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Defining cannabis terms can quickly get confusing. Because cannabis was illegal for so many decades, there’s no standardized lexicon for describing this plant. In fact, there are still debates in the scientific community over how to classify this herb. Since the 18th century, botanists have argued over adding or subtracting taxonomic terms for cannabis plants. It also doesn’t help that many cannabis publications use words like “cultivar,” “strain,” or “hybrid” interchangeably. 

It’s still very difficult to clearly define “cultivar” with reference to cannabis. However, it’s possible to review how this term is traditionally used in botany to explain how it fits into cannabis cultivation. 

What’s The Definition Of A “Cannabis Cultivar?” 

From an etymological standpoint, “cultivar” refers to any plant deliberately grown for specific traits. So, if farmers are growing fruits, herbs, or vegetables to express distinctive features, they are creating cultivars. In cannabis, this means a cultivar is any strain grown by cultivators to produce unique attributes. 

Strictly speaking, the term “cultivar” shouldn’t be used to describe cannabis plants that have grown in the wild for centuries. Wild cannabis varieties such as Mexican, Hindu Kush, and Thai are classified as “landrace strains.” Likewise, it’s wrong to use “cultivar” to refer to different species of cannabis plants, such as Cannabis sativa, indica, and ruderalis. Instead, a cannabis cultivar would be any variety that farmers had a hand in developing. 

So, How Is “Cultivar” Different From “Strain” Or “Hybrid?” 

The trickiest part of defining a “cannabis cultivar” is that it’s similar to the words “strain” and “hybrid”. Indeed, readers will most often find all of these words used to describe the same thing on cannabis forums or in dispensaries. While there’s some crossover in their meanings, there are a few nuanced differences to be aware of.

Interestingly, “strain” isn’t the most accurate term to describe different cannabis varieties. Scientists often reserve the word “strain” for use in fields such as gene research or microbiology. A “strain” in cannabis should technically refer to its unique genetic structure or family lineage. While genetic strains may be associated with different properties in cannabis plants, the word “cultivar” more accurately points to the characteristics of different flowers. 

“Hybrid,” on the other hand, can typically be used in the same sense as “cultivar.” Basically, a hybrid cannabis plant is any cultivar with traces of at least two cannabis species (i.e., indica, sativa, or ruderalis). Since most of today’s cultivated cannabis strains aren’t full-bred indica or sativas, there’s a high likelihood that every cannabis cultivar is also a hybrid. There may be some cases where cultivars have near 100% indica or sativa genetics. Although, these varieties are increasingly rare in cannabis-friendly states. If people want a full-bred cannabis bud, they will most likely look for landraces. 

Even though “strain” is an unscientific name for cannabis cultivars, it’s still a widely used term. Farmers and dispensaries are steadily moving away from “strain” in favor of “cultivar”. Therefore, it will likely take a few years before there’s greater uniformity cannabis classification system. 


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