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Selecting a Strain

Durban Poison Strain
Durban Poison Photo by Gracie Malley


Selecting a Strain

With so many varieties on offer from cannabis stores, it’s necessary to understand the fundamentals of what makes each one distinct before you can properly decide which one’s right for you.

The official launch party for my new book, “How To Smoke Pot (Properly):  A Highbrow Guide to Getting High,” went down in New York City, a place still stuck behind the irie curtain of cannabis prohibition. But that didn’t stop us from featuring three of the Baked Apple’s most beloved cannabis strains: Sour Diesel, Chemdog and Nigerian Haze, at what turned into a fairly epic celebration of both cannabis and civil disobedience.

In the book, I offer serious strain advice for novices, medical patients, and even longtime enthusiasts, based on my 15 years as a dedicated cannabis reporter for High Times and VICE. Still, ask me my favorite strain, and I’ll invariably reply, “Whatever you’d like to share with me!”

The following is an excerpt from “How To Smoke Pot (Properly):  A Highbrow Guide to Getting High.”


“Of course I know how to roll a joint.”

Martha Stewart to Andy Cohen, “What What Happens Live”


With hundreds if not thousands of different ganja varieties on offer from cannabis stores, medical marijuana dispensaries, and black market-dealers around the world, it’s necessary to understand the fundamentals of what makes each one distinct before you can properly decide which one’s right for you (right now).

From a cultivator’s perspective, strain selection involves careful consideration of not just the smell, taste, and high of a particular variety, but also how fast it grows, how much it yields, and what kind of climate best suits its particular genetic makeup. For instance, strains that thrive in a sunny, arid environment may fatally succumb to mold and mildew if planted near a foggy coast. And varieties that develop into towering, bud-laden, 12-foot-tall monster plants in a greenhouse may prove far too unruly to efficiently cultivate indoors.

So if you ever do decide to grow your own for medicine, fun, or profit rather than planting the first seeds you can your hands on, take the time to carefully research cannabis varieties and breeders to see which strains best suit your needs.

And if you’d rather just geek out on the smell, taste, lineage, and effects of different strains, the best resource available might be an app called Leafly that bills itself formally as “the world’s largest cannabis information community,” and informally as “the Yelp of marijuana.” Click on “Explore Strains,” and Leafly will help you find an ideal cannabis variety, edible, concentrate, or topical product based on the precise effect you want, medical condition you’d like to relieve, or even the type of flavors and aromas you enjoy in your herb. The most popular strains have thousands of reviews, as increasing access to retail marijuana has made connoisseurship possible for millions of passionate cannabis lovers who previously got their herb from an outlaw dealer, typically not with a wide array of choices, but as more of a “take it or leave it” proposition.

When I search for a Kush strain near my home in Central California, I find 25 different varieties available within a short drive, including OG Kush, Master Kush, King’s Kush, and Vanilla Kush an embarrassment of riches that shows just how far we’ve come in the struggle for safe, legal access to cannabis. At least in some places. When I perform the same Kush search, but change my location to Tulsa, Oklahoma, it predictably yields zero results.

Like Yelp, Leafly and other, similar, apps rely on the wisdom of the crowd to rate both cannabis strains and the various stores and dispensaries where they’re available a direct feedback loop between marijuana producers and consumers that benefits both parties by rewarding the growers and retailers that provide the highest-quality experience. But it doesn’t work in states where marijuana commerce remains underground.

For those still living behind the irie curtain, so to speak, simply finding something decent to smoke can be a chore, or far worse. Let’s not forget, despite all the hoopla surrounding legalization, the land of the free continues to make more than 600,000 cannabis-related arrests every year, the vast majority for simple possession. So it’s not exactly a buyer’s market in Boise when it comes to things like finding your preferred Kush strain.

My advice to those left drooling from afar therefore would be to turn off the computer and invite a few humanoids over instead. Have each bring an eighth of the highest-quality weed they can acquire, then make up some scorecards, and host a small, private cannabis competition right in your own living room. Definitely create a fun prize for whoever supplies the top-rated strain, but don’t let the stakes get too high, or take the contest aspect too seriously, lest the night end with sore feelings.

Instead, use the experience as an excuse to closely observe all that wonderful herb. Start by inhaling the scent of each offering when freshly ground and noting the subtle (or not so subtle) differences between them. Then take a “dry toke” off a joint prior to lighting it, or use a vaporizer, to get a pure taste of each strain before combustion turns it into smoke. And then, at last, you can start blazing, allowing ample time between sampling sessions to properly assess the effect mental, physical, and emotional of each strain, and how smoothly and evenly it burns, before moving on to the next.

Even as a veteran of more than 20 Cannabis Cups, both foreign and domestic, I still wouldn’t call myself an expert, but thanks to rigorously following this process, I most definitely know “the best of the best” when I see, smell, taste, and inhale it. Though whenever anyone asks me my favorite strain, rather than start a debate, I invariably reply: “Whatever you’ve got!”

What strains have you been enjoying lately? Let us know in the comments below.

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