How to Choose a Cannabis Strain Like a Boss

By Alyse Morgan

The time has finally come. You’ve waited your whole life and traveled hundreds if not thousands of miles to get here. You can barely contain your excitement as you take those first nervous steps into the recreational dispensary. Age confirmed, you’re granted access to the store. Immediately, you see about fifteen jars full of the most beautiful buds you’ve ever seen with names you may or may not have heard of.

what are terpenes

You find yourself faced with a difficult decision — picking the best one. We know it can be overwhelming when faced with so many choices. After all, everybody has their own opinion of the “best” strain, and with so many to choose from, how can you be sure? Luckily cannabis has its own way of telling you what strain is best for you. The answer to the dilemma of choice is terpenes.

What are terpenes? Your nose knows.

Terpenes give cannabis its flavor and aroma. They are to thank for the connoisseur market that is on the rise in the cannabis industry today. Terpenes are essential oils that live in the same glands as the cannabinoids (THC and CBD) called trichomes. Terpenes are not exclusive to cannabis; they exist in every plant on earth!

Terpenes do more than just give delicious flavor to your buds. They are directly responsible for the unique feeling associated with each strain. Two plants could have similar cannabinoid structures, but completely different terpene structures. The terpene structures would result in two vastly differing experiences.

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Sativa terpenes are stimulating

Sativas, for instance typically smell bright and have strong citrus notes. The citrus smell comes from the terpene limonene, which is found in lemons. Limonene is responsible for the uplifted feeling typically found in sativa-dominant strains.  Limonene also helps stimulate the immune system and protects the GI tract.

Indica terpenes are soothing

Terpenes associated with Indica strains are alpha and beta pinene, which are found in pine trees. Pinene has great anti-inflammatory properties, which helps with the pain relieving aspects of cannabis. Linalool is also predominant in Indica strains. This floral terpene is to thank for the sedative effect in lavender.

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How to use and interact with terpenes

Terpenes interact with a person’s body chemistry when they are smelled and inhaled. They allow someone to “sample” a strain without smoking it. When picking out cannabis flower or concentrate, it’s important to smell the strain because the smell is a good indication of how that particular strain will work with someone’s body chemistry.

Say a person walks into a Denver dispensary and smells a jar of cannabis and loves how it smells. They then smell a second jar and dislike the scent of that strain. The person then has an idea that they will enjoy the high of the first jar better than that of the second. One of the larger misconceptions about cannabis is that THC potency is the only factor that will determine the quality of cannabis. Though potency is an important part, it’s also helpful to pay attention to the flavor profile of the plant since that is where the specific type of high comes from.

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Terpene pro tips:

  1. Stick your nose in it. Follow your nose when you’re choosing a new strain at the dispensary. Smell a few before making your selection.
  2. Use your words. See if you can associate the strain’s flavor and aroma sensation with descriptors like lemony, piney, floral, hint of lavender, woody, etc. This will help you pay attention to the terpenes and remember them. 
  3. Note how you feel. Beyond the taste and the smell, terpenes also affect the way a strain interacts with your body’s chemistry and what kind of experience you’ll have. Take a minute to describe how the strain made you feel — lucid, energized, serene, imaginative, giggly, sleepy, etc.

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