Medical marijuana dispensaries are a vast cornucopia comprising different strains of weed whose sole purpose is to help you feel better. It can overwhelm you, however, when confronted with dozens of choices. How do you know which product is right for your condition?

Medical cannabis strains

All marijuana is classified under three separate groups: indica, sativa, or hybrid. Each category offers different results, and cannabis breeders create hybrids by combining certain strains to achieve different or better results for patients. In fact, many strains today are hybrids; it’s rare to find a pure indica or sativa.

Let’s look at each category for a better understanding of their nature and properties.

  • Indica. A pure indica provides a more physical effect you’ll feel throughout your body. These are relaxing strains that help reduce pain and ease muscle tension, helping you rest better. Because of their relaxation abilities, indicas are often prescribed for nighttime use to help you sleep.
  • Sativa. Sativas impact you mentally, heightening mood or emotion. If you need energy or are fighting depression, a sativa can help. Most patients use a sativa during the day because they help with your symptoms without interfering with your day-to-day activities.
  • Hybrids. This is a best-of-both-worlds combination to give you benefits from both indicas and sativas.

While these categories give you an idea of how your choice of medical weed will perform, it’s not the only thing you must consider. Research into cannabinoids (the active compounds found in marijuana) shows that their ratios matter more than the specific strain. For instance, cannabinoid and terpene ratios offer better ways to determine how a medical cannabis strain may affect you.


The two main cannabinoids in medicinal marijuana are THC and CBD. THC is the compound that produces the “high” you experience when smoking or ingesting marijuana. It also has wonderful medicinal properties and many patients consider it a sign of the strength of different strains of weed. For instance, THC promotes appetite and offers pain relief mixed with euphoria. Many patients struggling with nausea, insomnia, anxiety, and pain choose THC-dominant strains to ease their symptoms.

CBD, on the other hand, is quickly becoming a most popular treatment for certain conditions. For example, CBD rich cannabis is excellent for treating seizures, inflammation, and anxiety without the psychoactive effects of a THC “high.” Some patients, however, may look for a combination of mild cerebral effects from THC and elevated CBD levels. For example, if you experience anxiety with a THC-dominant strain, consider one with a higher CBD ratio.

You may hear about other cannabinoids like CBN, which you can use to treat insomnia and pain, or THCv, which may help treat Parkinson’s. Many cannabinoids in different strains need more research to determine their psychoactive and medicinal properties and how to use them for treatment. Expect new treatment applications as research around the world continues.


Terpenes are essential oils naturally occurring in all living organisms. They contain the smell and taste of a plant product and have medicinal effects. Keystone Shops put together this informative table of the major terpenes found in cannabis and their potential uses.

Thus, the smell of a medical marijuana strain gives you a clue about its potential effects and uses. How much of a particular terpene your weed strain contains impacts its medicinal value, which means you can smell and taste medical marijuana to determine which strain to use.

For example, if your medical cannabis smells musky or earthy, it’s probably high in Myrcene, which helps you sleep better and reduces inflammation. If your weed strain smells sweet and piney, it contains Pinene to boost your energy and enhance focus. Notice in the table above that each terpene occurs naturally in other plants such as herbs or fruits.

This is a simplistic view of terpenes. Thanks to cross-breeding, a wide variety of hybrids contain an incredible combination of terpenes. You’ll need plenty of time and experience to develop the ability to identify cannabis strains by taste and smell. As a first step, pay attention to the smell and taste of the strains you sample at a medical marijuana dispensary and their effect on you mentally and physically.

How breeders name their medical weed strains

Growers and breeders combine different weed strains to create unique characteristics that provide specific effects and uses. What they name their new strains can tell you a lot about its makeup and how you might use it.

For example, a cannabis breeder combined Poison OG with GSC (Girl Scout Cookies) to get a new strain they named Suicide Girl. If you come across a strain with “purple” in its name, you can expect a more sedative effect found in strains with colorful purple leaves. A strain containing the word “haze” offers you a dreamy, mental feel.

The key is to keep a list of the taste, smell, and name of specific strains and how they make you feel and their effect. Share this information with the customer service folks at your local medical marijuana dispensary so they can narrow down your choices a bit.

Picking the strongest medical marijuana strains

The conventional pharmaceuticals you’re used to usually have a single active ingredient. Cannabis has dozens of active ingredients thanks to its multiple cannabinoids and terpenes, making it much more versatile. The all-natural ingredients in medical marijuana strains can be challenging to narrow down. It might require a bit of trial and error before you find the strongest medical marijuana strains for your condition or disorder.

