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Cannabis 101

Why has Leafly created a new visualization system for cannabis?

September 30, 2019
For a how-to explainer on Leafly’s new Cannabis Guide, check out Part 1 of this series.

Jump to a section in Part 2:

Cannabis consumers are ultimately concerned with the effects of a strain—how it will make them feel after smoking or ingesting it. Leafly’s Cannabis Guide is a tool to help consumers answer that question for themselves.

“It’s really about helping cannabis consumers find the right strain and the right product as quickly and easily as possible,” says Nick Jikomes, Leafly’s Principal Research Scientist. “We want people to see the difference between products when a real difference exists. We want you to be able to see with your eyes what you can’t smell with your nose.”

Back when Leafly first started in 2010 and up until now, we have used a three-tile system, which classifies cannabis strains as indica (purple), sativa (red), or hybrid (green).

That static system wasn’t based on lab data from growers. The new Cannabis Guide is a dynamic system that uses a combination of lab-sourced data and hundreds of thousands of customer reviews from app and website users.

Leafly works with the best cannabis labs in the US and Canada and is constantly onboarding more lab partners for data; the more data samples of cannabis strains, the better.


40% THC Flower?! How Lab Shopping and THC Inflation Cheat Cannabis Consumers

Reimagining the indica/sativa system

For decades, cannabis has been classified as either an indica, sativa, or hybrid. These terms refer to the forms of cannabis with different physical features, Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica, with hybrid being a genetic cross of the two. Typically, sativas grow tall and thin, while indicas grow short and stout.

Because indicas and sativas can have specific physical traits, it has led to the assumption that each also has certain effects, but this is insufficient. Regardless of whether a strain is an indica or sativa, its chemical profile—that is, the cannabinoids and terpenes in it—will determine how it affects you, not its physical features.


Three sativas in the Cannabis Guide, all with very different cannabinoid and terpene profiles, meaning each will likely give different effects.

The above graphic shows a flaw of using the indica/sativa system. All three strains are commonly classified as sativas, yet they all have very different terpene profiles. Because a chemical profile leads to feelings and effects, even though all of these strains are sativas, they likely will not have the same feelings and effects.


Indica vs. sativa: What’s the difference between cannabis types?

Increased hybridization and the entourage effect

Due to decades of cannabis prohibition, research on the plant is limited. One thing we do know, as shown in a 2017 study and a 2015 study, is that it’s difficult to find a true sativa or indica. Decades of crossbreeding and hybridization has made it so strains that are thought to be sativas can actually turn out to be indicas upon genetic analysis.

A 2010 review article by Dr. Ethan Russo, a pioneer in the study of the body’s endocannabinoid system, points to the importance of cannabinoids and terpenes and the benefits they can provide. Their importance comes from the entourage effect—how cannabinoids and terpenes work together and with other compounds in the body to unlock the wellness benefits of cannabis.

This theory describes how certain components of cannabis might work together to provide benefits, such as relief from pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, and much more.

For more information on the indica/sativa debate, the entourage effect, and the importance of cannabinoids and terpenes, check out our article Indica vs. sativa: What’s the difference between cannabis types?


What is the endocannabinoid system and what is its role?

The reliability of strain names

The flowers you see in Leafly’s Cannabis Guide represent the average of all data from our lab partners. When you look at the Blue Dream flower or any other flower, its chemical profile is an aggregate of data samples from hundreds of growers.

Let’s say a grower produces a product that they market and sell as “Blue Dream,” but it doesn’t align with the average of Leafly’s data from our lab partners—is it really “Blue Dream?”


Leafly’s Blue Dream (left) which is an average of thousands of data samples, and a strain marketed as “Blue Dream” (right). Is it really Blue Dream?

Above you’ll see the most common profile of Blue Dream on the left, which appears in Leafly’s Cannabis Guide. This is an average of all the data samples from Leafly’s lab partners.

The flower on the right is a version of Blue Dream that falls outside of the average of all the data; it’s an extreme outlier. Although it does contain myrcene (dark blue) and pinene (green), its dominant terpene is terpinolene (orange), which will likely produce different effects.

Although the strain on the right may be marketed as “Blue Dream,” it is probably not a true Blue Dream cultivar because its chemical profile doesn’t align with the average of data. Having this information will allow you to better tell if a product actually is what it says it is.


How reliable are cannabis strain names?

Begin exploring cannabis strains with Leafly’s Cannabis Guide

Now that you understand how to use Leafly’s Cannabis Guide and how cannabinoids and terpenes affect the experience of cannabis, you’ll be able to find a cannabis strain for your body and needs.

Remember that exploring strains that suit your unique body and needs is an important part of the process. Because all bodies and settings are different, the same strain can affect two people very differently, and it can also affect you very differently in two different circumstances.

The Cannabis Guide will give you a baseline so you can understand what’s in a strain. Depending on whether or not you like a strain, you can branch out and find another strain that’s similar, or you can try something different that might suit you better. You can sign up for an account and leave a review on Leafly to report how certain strains affect you and keep track of your favorites.

We encourage you to explore the Cannabis Guide. Learning the science behind cannabis and its effects will help you better understand and enjoy this wonderful plant!

