The cannabis industry has evolved rapidly alongside scientific research, especially when it comes to cannabinoid classification.
Our previous article discussed why the terms “Indica” and “Sativa” are phasing out. We also reviewed how a specific cannabis plant’s chemical content – or chemovar – provides the essential details for selecting products according to potency, chemical type, and particular effects.
In general, a cannabis chemovar shares a plant’s cannabinoid (THC, CBD, etc.) and terpene content. However, many experts today still focus on cannabinoids because they’re the most prominent active compound (and address THC’s intoxicating qualities).
As a result, scientists developed 5 cannabis “plant types” based on cannabinoid content.
Ernest Small and H.D. Beckstead were the first to propose cannabinoid-based classification in 1973. Since then, scientists have developed this model significantly.
These five cannabis plant types serve as a practical framework for comparing cannabis options according to their cannabinoid content and associated uses.
If any of these scenarios sound like you:
- You want to learn more about cannabis to select cultivars and products more intentionally.
- You want to use cannabis products for specific issues but worry about its intoxicating qualities.
- You have specific cannabis requirements for legal or medical reasons (low/no THC, allergies, or other medication considerations).
This 6-min article will teach you:
- What are the 5 cannabis plant types?
- How are different cannabis plant types used today?
- Why is understanding different plant types important?
Type 1: The Market Favorite, THC-Dominant
Generally speaking, Type 1 cannabis products possess THC-dominant cannabinoid profiles. Specifically, Type 1 plants possess 0.3% or more THC and .5% or less CBD.
According to Cannabis Business Times, Type I cannabinoid profiles are the most abundant in today’s market. They can reach astronomical levels of THC, sometimes reaching past 30%!
A recent analysis of 38,681 samples from the U.S. market showed this trend would likely continue. While THC concentrations have gradually risen in Type 1 plants, CBD levels have fallen. In fact, between 1995 and 2014, researchers report that cannabis products’ average THC:CBD ratio went from 14:1 to 80:1.
Due to their high THC contents, these products are only sold in state-licensed dispensaries.
Some popular Type I cannabis cultivars include:
- Grease Monkey
- White Nightmare
- Gorilla Glue
- Sour Diesel
- Wedding Cake
Type II: Balanced THC and CBD Cannabinoid Profiles
Type II cannabis products possess balanced THC-to-CBD cannabinoid ratios. More specifically, they are cannabinoid profiles with high levels of both THC and CBD, with each exceeding 0.3% and 0.5%.
Type II products can provide the best of both worlds for those new to cannabis products (or sensitive to THC’s psychoactive effects). CBD balances the psychoactive qualities of THC while still providing potent therapeutic benefits.
Type II products don’t currently hold a significant market share. Still, researchers expect them to become more popular as new consumers seek more moderate cannabis solutions.
In most cases, Type II products are CBD-forward, and you’ll find them labeled as 4:1, 2:1, and 1:1 mixtures of CBD to THC.
If you’re getting started with cannabis products, we recommend starting with a 2:1 mixture and moving to 1:1 for stronger results. For context, the FDA-approved Sativex® medication contains a 1:1 ratio and has recently gained popularity in clinical trials.
Due to their THC content, Type II products are only sold in state-licensed dispensaries.
Here are some Type II cannabis cultivars you might recognize:
- Critical Cure
- Sweet and Sour Widow
Type III: “Non-Intoxicating” CBD-Dominant Profiles
Type III cannabis products possess CBD-dominant (over 0.5%) cannabinoid profiles with low THC concentrations (typically less than 0.3%, but they can reach up to 1%).
Generally, Type III cannabis products are considered “non-intoxicating.” Therefore, these plants serve both drug and fiber industries.
In the past 10 years, Type III drug plants have gained national media attention after one cannabis cultivar, Charlotte’s Web, made national headlines.
In 2013, a Colorado family went on national news after their daughter, Charlotte, experienced a nearly complete recovery from her grand-mal seizures after intensive courses of cannabis oil treatments. This oil was extracted from the Charlotte’s Web cultivar, which is now considered a household name in the medicinal cannabis community.
Plants with low medicinal value (i.e., not rich in certain cannabinoids and terpenes) have practical applications in paper-making, fabric production, and producing bioplastics from cellulose.
