Understanding the terminology: Cultivar vs. Strain in cannabis classification

Understanding the terminology: Cultivar vs. Strain in cannabis classification


The rapidly evolving cannabis industry is accompanied by an equally dynamic lexicon, where terms like “cultivar” and “strain” are often used interchangeably. However, a deeper understanding of these terms reveals nuances that are essential for both consumers and professionals in the field. This article will explore the differences and appropriate usage of “cultivar” and “strain” in the context of cannabis.

Historical Context and General Use

Strain: Traditionally, the term “strain” has been popular in the cannabis community. It originated from microbiology, where it refers to variations within bacterial, viral, or other microbial cultures. In cannabis, “strain” has been used colloquially to describe different varieties, each with unique characteristics like flavor, aroma, and psychoactive effects.

Cultivar: The term “cultivar,” short for “cultivated variety,” is a botanical classification that accurately describes plants selectively bred for specific, desirable traits. This term is widely used in horticulture and agriculture for various plant species, including cannabis.

Scientific Accuracy and Botanical Standards

The shift towards using “cultivar” in cannabis is part of a broader movement for scientific accuracy and standardization. In botanical terms, a cultivar refers to plants that have been intentionally selected and cultivated by humans for specific traits. These traits could be physical, such as leaf shape or flower color, or functional, like resistance to pests or altered psychoactive effects.

In contrast, “strain” lacks the precision that “cultivar” offers. In microbiology, a strain is more about genetic variants within a species, which can occur naturally without human intervention. Applying this term to cannabis can be misleading, as most cannabis varieties on the market are the result of deliberate breeding and cultivation practices.


Implications for Consumers and Industry

Consumer Clarity: Using “cultivar” helps consumers understand that they are choosing from varieties that have been specifically developed for certain attributes. This clarity can lead to more informed choices, especially for medical users who rely on specific cannabinoid and terpene profiles for therapeutic effects.

Regulation and Standardization: As the cannabis industry grows, regulators and industry bodies are pushing for standardization in terminology. Adopting “cultivar” aligns cannabis with other agricultural sectors and can aid in creating consistent standards for classification, labeling, and marketing.

Cultivation and Breeding Practices: For cultivators and breeders, the term “cultivar” acknowledges the skill and knowledge involved in breeding cannabis. It highlights the art and science of developing new varieties with specific characteristics, a process that often involves complex crossbreeding and selection over multiple generations.

The evolution from “strain” to “cultivar” in cannabis nomenclature is not just a semantic change but a reflection of the maturing industry’s move towards scientific precision and standardization. Understanding and using these terms correctly can lead to better-informed decisions by consumers and contribute to the professionalization of the cannabis industry. As the market and regulatory environments continue to evolve, adopting accurate and standardized terminology will be crucial for communication, education, and progress in the field of cannabis.