Exotic pot is actually pretty basic: Learn these six major genres of cannabis

Updated: Oct 24

By: Calvin Stovall and David Downs

Having trouble choosing or recommending new strains? Leafly mapped the six main strain types to music genres to sort through the noise.

There are six main terpene profiles that define the 6,000 strains in the Leafly database today. Leafly turned them into music genres, so you can curate your next dispensary list with the same precision as your playlist.

Cannabis’ smell molecules, terpenes, are the instruments that set the pace and melody of your high.

There are 17 common terpenes that can be mixed and matched into six major classes, according to SC Labs and the Emerald Cup, who introduced new terpene-based judging categories into their 2021 competition to cover the full spectrum of modern cultivar scene.

They established “sensible category names that everyone from seasoned smokers to the canna-curious can relate to,” according to the Cup’s website. The categories are SC Labs’ solution to the growing number of “jaded cannabis consumers (that) are finally tuning in to the fact that buying cannabis products based on THC totals alone rarely leads to an optimal experience.”

Indica, sativa, and hybrid classification can also be misleading, as Dr. Nick Jikomes’ industry-leading research has found.

To demystify the shopper journey, Budtenders and shoppers can use the SC Labs judging categories and Leafly’s color-coded shape cards to help remember which strains and terps they prefer. Even easier, we mapped the terp families to music genres below. That way, everyone can choose and recommend new cultivars with confidence, instead of relying on THC percentage, trial and error, or picking the funkiest name.

Here’s how to use popular terpene profiles to browse weed strains by genre.

What are terpenes?

A robust terpene profile in weed adds to the flavour and overall experience.

Terpenes are the aromatic compounds that give cannabis strains their unique scent and appearance. They are also tied to specific effects. These are the six most prominent terpenes in modern cannabis, according to SC Labs data, ranked by how common they are in modern genetics:

Leafly has a color-coded system that can help you learn about all of the major terpenes. For now, think of the different terps like the elements that compose your favorite song or movie. The pace, melody, performers and more all contribute to the final product. Just the same, terps are the building blocks of each experience with the plant.

The dominant terpene(s) in a strain will show in the appearance, smell, and taste of the bud. But terps will also influence the effect a user feels as a result. Just as certain songs can hype you up or calm you down, and different movie genres can make you laugh, cry, or scream, common terpene profiles can deliver very different results depending on the user and their goals.

What are the major genres of cannabis genetics?

SC Labs and the Emerald Cup regrouped contestants into six new classes based on their terpene profiles. The six most common terpenes (left) were tracked and classified into the six major categories (right) to give a clearer view of the modern cannabis landscape. (SC Labs / The Emerald Cup)

According to SC Labs, there are the six major terpene profiles that dominate modern consumer cannabis. You can think of them as the major genres of the plant. They include diverse variations of a broad terpene profiles, which manifest in unique feelings, just like Rock & Roll, Hip Hop, or Smooth Jazz.

These are the dominant pot genres of 2022:

Music genre: Modern Rap

Dessert strain GSC’s terpene profile shows high levels of caryophyllene (red), limonene (yellow), and pinene (green). (Leafly)

Terpene category: Dessert

Terpenes: Limonene/Caryphyllene

Strains: GSCs, Cakes

This is where all your Runtz, Gelatos, GSC, Sherberts, Biscottis, Wedding Cakes and other hit strains tend to live. Even though the streets consider this zaza’, or exotic pot—it’s actually the most common flavor nowadays. More than half of all entries in the 2021 Emerald Cup came from the Dessert category—a testament to its popularity, not its rarity. See below for actual exotics.

Music genre: Throwback Hip Hop

The terpenes myrcene, limonene, and caryophyllene are prominent in lab tests of strains labelled OG Kush, a favorite in the OG + Gas category. (Leafly)

Terpene category: OG + Gas

Strains: OG Kush, Sour Diesel, Chemdawg, Gorilla Glue

Think of the OG + Gas class like throwback Hip Hop. These strains may not bang at the same volume as they did back in the day. But they can still evoke the balanced smoke that makes the Kush and Sour families two of the most enduring of all time. OG is a safe bet for any old school smokers who are turned off by the hyper sweet zaza profiles currently dominating the strain charts. As the name suggests, OGs provide that original A-grade high, in a down-to-earth package that never does too much, and refuses to go out of style. Like Dre and Snoop or Red and Meth, you can’t go wrong with this old school funk.

Music Genre: R&B

Essential Sweets + Dreams strain Blue Dream’s terpene profile includes myrcene (blue), pinene (green), and caryophyllene (red). (Leafly)

Terpene category: Sweets + Dreams

Strains: Blue Dream, Tangie, Forbidden fruit, Grandaddy Purple, Purple Urkel, Grape Ape, Cherry AK, God’s Gift, Purple Punch

From 90s favorites like Blue Dream, to current chart-toppers like Purple Urkel, the terpene profile of this pot genre are sweet and light. Creativity, couch-lock and dreamy states are associated with use, while woody, hoppy, nodes balance the dominant fruitiness. When it’s time to relax after a long day, or cuddle close with your significant other, this category can set the mood like the right Marvin Gaye or Anita Baker record.

Music genre: EDM

Green Crack’s Tropical + Floral terpene profile shows high levels of myrcene (blue), mixed with some caryophyllene (red), and the hyper-rare ocimene (pink). (Leafly)

Terpene category: Tropical + Floral

Strains: J1, Green Crack, Dutch Treat, Golden Pineapple, Dream Queen, and Clementine

The terpene ocimene is awesome, and it helps define the tropical, floral genre. We equate it to EDM for the dancy vibes and kaleidoscopic aroma. You see it in a bunch of weird sativas, which are more eclectic than your basic GSC family of strains. It can smell minty, or like parsley or orchids. It’s seen in the award-winning Tropical Sleigh Ride, as well as Mango and more.

Music genre: Classic Rock

Jack Herer’s terpene profile, showing high levels of (orange) and caryophyllene (red), and a hint of pinene (green). (Leafly)

Terpene category: Jacks + Haze

Strains: Jack Herer, Purple Haze

These are your classic Dad Rock strains. Old school favorites like Jack Herer and Purple Haze, modestly potent sativas which will have you kissing the sky like a Jimi Hendrix solo, but won’t really pass the buck in elite connoisseur sessions. Just like you won’t hear Led Zeppelin or KISS jamming at a modern night club, you may be hard pressed to find these terpene profiles in abundance at dispensaries in 2022. Retro-minded cultivators could reboot the genetics one day, causing these somewhat dated terps to come back in style. But the truth is that this category is home to the only true sativa strains left in existence. Protect the classics!

Music genre: Free Jazz

Fresh test buds at Clearwater Genetics. (via Clearwater Genetics Discord)

Terpene category: Exotics

Strains: ???

What consumers call exotics are technically no longer exotic—they are all super-popular Desserts. Strains with actually rare terpene profiles and ratios are the real weirdos in the club—like a free jazz musician out keeping her own time. There are dozens of terpenes and we’ve only just started getting out of the rut of Desserts and OGs. This is stuff high in farnecene, borniol, geraniol, trans-nerolidol, humulene, carene, valencene, and eucalyptol.

We’re still at day one of understanding what’s in cannabis and how it affects us. As always, trust your nose and experience to lead you to what you like. And track your progress with Leafly reviews.

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