Many people who are not well versed with marijuana or don’t have many experiences with it might think all strains are the same. The truth couldn’t be any further.
Some people love specific strains for the characteristics and properties they have. Some are very energetic highs while others are sleepers. Some will give you anxiety where as other will not. However, a specific strain can vary between different yields.
You have probably tried a strain, bought it a few more times from a dispensary or marijuana delivery service but the last time you bought it, it didn’t feel the same. Although it’s the same strain most likely, there could be a difference in its phenotype.
What Are Phenotypes and Genotypes?
Anyone that smokes can tell you that not all weed is created equal. One strain may give you a gentle head rush, while another can make your entire body feel like it’s floating. But the variation in marijuana goes far beyond the wide array of strains available at your local dispensary. Within individual strains of cannabis, different genotypes and phenotypes can dramatically alter the appearance and effects of the plant. The structure of the marijuana plant is determined by its genetic make up and by its environment. The DNA and growing environment can change the scent, appearance, potency and effect of cannabis, leading to the rich variety of marijuana that are available today.
Genotype and Phenotype?
But what exactly is a genotype and a phenotype? The genotype is the genetic makeup of an organism. In this case, the genotype is the DNA that acts as a blueprint for the plant’s development. Genotypes do not set the plant’s appearance and properties in stone. It is the range of possibilities of what the plant can become. Phenotypes are the characteristics that the growing environment develops from the genetic code.
While the genotype determines the way a marijuana plant grows leaves and produces resin, the environment can change the exact phenotypes present in that particular plant. For example, the exact scent, coloring, and flavor of a particular cannabis plant are phenotypes that respond to the climate that the plant is grown in. It is the combination of genotypic knowledge and environmental factors that creates a phenotype.
Darwinism in Marijuana
Marijuana is thought to originate in the Hindu Kush region of Pakistan. Thousands of years of genetic evolution have allowed the best genetic traits to proliferate. As cannabis spread to other regions, the genetic code evolved to adapt to new climates and growing conditions. These genetic adaptations resulted in new strains of cannabis with different physical characteristics and properties.
Marijuana plants grown between the 30th and 50th degree latitude lines, tend to be shorter and resin heavy. These strains are classified as indicas. Cannabis grown closer to the equator along the 30th degree latitude line are taller and slower growing. These strains of marijuana are known as sativas.
Genetic Tinkering in Cannabis
In the 20th century, marijuana growers began to use selective breeding and controlled environments to create purer strains of cannabis. In the 1970s and 80s, when federal anti-cannabis efforts reached a fever pitch, many growers moved their operations indoors to avoid detection from law enforcement. These new indoor grow operations greatly increased the level of control growers had over the cultivation environment.
Benefits of Indoor Setups
With indoor grow set ups, marijuana growers can tweak the temperature, light, humidity, nutrients, and watering levels for their plants. By hyper controlling the grow environment, growers can bring out different phenotypes of the plant. This includes adjusting the scent, coloring, and effects of the plant through slight alterations in environmental factors. By changing environmental factors and selectively breeding cannabis plants, growers have been able to create many new strains of marijuana.
Cons of Indoor Setups
Indoor grow operations can affect the phenotypic expression of cannabis genotypes by altering the soil, light angle, harvest timing, and photo period length. While these set ups have allowed for an incredible increase in accuracy and precision, many experts believe that marijuana plants cannot reach their full potential in artificial conditions. These experts assert that cannabis grown indoors lacks the richness of marijuana propagated in a more natural setting.
Why is Indoor Growing Better than Outdoor?
In these early days of genetic tinkering, growers primarily focused their energies in creating harvests with higher THC contents. Today, professional growers know more about other chemical benefits of cannabis, such as CBD,. They are developing strains that are more balanced, and highlight the full potential of the marijuana plant. Recently, there has been a higher focus placed on 1:1 CBD to THC Ratio strains. The strains available through premium marijuana retailers reflect years of genetic tinkering that have created the ultimate marijuana harvests.
Variation in Cannabis Genotypes
Even in a completely controlled environment, such as an indoor grow operation, there will be slight variations between plants. Because every seed has its own genotype, these variations occur even if they are grown from the same set of seeds. Marijuana plants within the same harvest are not homogeneous. Slight variations in genotypes between seeds, with identical environments will result in slight variations in phenotypes. Because of this, each plant will still appear unique even in the most controlled of settings.
Splitting Into Hybrid Strains
Although the classifications of sativa and indica come from the genotype of the marijuana strain, controlled environmental factors can bring out phenotypes that are more sativa-like or more indica-like. Phenotypic tinkering has allowed for a fuller spectrum of marijuana harvests, creating a good deal of variety within individual strains of cannabis.
Indicas Versus Sativas
Both indicas and sativas have their own strengths. Indicas produce large quantities of resin and flower quickly, making them well adapted to commercial use. Sativas, which are slower growing and more finicky to propagate, have an uplifting effect that many cannabis users find beneficial.
Traditionally, indicas are known for their relaxing full-body high, while sativas tend to have a more energizing head high. Indica strains are used to treat anxiety, insomnia and chronic pain, while sativas are more suited to combat depression, fatigue, Attention Deficit Disorder, and mood disorders.
As each genotype has it’s own unique benefits, it is natural that growers have begun experimenting to bring the best of both genotypes together into a new hybrid strain. Although indicas and sativas represent opposite ends of the marijuana spectrum, phenotypic tinkering has allowed growers to create hybrid strains. They have done this by adjusting environmental factors in the grow set-up. Even within a single strain, adaptations in the grow climate can create very different variations of the same plant.
Phenotypic dabbling and hybridization can create frustrating levels of inconsistency when purchasing a specific strain. However, this also allows for a new richness and diversity within cannabis. Some in the cannabis community lament the lack of genotypic purity with the advent of hybridization, while others celebrate the endless possibilities that phenotypic experimentation allows.
Consistency in Your Weed
If you are seeking consistency, stick to the same grower. Loyalty to a grower you trust, will reward you with a high that is identical every time. If you like to mix it up a lot, it could be fun to collect samples of the same strain from a variety of growers. You can compare to see if you can notice the phenotypic variety between the harvests.
How Consumption Methods Change Cannabis Even More
While this comparison has discussed only the uniqueness found within the buds that you’re actually smoking, if you choose to vape or eat edibles, the strains go through another evolution that makes them even more distinct. In these cases, it is not the genotypes or phenotypes that makes the difference. Instead, it is the process to which the cannabis plant is subjected after harvesting that modifies its effects even further.
You may know exactly what to expect from smoking a particular strain, like Blue Dream, consuming it through candy or in a vape could produce completely different effects.
Finding the Perfect Fit
Next time you are smoking, eating, or vaping cannabis, take note of the phenotypes present. Even the most famous and most popular strains, like Pineapple Express, Green Crack, and OG Kush, will feel, look, and taste different depending on their growing conditions. Try them all out and discover how unique cannabis can be.