How to Choose a Medicinal Cannabis Strain?

Choosing to use medicinal cannabis (also known as medical marijuana) can be a very easy decision to make. Choosing which variety of cannabis is best for a particular individual or condition can be more complicated. Many patients have never tried or grown cannabis before discovering it as a medicine.

Even for those who have, knowing what works for recreational and social purposes does not always translate into knowing the most suitable variety of cannabis for specific medical needs.

When choosing a medicinal cannabis strain, it is useful to have a basic understanding of the differences between Indica strains and Sativa strains in terms of their medical applications.


How to Choose a Medicinal Cannabis Strain?

All psychoactive cannabis contains the active compounds known as cannabinoids, but the proportions of the two main cannabinoids in the various strains create different effects when they are ingested.

In terms of measurable effects on the body, and research into those effects, the two main cannabinoids are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), and CBD (cannabidiol).

In most medicinal cannabis strains, THC makes up the majority of the active ingredients, while CBD represents a much smaller fraction. For instance, a potent strain may be measured at 15% or even 19% THC, but will typically contain less than 1% CBD. Nevertheless, this comparatively small proportion can have noticeable influence on the way the cannabis affects a patient. While CBD is not considered psychoactive in itself, it can impart many of the medicinal benefits of cannabis and can also moderate the effects of THC.

In this context, a CBD content of around 1% could be considered comparatively high, while a strain with low cannabidiol content would contain 0.6% CBD or less. Indica strains of cannabis generally have a medium to high THC content as well as a comparatively high CBD content. Sativa strains normally have medium to high THC and a relatively low CBD content.

Varieties of cannabis with very high levels of CBD are being developed and some, such as Ruderalis strains and Bediol® (>6% THC : 7.5% CBD) already exist. These strains allow patients to experience the benefits of medicinal cannabis without experiencing a strong psychoactive effect. The relationship of the two main cannabinoids goes some way to explaining the different effects of the numerous strains, and also the exceptionally wide range of conditions which can be treated with medicinal marijuana.

Effects and Uses of Medicinal Cannabis Indica Strains

How to Choose a Medicinal Cannabis Strain?


Cannabis Indica strains generally create a sedative, ‘stoned’ feeling. This sensation tends to be centered in the body, which relaxes as muscle tension is reduced. Indicas are most effective in treating muscle spasms and tremors (for example caused by multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease), chronic pain, arthritic and rheumatic stiffness and swelling, insomnia, anxiety and related conditions.

Effects and Uses of Medicinal Cannabis Sativa Strains

Cannabis Sativa strains provide a cerebral, energetic ‘high’ effect which is experienced in the mind as well as in the body. These strains are most effective for the treatment of nausea (for example caused by chemotherapy or HIV/AIDS medications), appetite stimulation, migraine headaches, depression, chronic pain and similar symptoms.

Effects and Uses of Indica/Sativa Hybrid Strains

Hybrids or cross-breeds of Indica and Sativa strains exhibit characteristics from both types of cannabis. For some patients this offers an advantage, especially when medicating with cannabis to relieve chronic pain, something for which both Indica and Sativa strains are suitable. Combining Sativa genes with an Indica strain can aid mental clarity and decrease sedative effects, while adding Indica to Sativa strains can lower the tendency of pure Sativas  to occasionally stimulate anxiety.

Most professionally bred cannabis seed-strains contain both Indica and Sativa genes.

Choosing the Best Medicinal Cannabis Strain

Many people choose to medicate with a combination of different strains. The ‘high’ effects of Sativa strains make them a better choice during the day, when wakefulness is desirable, whereas the relaxing effects of Indica varieties often make them more suitable for evening and nighttime use. Hybrid strains can offer the best of both worlds to many patients but may be less suited to others.

How to Choose a Medicinal Cannabis Strain?

The type of condition being treated is good guide to whether an Indica or a Sativa strain is more appropriate. Assessing the type of symptoms the patient seeks to relieve is generally the best starting point for selecting the most suitable type of medicinal cannabis for their individual condition. It is also important to remember that just as every person’s physiological make-up is slightly different, the subjective experience of using cannabis medicinally is also different for everyone.

The information offered here is intended as a basic guide and it is recommended that, if possible, anyone wishing to use cannabis as medicine should first consult a qualified physician.