Since many Type III products contain less than .3% THC, these products meet federal regulations. Often, you can purchase online and ship to your door.
The best-known cultivars that belong to Type III include:
- Sour Tsunami
- Charlotte’s Web
- Candida (CD-1)
- Sweet Pure CBD
Type IV: CBG and New Medical Possibilities
Here’s where things start to get really interesting.
Most scientists settle with Types I-III when categorizing plants by cannabinoid content, which do cover the most common forms of products on the market:
- High THC, Low CBD
- Moderate THC and CBD
- High CBD, Low THC
However, with increased access came a growing demand for effective, non-intoxicating treatment options. As a result, growers and clinicians both began focusing on other cannabinoid profiles.
In 1987, French researchers noted a fourth cannabinoid profile. It was rich in a “minor” cannabinoid known as cannabigerol-acid, or CBGA.
CBGA is the raw stem cell cannabinoid that produces all other cannabinoids during plant growth. Recently, studies have revealed CBGA’s remarkable therapeutic potential.
Once heated, CBG is shown to stimulate appetite, counteract inflammation, and reduce oxidative stress. Additionally, “both CBG and THC produced a two to three-fold increase in aqueous outflow facility.” This finding suggests that CBG may also have therapeutic potential for treating glaucoma.
This is big news for glaucoma and cancer patients who need to induce appetite but want to avoid the intoxicating effects of THC!
Type IV cannabis products also meet federal guidelines for THC content (below .3%). You can purchase them online and ship them to your door.
Some popular Type IV, CBG-rich cultivars include:
- The White CBG
- La Berna
- Jack Frost CBG
- American Shaman CBG
Type V: Zero-Cannabinoid Profiles (and Beer)
The Type V category is the most recent addition to the bunch. It was first introduced in 2004 by researchers Giuseppe Mandolino and Andrea Carboni.
After a DNA gene mutation, they found a cannabis profile that contained no trace of THC, CBD, CBG, or any other cannabinoids!
Thus, these scientists defined Type V as “zero-cannabinoid” profiles.
In general, we see Type V plants as future “terpene factories” that could revolutionize the beer and hop industry as we know it.
Presently, brewers use terpene-rich hops as a bittering and flavoring agent. The alpha acids that bitter beer are due to a terpene called humulone, also found in cannabis.
Given that hops and cannabis share many terpenes, adding Type V cannabis plants to the mix holds excellent potential for both flavor and efficiency. Not only do Type V plants share terpenes, but they’re also:
- Easier to grow with more potential harvests per year
- More disease resistant
- Less resource-intensive
- Grown in a broader range of geographical areas
In turn, Type V plants could increase beer production while maintaining taste and quality.
For now, it’s unlikely that you’ll encounter Type V cannabis in the consumer market, but keep your eye out for beer-cannabis collaborations in the future.
Key Takeaways: Cannabis Plant Type Essentials
Understanding the difference between these cannabis plant types can help eliminate confusion when choosing new cannabis products.
For example, suppose you’re seeking a cannabis flower with a non-intoxicating, uplifting experience. In that case, it’s more helpful to request a “Type 3 flower that’s pinene and limonene dominant” rather than a “mild, happy, citrus-pine hybrid.” The latter could be interpreted in many different ways, resulting in unsatisfying (or surprising!) experiences.
Here’s what we’ve learned today:
- Cannabis plant types provide a useful framework for comparing product options based on their cannabinoid content.
- Type I is the most popular profile, dominating the industry with high THC and low CBD.
- Type II provides the best of both worlds, with moderate levels of THC and CBD.
- On the flip side, Type III is a non-intoxicating, CBD-dominant profile. In general, it meets federal legal standards and is grown for both drug and fiber uses.
- Type IV is relatively new, with CBG-rich profiles very low in THC. It holds great promise for cancer patients, as they are highly therapeutic with zero intoxication.
- Type V cannabis products contain zero cannabinoids but could be a game-changer for the beer industry.
Next time you’re comparing cannabis options, consider which plant types will best suit your needs. They will help you put cannabinoid percentages into context and provide a better expectation for your cannabis experience.
Writer: Jazmin Murphy
Editor: Karen Douglas