Start looking for cannabis on Leafly

Pat Goggins's Bio Image

Pat Goggins

Pat Goggins is an editor at Leafly, specializing in cannabis cultivation after working for a commercial grower in Oregon for two years. When not fixing typos, you’ll probably find him on a boat or in the mountains.

View Pat Goggins's articles

2 part series

  • Thank you for pioneering this change, Leafly!

  • himpke flopdoodle

    Hey, I just came along for the free ice cream and cake ….sorry , I am just a hogger dog

  • Justin


  • Justin

    I honestly don’t like this. Hopefully it grows on me but right now, not really interested in this class.

  • Justin

    No comments are being approved.

  • David Paul

    Growing the same strain of skunk 1 since the early 70s. No other strain introduced…grown outside, and pollinated selectively. Very early maturing with strong sativa traits, but some indica is evident. this particular strain can be smelled miles away. Todays super sk cannot begin to compare with this practally landrace version of the original sk 1.

  • devilgod

    This new look is just a frikkin mess, it hurt my eyes just trying to get any info, not even weed can help this FUBAR design.

  • Wowgrl

    I’m not a fan of the new guide. I miss having the medical effects listed and easy to find. The colors make it way to busy and confusing. And now there’s no ‘availability’ feature. I have specific strains that I check for every day in my area.

  • This new look is terrible compared to with what you had. I’ve been visiting Leafly for years because the (material?) design was so well presented: clean, crisp, easy to read, approachable and engaging. I never realized how much I appreciated it until you took it away. Where are the horizontal bar graphs of characteristics I trusted so much? The neatly presented positives and negatives?

    I won’t comment on to what degree strains should be broken down to more than two groups and hybrid, because the new website gives me a headache to read and is a buzz-kill.

    Running chrome/brave on a Win10 pc, I visit the Headbanger strain page and see, literally, one and half user reviews… with no way to scroll sideways to read the right half of that review. Clickable arrows unresponsive. I click on “More” in the main strain info paragraph and get a 400 error due to a totally botched hyperlink, where the intended body has become part of the url.* The broad expanses of white background are unpleasant to look at (that’s why so many apps are featuring ‘dark mode’ themes). I love you guys, but the website really is horrible now. Please bring back the old one and take this back to Test for cleanup.

    *(Looks like a single tag was botched, presenting the visitor with this garbage hyperlink …>%20and%20Biker%20Kush.%20This%20strain%20inherits%20a%20dense,%20conic%20bud%20structure%20from%20its%20Kush%20forefathers,%20as%20well%20as%20the%20sour%20aroma%20and%20head-focused%20effects%20of%20its%20Sour%20Diesel%20mother%20plant.%20Bred%20by%20Karma%20Genetics,%20Headbanger’s%2010%20to%2012%20week%20flowering%20period%20requires%20patience%20but%20promises%20high%20yields.%20Its%20uplifting%20and%20euphoric%20qualities%20make%20Headbanger%20a%20potent%20medicine%20for%20mood%20disorders,%20particularly%20depression.<button%20class= )

    • McNugginn


  • McNugginn

    Bravo on the new system. It’s time people learned that the Indica, Sativa, Hybrid system was a massive marketing gimmick that’s destroyed medical understanding of cannabis across this country. I look forward to seeing more strains introduced to this new and ACCURATE way of classifying cannabis. I say new, but this is not a new system, this is how cannabis has always been. The Indica, Sativa, Hybrid placebo people play into his tragically innacurate.

  • McNugginn


  • Ms. Pearson

    I agree with Wowgrl! I depended on the chart to help me stay away from strains that had certain negative effects on me and to tell me which of my problems the strain helped with. I don’t have issue with reviews but why are you basing characteristics of strains based on individuals’ opinion, who experience things differently? I’m expecting YOU to know that information up front, before any reviews. Not to mention, I don’t shop where what I need isn’t available, no bait and switch. IMHO

  • Nad

    I really like the new system. I’ve been looking for terpene content since beginning medical cannabis. It is going to take a while to learn and I agree this will be difficult for someone who’s color- blind. Defining cannabis by terpenes and cannabinoids is much more informative, thus helpful, than looking by name, which doesn’t necessarily get the results I need.

  • Juli

    This new guide is dreadful. As soon as I go to a page to look at the info I have to close it as it’s too confusing. My husband won’t use it any more either. I think sadly, we’re going to stick to Weedmaps now.

  • vladdy1

    I see ya.

  • SSH

    Oh Leafly, what have you done. Although the new “Flower Power” maps may become the new standard, I just cannot buy in. Very confusing and too subject to infinite subtleties. It’s a format that doesn’t assist me or help me find the information I’m looking for. It requires me to build a pictograph before providing detailed information that I’m fully capable of reading, interpreting and understanding in the previous version. What flower pictograph were you smoking when you came up with this? Just not my cup of tea – or bowl of weed if you prefer. WEEDMAPS now replaced Leafly on my desktop.

  • CBrains

    I understand the premise, but these color displays in the graphic, mean nothing to me!

  • Brandon Latham

    I agree with Wowgrl. I hate the new setup

  • Buddy Skrogs

    This new guide sucks. Needlessly complex and it gives no indication of Indica vs. Sativa. You should start listening to the people who are visiting your site. Bad decisions like this are going to cost you.

  • John Danz

    there’s ugly, then there’s mitch mcconnell, and then… there’s this new design. what were you guys thinking?