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Cannabis Cultivar Lineage and Genetics: Get to Know the Basics

By Danyal Swan December 31, 2021

Cannabis is a valuable plant that has been cultivated and consumed by humans for thousands of years - for medical use, fiber, and even as paper. In American culture, it became popular in the 1910s as a recreational drug but was promptly outlawed due to a combination of racism, xenophobia, and lurid propaganda stereotyping users as violent, hypersexualized fiends.

Today, the cannabis industry is working to upend the stigma so more people can enjoy its benefits. Cannabis is used for recreational, spiritual, and medical purposes around the globe and is widely accepted as an alternative to prescription medications. The different strains of cannabis have varying medicinal properties depending on the genetic makeup.

With increasing legalization across North America and other areas around the globe, there are more opportunities than ever to explore this fascinating plant’s lineage and genetics. By better understanding the differences between strains, consumers can become more knowledgeable about the value of cannabis and more discerning in their purchasing decisions. This not only makes it easier for consumers to choose the right product for their needs, but it also ultimately benefits the entire cannabis industry.

A Cannabis Vocabulary Cheat Sheet

If you want to learn more about cannabis, you’re likely to encounter many new words and phrases that seem like they’re straight out of a science textbook. Familiarizing yourself with the most important words in the cannabis vocabulary will help you understand cannabis literature and give you the information you need to speak with patients about their medical marijuana options. Before we dive into the nitty-gritty details of the marijuana plant, there are a few plant-related cannabis terms you should know:

  • Gene: A section of DNA that is responsible for producing a certain trait or characteristic of cannabis.
  • Phenotype: The outward physical appearance of the cannabis plant, such as size, shape, and coloration.
  • Genotype: The specific DNA in the cannabis plant that is responsible for the phenotype.
  • Cultivar: a plant variety created using selective breeding to bring out the breeder’s desired characteristics.
  • Cannabinoids: Chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. The two most popular cannabinoids are THC and CBD. THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces the “high” effect, while CBD is the main non-psychoactive compound used for medicinal purposes.
  • Terpene: A class of organic compounds that give plants, including cannabis, their scents. Terpenes also contribute to the specific flavors and even the effects of cannabis strains.
Cannabinoids, terpenes, full spectrum extracts? Head spinning? don't worry we have you covered. Become canna-fluent with the MUV Cannabis Glossary. Click Here to learn more

Strain vs. Cultivar - What’s the Difference?

Strain is the widely-used term when describing the different types of cannabis, and has permeated the industry for decades. Though its origins are unknown, it’s become widely accepted by cannabis experts that it is outdated (much like indica and sativa). When you stop and think about it, other plant varieties are not classified as “strains” - the word is most commonly applied to viruses with a genetic variant, like the flu or even COVID-19.

Because cannabis plants are not genetically mutated, cultivar is widely viewed as the most accurate way to label what we once referred to as “strains.” The term itself is a hybrid of cultivated variety; a plant cultivated to produce specific characteristics, physically or in terms of effects after consumption - exactly as cannabis is produced.

What Are Cannabis Genetics and Lineage?

Cannabis appears in many different cultivars, each with their own unique properties. Different genetics have been used to produce these combinations, which colloquially have been  categorized into either indica or sativa strains. This term is outdated when describing affects, as it is the synergy of cannabinoids and terpenes that produce the unique characteristics. These types of cultivars have different appearances, and they produce different effects when consumed due to their unique combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes. Indica and sativa, instead, should be viewed as the physical descriptor of plants:

Indica plants are short and bushy with short, wide leaves, while sativa plants are tall and slender with long, thin leaves.

The lineage and genetics of terpenes are found in the crosses of cultivars. When looking at Guru, for example, it’s lineage would be Petrol OG crossed with (denoted by “x”) Forbidden Fruit. Its genetics would be its THC and CBD content, as well as terpenes. These genetics are carefully monitored, as they lend the most therapeutic effects, and exact quantities of them can often be found on cannabis certificates of analysis.    

Why Knowing Your Cannabis Cultivar Origins Matters

For casual consumers, cannabis connoisseurs, and commercial growers alike, understanding the lineage of the plant is crucial to receiving the best quality product. In general, a plant’s genetic lineage will influence several factors related to its quality and yield, such as the color of the flowers, flavor profiles, and the type of high it produces. So, if you know Jack Herer gives you anxiety, you would know that Sour Jack - Jack Herer x Sour Diesel - may not be a great fit for your routine. In addition, specific varieties are better suited for certain uses. A good example is Grape Ape, a cultivar that is often recommended for nighttime use because it can ease your mind and settle your body.

Cannabis Genotypes and Phenotypes: What’s the Difference?

Genotype refers to the genetic makeup of an organism, or the set of genes passed down from its parents, whereas phenotype refers to how those genes are expressed through physical appearance. Genotype tells us which genes are present in an organism, while phenotype describes the physical manifestation of those genes.

Cannabis plants are diploid organisms, meaning they have two sets of chromosomes, one set from the mother plant and one from the father plant. Different combinations of these chromosomes can give rise to unique genotypes. Because gene expression is not solely determined by genotype, the same genotypes can also cause very different phenotypes. This typically occurs due to environmental influences, such as climate, sunlight, and water intake, or human intervention and selective breeding.

Breeding Cannabis Plants: The Basics

Cannabis plants are both male and female, and this is important for the breeding process. When male plants are mature enough, they release pollen that is used to fertilize the female plant. Combining cannabis genetics from two plants results in different genetic strains, and this is how you control lineage to create new varieties of your favorite plant.

