Rolling Paper: A Guide to Strains of Medical Marijuana

OG Kush, Sour Diesel, Big Buddha Wreck, and Candyjack: There are countless varieties of medical marijuana, which means countless combinations of physical and mental effects on the people who use them. So what, exactly, is in a strain? Quite a bit, it turns out, which makes it all the more important to pick the one — or several — that's right for you.

Know your medicine
"What's the difference? Wine is wine." You needn't be a sommelier to know the above statement is pure poppycock, as a sip of Napa Merlot followed by a taste of coastal Pinot will reveal. The same is true for medical cannabis — except much, much more so.

By now the terms "indica" and "sativa" are well in vogue, and even casual connoisseurs understand that the former's effects are associated with a sleepy body high, "couch-lock," and the munchies, whereas the latter is associated with an energetic head high, promoting conversation, or getting down with a book or some artwork.

Yet the effects of medical cannabis go far beyond "up" and "down" — and what's more, many strains available in dispensaries are hybrids. Strains with identical names can have varying effects, depending on variables such as your health, physical condition, mood, and setting. Looking at the dozens of strains available at local collectives, what's a patient to do?

Pepper your budtender with questions, and don't feel weird about it. "A patient should expect at the very least a clear and detailed explanation from qualified staff about how an unfamiliar strain may affect them physically, and in some cases emotionally," says Kevin Reed, CEO of the Green Cross. A budtender should be able to tell you what relief — pain relief, nausea control, inflammation reduction, sleep aid — a particular strain brings, and whether it is good for evening or morning use. "One thing not to ask is, 'What's the best?'" says Martin Olive, president of the Vapor Room. "This is, above all else, the most difficult question to intelligently answer. It's like asking, 'What's the best food?' Each person has specific responses to different strains and crosses."

With that in mind, here are brief descriptions of a few Bay Area favorites.

OG Kush (indica)
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Frosty buds with long hairs. A citrus smell and a sweet taste.
GOOD FOR: Pain and anxiety. A deeply relaxing body high.

Grandaddy Purple (heavy indica)
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: A distinct grape smell and aroma. It need not be purple (such coloring is merely a sign that the plant has been exposed to cold).
GOOD FOR: Insomnia, stress, pain, appetite stimulant. Good for nighttime use, or when you don't need to talk to people.

Blue Dream (Indica dominant hybrid)
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Purple or bluish hues with pale orange hairs, and a smell of "skunky spice and distinct berry," according to the experts.
Good for: Stress, tension, and pain. Good for functional daytime use as well as nighttime relaxation.

Sour Diesel (sativa)
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Hues of dark green and dark orange hairs. Very resinous. A pungent, sometimes oily burst of terpenes that can range from a strong citrus or grapefruit to "an overturned drum of diesel fuel" (hence the name).
GOOD FOR: Depression and nausea. Uplifting and cerebral. A real talker.

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