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Dear Mama: How do I Choose a Strain

I want to figure out the best strand for me.  I usually just buy the sale choice or I go to shops with sales, I like strong pot. What is your fave stand? How the hell do people figure out what to buy? The names seem to get more weird all the time. When I started there weren’t options like now and I’m pretty stoked to get to legally buy it all! Help me choose a strain!

Joe Jr.

Hey there Joe!

Can I gently correct you before we go on?  I’m Italian so I rarely gently correct anyone, but since this particular correction is a pet peeve of many bud tenders out there, let’s get the words right.  It’s a strain, not a strand. You need to pick a strain of cannabis. Tell your friends, and I’m gonna count on you to correct every person you meet that uses the wrong word.  You’re the new ambassador of the word strain.

Now, let’s find you the best strain!  You didn’t give me a lot to work with as to what you do and don’t like other than potency.  But honestly that really is plenty of information. So many things go into picking a favorite strain I can give you some guidelines that can help clear up the confusion of a shopping trip.

Strain confusion is rampant.  With names like Fugu, Cornbread, and Super Glue the secret isn’t going to be in the name.  Early on it was a little easier to narrow down the genetics by the name. LA Cheese was LA Confidential and Sweet Cheese, but that’s when we didn’t have a lot to work with genetically in Arizona.  Amazing how we now have such a vast variety of choices. It’s great fun to look them up on Leafly and read all the characteristics. It’s not helpful really. Half the time, it’s not really what you’re buying anyway.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying any shop is knowingly misrepresenting what they are selling you. The plant is probably within the ballpark of what it’s advertised to be. But it’s a plant. Plants grow based on light, air, nutrients and care given. Some would even say the music they’re exposed to can change the final product. I’ve seen the exact same batch of cloned plants grown by four different people yield very different looking flowers.  It should have the same profile but the various parts of the flower may not develop as fully and can change the effects. So let’s agree to skip choosing by the cool names and use the name only to identify it when you want to buy it again.

You’ll hear a lot about Indica and Sativa.  These are terms that to me mostly describe the look and growth of a plant.  Common perception is that Sativas are awake and uplifting and Indica are a more relaxed variety.  Mostly now though much of what we are buying is hybrids of those two. I was in a shop once where they had a strain I know was based from a two indica strain hybrid, listed as a powerful sativa.  It wasn’t. I told them and they corrected the menu.

It happens, or mistakes in general can happen so ya got to do the homework to get your best strain.

Choose a Strain

Next, I’d recommend that you determine your budget and try to buy from the highest tier your budget allows if you are smoking.  The highest tier is usually the most appealing in all categories, (potency and visual appeal) and sometimes lower tiers are just less “pretty” but not less potent.  If I’m using the cannabis to cook with, the lower tier is usually where I go. (Some shops don’t separate by tier but by per gram cost so you can look at the per gram price and decide your range.  If the range is from $8-$12, the $8 is the lower one I’d probably cook with. $10-$12 range if I am smoking it). I find that the higher priced gram strains are denser nuggets, the potency and consistency is usually there as well, so a little goes a long way. Often, if it is a successful strain for the shop, they take great care to nurture it, which is great for you as a patient because you will be able to find it again.  When you find the perfect strain(s) for you, you’re gonna want to find them again. Trust!

Testing is very important to me.  I only shop at places that have testing available so I can always check what the latest batch tested at.  I don’t really care that much about what the test score actually is as long as it shows over 15% THC give or take. The test can vary, in my experience, based on where the bud was taken from the plant. I do want the shops to keep testing so although I don’t ‘choose my strain’ based on test results I do require testing, and ask to see the results.  Once I have a relationship with a shop I don’t need to check the test results all the time.

We have narrowed down your choices by deciding a budget and picking a few strains in that price range. Now what?  It’s all about those terpenes, baby. The scents! That smell that makes you go mmmmmmm. You didn’t ask me for a science lesson so I’m gonna keep it simple and say let your nose guide you.  Look at those choices and smell them all. Rosemary or Oregano smell and taste like they do because of those terpenes. The reason certain strains work the way they do is because of the combination of terpenes.  We don’t have a lot of terpene info when we shop (yet) but your nose knows. Trust, your nose knows. Some of the scents you might detect are Pine, Lemon, or Gasoline and it’s the combo of these that creates new scents.  My faves are always a pine scent for relaxing and gas and/or lemon combos for my wide awake chore type days. That’s just me. The same choices could affect each of us completely differently.

The thing is that while narrowing down the scents that please you is a great start, ya gotta try them next, to see how they hit you.  Try it a couple times and if it’s a winner, write that name down and get some more, ideally always from the same grower/shop. I haven’t met a lot of strains I didn’t like, so it’s not like this is some kind of miserable chore.  How lucky are we that we have too many choices? Mostly it’s just finding what’s best for you. Personally, once I find a couple strains that work for me, I go back over and over again for those. I like to have a couple shops where I can develop a relationship.  You get to know the bud tenders and they get to know you and what you like. That way if a guest strain appears that they think is in your wheelhouse they’ll let ya know about it.

Last but not least, Sales Sales Sales, yay sales!!  I love a good deal too! But if I find a strain that does the job and is consistently available, I keep those around all the time.  I use the sales to try a new strain here and there, or maybe try a new edible or a new vape.

Let’s summarize, You will never, ever say strand again when buying cannabis.  You’re gonna skip the names unless you’re ready to buy a specific strain again.  You’re gonna smell several different strains and start to identify what scents you prefer.  I like to ask the bud-tender what they smell, sometimes we smell the same things, sometimes they help me identify a scent. Then you’re gonna try a small amount and see how it hits you.  If it’s great, you’ll go back and get some more. If it isn’t that great, you’ll move on to the next. I’d bet that when you find the scents that light you up, smoking them will have the exact same outcome, they will light you up.  Make the dispensary that grows your new fave your go to shop, take advantage of any frequent shopper discounts or points programs. Have a great time!

Happy Shopping and sniffing! The best to do list ever!

For more letters to Mama, click here.

Laura Mastropietro

Laura Mastropietro, former cannabis co-op grower and patient advocate, consultant, Edible Chef for two edible lines, featured in ‘Cannabis Saved my Life’ by Elizabeth Limbach, currently curates a learning hub called, stays active in the cannabis community while running a restaurant and commercial bakery in beautiful Sedona Arizona. Wife, Mother, Grandmother, with a full beautiful life and toss in a life altering disease, cannabis is the magic that helps her keep it all going. Have a cannabis question? Send it to Dear Mama at



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