What’s in a name? Sometimes it can feel like there’s no rhyme or reason when it comes to cannabis naming conventions, from Purple Urkle to Trainwreck the ‘street names’ appear to have been picked at random by breeders. Likely many were, but some names carry historical significance nodding to the genealogy of landrace strains, others reflect the physical attributes of the plant they come from, and most have evolved due to cross-breeding and hybridization.
The use of ‘strain’ is scientifically incorrect as well, as it’s a term borrowed from microbiology. When referring to cultivated plants then the term ‘cultivar’ is more accurate, but ‘strain’ has entered the popular vernacular as a more common way to differentiate types of cannabis.
Often the same cultivar from two different producers will have different effects, taste, and aroma. This is due to genetic variations that naturally occur when a female plant is pollinated by a nearby male plant; the seeds produced will carry traits (genotypes) from both plants. This and the interaction with environmental factors will create phenotypes, such as colour, height, leaf size etc. — a physical expression of the genotypes interaction with the outside world.
‘Pheno-hunting’ is the name given by cannabis breeders to the process of growing from seed to find a preferred phenotype (e.g. a plant that has the ideal terpene profile, resistance to disease, yield, and cannabinoid content).
Origin of Cannabis Strain Names
With legalization and the new regulations of the Cannabis Act, there’s now more of a spotlight on cannabis strain names, especially any that may be considered appealing to youth, for example, Girl Scout Cookies is now generally referred to as GSC.
Where do these cannabis strain names come from? Some reflect the place of origin. ‘Landrace’ strains are named after the original uncultivated strains and their region of origin (Acapulco Gold, Hindu Kush, Pure Afghan etc). Following centuries of cross-breeding, it’s unlikely that there are truly any pure landrace strains left but these names reflect the original areas where cannabis has grown for millennia. They became popular in the 1960s/70s when breeders were beginning to experiment with phenotypes from landrace seeds.
Some strain names reflect the prominent terpene aromas or the visuals of the actual plant. Tangerine Dream and Sour Diesel are fragrant examples of strains that are named after their strongest aromas and Granddaddy Purple and White Widow are named for the appearance of their flowers. Other strains such as Purple Haze are named after their colouring and reported effects (not after the Jimi Hendrix song).
Blue Dream is a strain that takes its name from its reported effects and its terpene profile. Tantalus Labs’ Blue Dream is a celebration of a classic high THC strain from the storied history of BC Cannabis. It contains dominant terpenes of pinene, caryophyllene, and nerolidol, which combine to create a notable blueberry scent (hence the name).
Although less popular as a naming convention, a few strains take their names from celebrities or political figures - Jack Herer and Jean Guy are both named after a prominent North American cannabis activists and Khalifa Kush is named after the rapper Wiz Khalifa. Although the Cannabis Act doesn’t allow celebrity endorsement, these strains have historical and pop cultural significance. Sometimes, strain names are reflective of breeders just having some good old-fashioned fun and intended puns - Dr. Who is a hybrid of Timewreck and Mad Scientist, and Berry White is a combination of Blueberry and White Widow.
Future of Cannabis Strain Names
Post-legalization, it has become more apparent to consumers that strain names can be arbitrary at best, as the history of a seed’s genetics can be hard to confirm and more producers are pheno-hunting to create proprietary strains and market them in unique ways. It’s an exciting time for producers who are looking to create new strains that showcase the best of BC bud.
While legal non-medical cannabis must be tested for THC and CBD content, there’s no ‘test’ to confirm the genetics of the strain. When you’re looking for a specific strain, look for the terpene profile and cannabinoid content that you would expect for that strain and speak to the producers to find out about growing methods that may affect the quality of your cannabis...whatever name it has been given.