How to Make Sense of the Astonishing Selection

Galactic Glue? Bubba Kush? 5lb Hammer? WTF?

One of the joys of modern cannabis is the incredible variety of strains and formats available. Where once you were lucky to get whatever your local law-breaking weed guy had on hand, today shopping for cannabis is like wandering the aisles of a fancy wine shop when you don’t know your Rhine from your Rhône. In a dispensary, there are literally 99 bottles of buds on the wall. So how do you sort it all out?

Mastering the Basics

I find the wine shop analogy to be pretty useful, actually. For starters, you’ve got your two big categories – Indica and Sativa — which you can think of like Red and White. Hybrid, which is a cross between two strains, fits in nicely as Rose´.

great for binge-watching Netflix, deepening the dent in your couch, putting yourself to sleep
Alaskan Thunder Fuck
Durban Poison
Green Crack
Jack Herer
Maui Wowie
Purple Haze
Sour Diesel
Strawberry Cough
Super Silver Haze
great for housework, tax preparation, writing your memoirs, longs walks on the beach
Black Diamond
Bubba Kush
Grape Ape
Ice Cream Cake
Northern Lights
Platinum OG
depending on its lineage, each strain has unique effects which are well-documented in-store and online
Cherry Pie
Girl Scout Cookies
OG Kush
Pineapple Express
Wedding Cake
White Widow

In really broad terms, Sativa is typically uplifting, energizing, and a catalyst for creativity —  you could say it’s a more heady experience. On the down-side, some people find it makes them think too much or get paranoid. Indica, on the other hand, is generally a more body-centered high, which can lead to a syndrome affectionately known as “couch-lock,” as in you’re not leaving the couch. It also may lead to unfortunate snack choices. I use the handy slang In-da-couch to remember which one is Indica.

Within both Indica and Sativa, there are literally hundreds of strains, just like the massive varieties of red and white wine, not to mention hundreds of hybrids, which, like so many fine wines, carefully combine multiple strains. The result is a breathtaking array of flowers with diverse fragrances, effects, and intensity to choose from.

Botany, Breeding, and Buds

Thanks to modern-day grow rooms, geographic regions and “terroir” aren’t a defining factor in cultivating cannabis anymore — but don’t tell that to some of America’s massive, legal outdoor grows. Today, growers focus on breeding strains that feature different terpenes, which interact synergistically to create what scientists call the entourage effect.

It turns out the combination of terpenes in a strain amplifies the therapeutic benefits so that the medicinal impact of the whole plant is greater than the sum of its parts. (I freakin’ love cannabis and how smart it is!)

Exploring New Formats

My wine store metaphor starts to fall apart a little when we get to some of the newer products and methods that modern cannabis has yielded, but I still think it helps to see them all on a spectrum of potency. So a tincture or concentrate like Dab (a high-potency THC extract) would be more like port, brandy, or fortified wine.

I’m deep in my journey of exploration and am getting educated one dispensary visit at a time. Here’s the gist:



Smoking good old-fashioned flower is the fastest way to get high; combusting cannabis delivers a quick hit through your lungs, and the effects are almost immediate. That said, compared with some of the other formats, it’s not as long-lasting, which can be a good thing, or not, depending on your goal.


Vape Cartridges

Vape cartridges, which are filled with a liquid cannabis extract, are generally much easier on the lungs — there’s no combustion, so the vapor is nice and cool. The effects and duration are similar to flower, but it’s really easy to take a huge hit of vape and inadvertently get higher than you want, so beware.



Concentrates, which come in oil, wax, dab, shatter, and other semi-solid forms, are highly potent extracts taken from the cannabis flower and processed into a concentrated form. Typically concentrates are vaped, producing a clean and intense high that kicks in quickly and lasts a good while.



Tinctures are an alcohol-based cannabis extract that can be added to a beverage, or better yet, dropped under the tongue. Unlike edibles, sub-lingual dosing bypasses the stomach and hits the bloodstream quickly, providing a relatively fast onset that lasts for several hours.



Today’s edibles are serious business. The selection is wide and the dosing varies, so know what you’re getting into and go slowly. Unlike the smokeables, edibles can take up to an hour to kick in and can last a very, very long time. Eating too many can be a nightmare for the novice — a real flow buster.

Me, I’m an old-fashioned joint and pipe girl, though I’m trying to replace combustion with vaping since it’s better for my aging lungs.

Try, Try Again

Dab, shatter, oils, edibles – there’s a lot to know. Don’t worry, we’ll get to it all. Just as nobody expects to be a wine expert right away, so it is with cannabis. We learn as we go, and just like at the wine store, we eventually find our favorites.

Until then, let’s be careful out there.