After two parent cultivars are selected to create a new one, they must be put into breeding chambers. Breeders often use an enclosed environment, particularly if other female plants are in the vicinity - one small dusting of pollen could pollinate an entire room of plants. A few weeks after being planted, the male will grow pollen sacs that release pollen and distribute it through the air, where it will ideally land on the female plant and advance the pollination process.Another option for cannabis breeding involves human intervention in which growers manually shake the pollen off the male and onto the female. Once the female grows seeds, these seeds can be harvested and planted elsewhere. Growing new plants from these seeds ensures that you will achieve a genetic combination of the original male and female plant chosen to breed. Breeding is an arduous process - it will take several months for the plant to grow and flower, and, to ensure a successful genetic crossing, multiple runs of the cultivar is advisable to ensure you created a strong cultivar.

After breeding, though, cultivators can take cuttings that can be rooted, known as cannabis cloning.

How to Find the Right Cultivar for You

Do you plan to consume before playing sports, going to a social event, or painting? Or before taking part in more relaxing hobbies like reading, watching a movie, or taking a stroll through the woods? Look for a strain with the effects that match your activity.

MÜV Patients benefit from the Strain Assessment Program, where you can track how well various cannabis products and specific cultivars help with your unique conditions, mood and ailments. With this information we can recommend a cultivar for the effect you’re looking for.

For example, Sour Jack and London Pound Mints are perfect for activities that require energy, socialization, and creativity.

Whereas, Triangle Kush, Guru, and Velvet Glove are ideal for relaxing, slow-paced activities.

Guru, Triangle Kush, Velvet Glove Cannabis Strains

What about your taste preferences? Different terpenes not only generate different effects when combined with other cannabis compounds, but they also produce different taste profiles, including fresh, floral, herbal, piney, peppery, fruity, or citrusy. For example, if you prefer a light, herbaceous flavor, you will likely enjoy strains high in myrcene but not strains high in caryophyllene, as they produce a pungent, sour, diesel-like flavor.

It’s also important to keep in mind that some patients need higher doses of THC than others because their endocannabinoid system isn’t functioning well enough on its own. If your symptoms don’t seem to respond well to a specific cultivar of cannabis, try another type before giving up on the therapeutic benefits of this plant. Just like any other medication, not all cultivars work for everyone. Medicating is somewhat of a trial and error process -  to find what works best for you.

Cannabis Lineage and Medical Use

Studying the lineage and terpene profile of a cannabis cultivar can also be vital for medical purposes. In humans, cannabis is used to alleviate the symptoms caused by a wide range of conditions. This includes chronic pain from nerve damage and inflammation, joint pain, muscle spasticity, and migraines. Cannabis helps cancer patients with pain, nausea, and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, stimulates their appetite, and improves weight gain. It provides relief from symptoms of glaucoma, eye diseases, Crohn’s disease, and multiple sclerosis and is frequently prescribed to help patients cope with anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Due to its anticonvulsant properties, cannabis is also considered a very promising treatment option for epilepsy and other neurological conditions in children.

With the new-wave interest in cannabis ignited, identifying commonalities between cultivars that provide positive outcomes for specific symptoms will be the next wave in the quest for knowledge of the plant and its effects.

The Future of Cannabis Genetics in a Legalized World

Although cannabis has been used for thousands of years, in the last century, it has been outlawed and vilified, causing cannabis’s lineage and genetics to be lost. Thankfully, because of recent changes in legislation, we are now able to get reacquainted with this ancient plant and learn more about how its unique properties can improve the lives of patients. With legalization comes opportunity.

Here are some predictions on what the future might hold for cannabis genetics in a legalized world:

  • Identifying commonalities between cultivars (terpene content, cannabinoid content, etc.) that provide positive outcomes for specific symptoms will be the next wave in the quest for knowledge of the plant and its effects.
  • New research will be available to investigate the industrial and medicinal implications of cannabis.
  • Genetic information will become more readily available and easier to access, leading to a better understanding of cannabis’s lineage.
  • Cannabis genetics will continue to evolve in response to changes in climate and environment, allowing breeders to create new strains with increased resilience.
  • The list of ailments that can be relieved by cannabis use may grow as researchers explore more potential treatment options.

Overall, understanding the basic biology of cannabis strain lineage and genetics can be a fun and educational experience for everyone, from novices to cannabis experts wanting to obtain a better high to breeders desiring to hybridize new strains. Knowing how strains are developed through various techniques can empower patients to identify the perfect strain for their own unique physical and mental needs.

An experienced, highly trained staff can discuss your needs and preferences to find the perfect strain. Aside from offering valuable cannabis resources, MÜV provides a comprehensive portfolio of cannabis products to best serve the needs of the community, including concentrates, flower, edibles, inhalers, oral products, topics, transdermal, vape products, and more.

Content Manager for MÜV Florida and Contributor for Zen Leaf Dispensaries. A cannabis connoisseur with a passion for explaining the miraculous possibility of the plant, Swan began her journey with cannabis as a recreational user and quickly realized its positive impact on her depression and severe anxiety. She joined the cannabis industry as Receptionist and MedTender and witnessed first-hand the immense potential of the plant for a wide variety of ailments, deepening her passion for alternative medicine. Swan is dedicated to self-education on the plant and sharing its potential with all. She holds a Journalism degree from the University of Iowa.

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