will look short and stubby. Pure Sativa nugs, on the other hand, will seem less dense and heavy, and their appearance will be leaner and narrower than Indicas. Finally, hybrids can be difficult to pin down just based on appearance, so you’ll have to take into account the other aspects of the weed.

The Color of the Buds

Most cannabis strains should have a vibrant green color, but this is not a rule as there are many different strains that can have colorful hues. For example, purplish buds can come from Granddaddy Purple, Purple Haze, or Purple Kush, as the more popular ones.

There are also orange weed strains that have yellowish-orange hairs on their trichomes, which can point you towards Nectarine Lips, Orange Velvet, or Lemon Kush.

How the Buds Taste and Smell

How a cannabis plant smells is largely determined by the terpene and flavanol profile. Weed has a broad range of different smells, but this range is limited. Therefore, even though there are hundreds of different strains nowadays, what they all have in common are the dominant scents produced by the terpenes present in the buds.

Here are the most common aroma profiles:


If your baggie smells like skunk, you most probably have a Skunky strain or alternatively, a hybrid with a lot of Skunky strains in it. Skunky strains include Super Skunk, White Russian, and AK-47 among others.


Kush strains, like Hindu Kush and Afghan Kush, are famous for the earthy smell. These strains are classics, so they are very commonly used to produce hybrids as well.


When the weed you bought smells like citrus, whether lemony or orangey (or even piney), it’s most probably a strain whose name alludes to the citrusy aroma. Tangerine Man, Lemon Kush, and Lemon OG are some well-known strains.


The names of berry strains also often allude to a fruit, so if your baggie has a strong berry aroma, you should be looking into something similar to Fruity Pebbles or Strawberry Cough.


Diesel-smelling strains are a large category. If the weed in your hands has a chemical smell that reminds you of diesel, try looking up some of the most famous diesel strains, like Sour Diesel and Blue Diesel.


Cannabis strains with a sour aroma are another large group. Sour Diesel and Sour Kush are some of the strains with sour notes.

What Effects You Experienced

The effects you got from the yet-unidentified strain will probably be the biggest tell-tale, especially if you have some experience with different strains.

If the high was intense and primarily felt in the body, leaving you feeling lethargic and mellowed out, it’s probably a pure Indica or an Indica-dominant hybrid.

If you had a cerebral high that stimulated your creativity and even made you more alert instead of slowed down, it’s probably a Sativa or a Sativa-dominant hybrid.

If the effects you experienced were neither of the above, but you felt equally relaxed but also energetic enough, then it must have been a balanced hybrid between the two.

Bottom Line – Nowadays, Most Marijuana Strains Are Hybrids

Pure strains aren’t hard to find, but due to the variety of hybrids and how cross-breeding has become dominant on the market, most strains you will come across will probably be hybrids. By keeping in mind the most basic pointers that can help you identify a strain, you can easily know what to expect if you’re ever handed an unlabeled baggie.

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.


The information presented on this page is provided as a public service to aid in education and is derived from sources believed to be reliable. Readers are responsible for making their own assessment of the topics discussed here. In no event shall Leaf Nation be held reliable for any injury, loss or damage that could happen if using or abusing drugs.