As the body of scientific literature establishing the therapeutic potential of cannabis compounds grows, public opinion around weed continues to change for the better. The behavior of cannabis consumers is changing in turn; from simply chasing a high to a more educated approach, seeking out specific strains for specific medicinal benefits to counter symptoms of common conditions like arthritis and depression.

Because of the emergence of more educated, discriminating consumers, cannabis strain nomenclature is fading into the background in the checklist of dispensary shoppers. These days, the best way to choose the right strain is to research cannabinoid and terpene profiles — thereby gaining more comprehensive insight as to what to expect in terms of flavor, aroma, effects and benefits.

In this article we explore the reasons why strain names are beginning to matter less and less among cannabis consumers, as well as why cannabinoid content and terpene concentrations should matter much more instead.

Why Strain Names Shouldn’t Matter Anymore

The simple fact of the matter is individuals looking to cannabis as a natural alternative to synthetic drugs (e.g. opioids) would benefit more from a selection of strains listed by cannabinoid and terpene profiles, instead of arbitrary names. This would help much more in the process of choosing strains with benefits geared toward specific conditions like chronic pain, PTSD or even a high-stress lifestyle.

Many strain names are devised as a means to advance a brand or image, as is the case with many hybrids developed in partnership with celebrities. Examples of this include Seth Rogen’s Pancake Ice and Jay-Z’s Monogram. Many non-celebrity strains aren’t much better, with names like Gandalf OG and Diamond Socks. Their quality and breeding aside, this somewhat randomized system of nomenclature does nothing to indicate the potential therapeutic benefits of these strains for consumers.

Why Cannabinoid Content Matters

Cannabinoids are a group of chemicals that bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and are responsible for most of the psychoactive effects of cannabis. Cannabinoids work by mimicking naturally occurring (i.e. endogenous) cannabinoids, acting on them as a partial agonist or antagonist.

Photo by Grav on Unsplash

Photo by Grav on Unsplash

The Endocannabinoid System in a Nutshell

Cannabinoids are divided into three groups: endocannabinoids, which are produced within the body, phytocannabinoids, which come from plant life, and synthetic cannabinoids. All three groups function via their interactions with a group of cannabinoid receptors in the body, known commonly as the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

ECS receptors are primarily located within the nervous system, peripheral organs and immune system, and have a large influence on the body’s release and uptake of key neurotransmitters. These include serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. The ECS also affects the brain’s sensitivity and response to signaling molecules like cytokines, gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamic acid.

Cannabinoids exert a regulatory effect on the ECS, which can reduce or improve symptoms of pain, mood, anxiety and even inflammatory disorders. In states where medical marijuana is legal, strains are prescribed for both acute and chronic conditions based almost entirely on their cannabinoid profiles.

Why Terpene Concentrations Matter

Terpenes are a class of organic aromatic compounds found in practically all plant life; most abundantly in fruits, herbs and flowers. In nature, plants produce terpenes through different phases of their growth cycle, attracting pollinators and repelling herbivores. Terpenes also give plants their distinctive flavors and aromas — occurring naturally in everything from pine needles to pineapples and even lemon peels.

Human Use of Terpenes

Some terpenes have significant therapeutic potential, which is why they’re used to supplement conventional forms of medication by a growing number of Americans. Essential oils, for instance, are largely made up of mono-, sesqui- and diterpenes. Aromatherapy aside, terpenes are also commonly found in CBD topicals, concentrates and vaping e-liquids.

As their beneficial properties become increasingly established in medical research, terpenes are increasingly incorporated into everyday products like soap, candles and broad-spectrum natural health products.

Over 200 terpenes have been identified in the cannabis plant alone. Aside from giving cannabis strains the aroma and flavor profiles they’re known for among consumers, terpenes have a significant role in the therapeutic benefit of cannabis consumption — whether in medical or recreational use. This is because of their complementary relation with cannabinoids, in a series of synergistic interactions known as the Entourage Effect.

The term “Entourage Effect” describes the mechanism by which different cannabinoids such as CBD, THC, or CBG — as well as cannabis terpenes — work together to effectively amplify each other’s effects within the ECS. Take the popular neuroleptic strain known as Hindu Kush, as an example. The reason it’s commonly prescribed for individuals with insomnia and other forms of sleep anxiety or dysfunction is because of its simultaneous high levels of THC and the relaxant terpene myrcene, along with moderate levels of the sedative terpene linalool.

Ongoing research into potential cannabis entourage effects show that combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes produce consistently better therapeutic benefits when compared to any one cannabis compound by itself. This is why it’s more important to pick your cannabis strains by their cannabinoid and terpene profiles, rather than their names, branding or the hype surrounding them.


Monty Montag writes about Health and Fitness. He is an avid climber and loves to cook.