Why You Should Stop Calling it a Strain and Use Cultivar Instead

Cannabis is a complex plant with hundreds of different phytochemicals contributing to its effects. To learn more about these effects, we must first clean up our cannabis terminology. One of the terms most people usually get wrong is cannabis strain. 

If you’ve purchased cannabis before, you’re familiar with this term. Even now, when you want to buy cannabis, you’re asked which strain you want. However, "strain" might not be the right word to describe each variety of cannabis. Many argue that people should use the word “cultivar” instead of strain. So what is a cultivar? Keep reading as we explore these cannabis terms and decide on the most accurate one. 

What is a Strain? 

People use the word strain to refer to various cannabis plants with distinct chemical profiles. However, it’s technically wrong to say cannabis strain. This word belongs to the field of microbiology. Scientists use it to describe subtypes of viruses, fungi, and bacteria. It’s not a word for describing certain plant types, even though some cannabis experts use it. The more accurate term, in this case, is "cultivar". 

What is a Cultivar?

The word "cultivar" is short for cultivated variety and is used widely in plant sciences. It’s a horticultural category that describes various plant crosses selected by humans and improved through long-term breeding and crossing with other varieties. 

A cannabis cultivar refers to a group of plants with specific flavor, aroma, appearance, and chemical profile. The cannabis strain names you often hear reflect the properties of each cultivar. For instance, Lemon Octane has a tangy, citrus flavor, while Sour Diesel smells like fuel. 

The registry responsible for cultivar names is the International Cultivation Registry Authority, established over 50 years ago. Their job is to ensure that each cultivar has a distinct and non-repetitive name. 

Current Cultivar Classifications

Currently, cannabis cultivars are divided into three categories: Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid. Let’s take a closer look at each one. 


The Cannabis Indica plants are native to Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan. They have short and broad leaves with a faster growth rate than Sativa. Indica varieties also have a higher CBD content than Sativa. However, their THC content is not necessarily lower. Indica cannabis strains or cultivars produce relaxing effects that make them perfect for nighttime use. Popular Indicas include Bubba Kush and Legendary Kush


The Cannabis Sativa plants are native to warm countries in Africa and Central America. These tall plants have thin leaves that take longer to mature than Indica. Sativa varieties have a higher THC content with stress-relieving properties. A Sativa cultivar is what most people use as a daytime variety for its energizing effects. Popular Sativa cultivars include Hawaiian Haze and Super Sour Space Candy.


Hybrids are cannabis strains or cultivars created by a cross between Indica and Sativa. Breeders grow Hybrid cultivars on farms or in greenhouses to create unique chemical profiles. The appearance, CBD-to-THC ratio, and effects of Hybrid varieties differ based on their parent cultivars. Popular Hybrids include Pineapple Express and Sour Lifter.

The Need for a New Classification System

A hand with a tweezer picking cannabis flowers

While cultivar is replacing cannabis strain names, there is a need for an entirely new classification system. Industry observers point out that customers want a more exact grouping system than the existing Sativa, Indica, and Hybrid ones. 

This need stems from the fact that not all plants from one cultivar turn out the same. Plus, just knowing what cultivar a product is, isn’t enough to figure out its medicinal potential. Hence, experts suggest the following classification systems.

Based on the Plant’s Morphology

Some suggest that cannabis plants should be categorized based on their morphology. For instance, instead of saying cultivars or even cannabis strains, they recommend using terms like thin-leaf or broad-leaf for Indica and Sativa. However, the more sought-after classification is based on the plant’s chemical profile and effects. 

Based on the Plant’s Chemical Profile

Most consumers thoroughly examine the labels of their hemp-derived products before shopping. They know enough about the plant’s different terpenes and cannabinoids and want to purchase something that contains those phytochemicals.

That is why cannabis experts are suggesting a new classification system based on chemical profiles. Most labels categorizing cannabis by strain only state the amount of CBD and THC in their products when cannabis has so much more than just these two compounds. With hundreds of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids within the plant, a new classification system based on phytochemicals will equip consumers to choose their cultivars based on their medical needs.

Other Cannabis Words You Should Know

Now that you know what a cultivar is, it’s time you learn about other cannabis terms people use. 


Subspecies is another term people use instead of cultivar or cannabis strain. It’s a taxonomic rank that refers to the geographically isolated members of a species. Due to this isolation, members in this category can have different characteristics than other members of the same species. 


Variety is another word cannabis enthusiasts use interchangeably with cultivar. However, the two are different. Variety is a taxonomic rank referring to a distinct plant in a species. So it’s like subspecies but more specific. Unlike cultivars, plant varieties are found in nature without any human involvement. 

Get High-Quality Cultivars From Rogue Origin’s Authentic and Compassionate Growers

Now that you know the correct term for a cannabis strain is a cultivar, you can make an informed purchase. Knowing what a cultivar is and how it differs from other cultivars can help you choose cannabis products based on your health needs and get the most out of it. 

If you’re ready to start exploring CBD cannabis, we are here to help you. Here at Rogue Origin, we carry quality, farm-grown cannabis that is natural and cut by hand. Our USDA-certified products are non-psychoactive and safe as supplements to enhance your wellness and help you live your best life. Shop now and get free shipping on $75+ orders.

If you liked this article about the difference between cannabis strains and cultivars, visit our blog for more fun reads.

Koa Simon

Koa Simon is a 25-year-old from the Big Island of Hawaii. He grew up on a small organic farm where he learned to love and appreciate nature. He moved to Oregon to pursue his passion for working with plants. Koa is the one who starts all of our seeds and cares for our plants in the greenhouse. You could call him our Nursery Manager. He's been with Rogue Origin for 8 years and in that time he's become a jack-of-all-trades on our farm, capable of jumping from each job in the field and also helping to manage the office. Koa spends most of his free time outdoors exploring trails around Oregon's beautiful landscape.