As the demand for cannabis grows, so does experimentation with new strains. Most of the strains on the commercial market today are hybrids – plants bred from numerous different strains of cannabis to produce certain effects or features. This is a basic primer on what hybrids are, and some of the reasons they have become so popular.
Cannabis, like other plants, either exists as a pure breed, or as a hybrid mix of strains. As the industry has commercialised, both pure strains and existing hybrids are continually mixed and remixed. These new plants are known as hybrids.
Hybrids are a man-made attempt at customising plants with specific kinds of characteristics usually found in ruderalis, sativa, and indica strains. Successful hybrids inherit the best qualities from their parents.
This is a beginner’s guide to understanding where hybrids come from.
WHAT KINDS OF HYBRID STRAINS ARE THERE?
Generally, there are four types of strains:
- Sativa x sativa: Two different sativa varieties are bred together.
- Indica x indica: Two different indica varieties are bred together.
- Sativa x indica: A strain described this way is a hybrid with sativa-dominant characteristics. However, it has traits of both varieties of cannabis. It could be a tall plant with purple buds, for example.
- Indica x sativa: This variety will have characteristics of both, but is indica-dominant.
In addition, autoflowering hybrids are cultivars which have been mixed somewhere down the line with ruderalis genetics.
BREEDING NEW CANNABIS STRAINS
Breeding any plant involves the same basic process. Cannabis is no different. A female plant must be pollinated with male pollen. This happens naturally. However, in hybrid creation, breeders engage in selective breeding in a controlled environment. In other words, they pick the female plant and male pollen to produce a specific trait or set of them.
Seeds germinated by this process will be first generation hybrids of the male and female parents. Those with the desired traits will be bred again. Once these traits have been produced, breeders will “cube” the strain. In other words, they will breed a child hybrid with a parent strain to reinforce the characteristics. It is usually repeated across three or more generations to stabilise the characteristics.
Cannabis can also be propagated “sexually” or “asexually”. The sexual reproductive process involves combining different parents. However, vegetative methods also include cloning, cuttage, and even division of roots. Asexual reproduction allows the exact same plant to be produced again and again.
Wild strains are known as landrace cannabis strains. They refer to plants found growing in the wild that seem to have developed on their own without human interference. Wild strains come in one of three varieties:
These strains are short and shrubby. The high such plants create is usually a heavy “body stone”.
Sativa strains are known for their tall, tree-like growth and their cerebral highs.
This is a low-THC species of cannabis native to Central and Eastern Europe and Russia. There is some debate over whether ruderalis is a subspecies of sativa. At this point, most scholars accept that ruderalis is its own strain. The main reason this is such an important species of cannabis is that it is autoflowering. This means it will flower regardless of light cycle, unlike photoperiodic strains. As a result, this feature has been crossbred into both indica and sativa strains, which normally require specific periods of photosynthesis. If you are using an autoflowering strain, it has been crossbred with a ruderalis strain at some point.
As the name suggests, hybrid cannabis strains are the result of a crossbreeding either pure strains or other hybrids into a new strain. One of the earliest hybrids is known as “Skunk”. This is the first known crossing of an indica and sativa, but it was certainly not the last.
Strains are bred primarily for:
Specific cannabinoid content
Many hybrids are a mix of both indica and sativa “parents”. This allows breeders to determine the kind of impact the strain will have. Going for a couch-lock? Try an indica-dominant strain. Seeking cerebral creativity? Look for sativa-dominant strains. Want an autoflowering strain? That will be a hybrid of a ruderalis, plus another strain. As medical research expands, more and more breeds are being created to sustain specific concentrations of certain cannabinoids. Many strains of cannabis will maximise THC or CBD. Medical cannabis for children, for example, is bred from specific hybrid strains of cannabis that will always contain low levels of THC, but high amounts of CBD.
Growing in or outdoors imposes its own restrictions on cultivator choice. Sativas grow tall and tree-like. Indicas tend to be shrubby. However, hybrids can be selected for size, bushiness, and other features. Some sativa hybrids, in other words, can be mistaken for indicas.
These strains are all crossed at some point with a ruderalis parent. What this means is that your plant will bloom regardless of hours of light exposure.
Some plants are more resinous than others. Hybrids are specifically crossed for their resin content. Indicas tend to be more resinous than sativas, but hybrids change the game here too.
Terpenes & flavonoids
As more is understood about whole plant medicine, the role of essential oils is being re-examined. Hybrids that combine essential oils have begun to appear on the market, but they are still in their early days.
How much a plant can produce comes from its heritage.
Hardiness (and colour)
Some strains of cannabis – notably indicas – come from areas of the world where temperatures are cold and the days are short. Such features can be bred into hybrids, including the ability to turn purple. Purple cannabis is a huge favourite among those in the know. These days, the trait can be bred without stressing the plant with cold air during the growing process.
Disease and pest resistance
Just like humans, some plant strains are more resistant to their environment and natural predators.
NOT ALL HYBRIDS ARE CREATED EQUAL
Developing a successful hybrid takes time and work. And not all hybrids are really the same.
This is a strain that has been grown into a plant with certain characteristics. The grower can make genetically identical clones of the plant and distribute them. A clone is the only way to ensure that the exact genetic makeup of this plant is perpetuated. However, growing conditions will greatly affect the final product.
Stable seed strain
A breeder who selects both male and female plants will breed them over and over again to stabilise specific attributes. The final stable seed will have such traits every time the seeds are grown. That said, there will always be some genetic variation.
Unstable seed strain
While these can be produced more quickly than stable seed strains, they are all over the map in terms of features. Reputable seed shops will not sell unstable strains.