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EMBER / Guides
February 02, 2019
Cannabis Strain Names, Explained


Regardless of where you get your marijuana, and whatever your preferred form of consumption is, odds are it comes with its own name. Maybe it’s Jack Herrer; maybe it’s OG Kush; or maybe it’s something you’ve never even heard of before—or heard of since you bought that last eighth. Yet strain names have been around for at least 50 years now—far before you tried your first joint, most likely—and have a storied history not unlike a tale any stoner would tell. With dozens of different cannabis strains available, the naming conventions aren’t always easily understood—here’s everything you need to know about these monikers, including how they’re decided upon, what they stand for, and if they really mean anything at all.

History behind cannabis strain names

“Naming cannabis started in the early ‘60s and ‘70s; back then, it had more to do with where it was grown,” says Alberto Amaya, an associate at Life Insurance 420 who has consulted extensively on medical marijuana growth. “Examples of that are Afghani from Afghanistan, Hindu Kush from the Hindu Kush mountains, Columbian Gold from Columbia, Thai Stick from Thailand, Oaxacan Gold in Oaxaca, Mexico, and Lambs Bread from Jamaica.”

Jordan Tishler, MD, a doctor in Massachusetts who works with cannabis, agrees. “Some started out representing where a plant came from, like Afghan Kush; ‘Kush’ also represents the area from which it came.” However, he notes the connotation of Kush itself has rarely been one and the same, explaining that “kush has since come to represent Indica-type strains in a more general manner.”

If you’ve heard of six different kinds of Kush tossed around, know that they’re probably not true cannabis strains. “There are really only ten to 15 true strains of cannabis,” says Amaya.  ”From there, many strains are crossbreeds of these original strains, and often include the root name with another root name, or include an additional adjective to describe some of its unique characteristics.” So, when you cross a Granddaddy Purple plant with a Haze, you get Purple Haze.

The original strain monikers and the location-based naming convention are still in use, but things have certainly evolved. “While cannabis strains were traditionally named to indicate their point of origin, the industry has veered far off the beaten path,” explains Samantha Morrison, a cannabis researcher for Glacier Wellness. “Eventually, breeders began to name their strains based on their color or flavor profile.”

Keeping original strain names like Bubba Kush and Diesel in mind, breeders used descriptors of the smell and taste to hybridize their strains’ monikers in a way that’s familiar for their customers but also unique to their products. Let’s go back to the Purple Haze crossbreed, for example. “To achieve the purple color, growing it is dependent on specific light and dark times towards the end of the cycle,” says Amaya. “However, you could easily end up with a Silver Haze or Blueberry Haze based on certain variations of those light exposure cycles.”

Let’s say you pick up a strain called Bubblegum Kush. “That’s really just a form of Bubba Kush,” Amaya adds, but the sweet-smelling and -tasting characteristics make it easy to reclassify as the former. Similar logic applies to the commonly known strain Sour Diesel. “Sour Diesel is really just Diesel, which is a sativa strain, but the characteristics of the grow create a sour and orange-like smell,” Amaya explains.

Another way of dubbing strains is to name it after the area in which the bud was grown—say, an N.Y. Diesel rather than simply Diesel—or in homage to someone specifically. Truthfully, it can often get silly. “Step into any dispensary and you'll be met with a whole barrage of names ranging from pop culture references, like a Bob Saget, to downright nonsense—Querkle, for instance,” says Morrison.

Some skeptics note that naming conventions are indeed just that. “Strain names are largely made up,” notes Tishler. “The name can be entirely fictitious and given by a grower who wants a name that is marketable and unique to them—in many instances, a common strain like Blue Dream may simply be renamed for marketing purposes,” he says. “Chemical and genetic analyses of many strains show us that there is a wide divergence among samples that are supposedly the same as well as vast similarities between all strains in general,” Tishler adds. What’s more, strains are not pertinent to the medical outcomes that Tishler regularly prescribes them for. “It’s really just a matter of preference,” Tishler says. “I tell all of my patients to simply throw the whole strain name-thing out the window.”

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