Here are three steps to help you pick medical cannabis strains offering the right treatment for your symptoms or condition.

  • Step #1: Determine your best ratio of THC and CBD first. Narrowing down what ratio of CBD versus THC treats your specific disease or condition is the best way to keep your treatment regimen the same with each dose. For example, high CBD medical weed is best for epilepsy. However, if you’re in chronic pain or in hospice, you may look for a strain higher in THC to combat low appetite and nausea. Your condition is unique to your physical composition, and you will respond differently than others to each strain, so a bit of experimentation will help. The key is to start with lower ratios and work your way up, depending on your needs.
  • Step #2: Choose your delivery method. This simply means how you will consume the medical marijuana strain you’ve chosen. You have several options:
    • Vaporizers. These are slim cartridges that vaporizes the cannabis oils so you can inhale them. Vaporizers are the quickest-acting of all delivery methods, but also the shortest in duration. So if you need a quick fix, choose a vaporizer.
    • Liquids or capsules. Like more contemporary medicines, you can take your cannabis medicine in liquid or capsule form. Taken orally, liquids and capsules are longer-lasting than vaporizers. However, it can take up to two to three hours for you to see the effects.
    • Topicals. You apply creams and lotions containing your cannabis strain directly to your skin where it is absorbed gently and efficiently. This is especially effective for seniors who struggle with arthritis pain and other joint problems. Topicals act quickly where they’re applied and can last from one to two hours.
  • Step #3: Try a variety of Steps 1 and 2. Because your body is unique and thanks to the variety of medical marijuana strains available, no single product or delivery method works best for everyone. You need to try different ways to take your medical marijuana and different strains at varying cannabinoid ratios. As such, vary your dosages to find just the right combination that works for you.

While this might sound intimidating, a medical marijuana dispensary has plenty of professionals trained in cannabis-based medicine to help you find your ideal treatment strain and method. With the help of your dispensary pharmacist, you can narrow down the options to find the strongest medical marijuana strain that works for your condition, disorder, or disease. Then, each time you return to the dispensary for a refill, they’ll have your exact product at the exact same dosage.

Start with low dosages of your medical marijuana strain

Especially if this is your first time with medical cannabis, start with the lowest dosage to determine how it affects you and the results you get. Going slow helps you avoid over-consumption. While you can’t overdose on cannabis, you can over-consume which might make you drowsy or a wide variety of other side effects.

In most contemporary pharmaceuticals, you’re used to the higher the dosage of a medicine, the higher the likelihood of adverse side effects. Cannabis is different. When you gradually increase your dosage, initially you’ll see a stronger effect. But at some point, each subsequent increase in dosage offers a weaker result. Most patients, however, do just fine at the lowest effective dose. This result means you’re taking less medicine but getting a good result, which equates to less cost to you and less risk of adverse effects.

Start with ultra-low doses and increase incrementally until you find your sweet spot.

Remember that over time, you might build some tolerance to cannabis. So if you start low and increase slowly, you’ll find your optimal dosage with no need for substantial increases. If you build tolerance over time, there are ways to sensitize yourself to medical marijuana and decrease your dosage back to something lower. A medical marijuana certified doctor or pharmacist can help you reduce your dosage while improving the benefits of a cannabis-centered medical plan.

Final thoughts

People on medical marijuana report feeling better, having better moods and less anxiety, while improving their focus and reducing their pain. You can get these effects on medical cannabis with no adverse side effects common to contemporary pharmaceuticals.

Finally, remember the ratio of cannabinoids, both THC and CBD, found in your medical marijuana strain determines the effect your medicine will have. Thousands of strains express unique characteristics depending on the region they’re from and the growing technique, as well as the strains they were cross-bred from. Don’t be overwhelmed, though.

Ultimately, what medical weed strain works best for you and your needs depends on your individual physiology and your symptoms. Choose your strains based on their unique characteristics and test as many as you can with your dispensary’s assistance. The professionals there can help you explore all your options and customize the treatment plan to you and your needs.

Christopher Wright

Meet Christopher Wright, aka Blue, successful radio host and creator of Cannabis Talk 101. As well as CEO of Cannabis Talk Network. For over a decade now, Chris has had his hands in all faucets of the Cannabis Industry. From medicinal marijuana dispensaries and cultivations to controversial cannabis activism, Chris is a pioneer for the cannabis movement.