Designer Strains… the Mutts of Medical Cannabis

What they are, and why aren’t these strains as effective or high quality as they should be?

Photography by Wesley Gibbs courtesy of

Let’s start by defining landrace and hybrid strains. 

Landrace strains are genetic lines of cannabis that originated as far back as 2900 B.C. from Central Asia. Landrace strains have been used for and in medicine since the beginning of recorded history. These are the strains that many of our military personnel utilized while serving overseas and are familiar especially to those who served in Eastern Asia.

Without getting too involved, by nature and mankind, landrace strains made their way to other Middle Eastern regions and more landraces were born.  As time went on and the world developed more specific strains of cannabis, these strains made their way to other nations and countries. 

Which brings us to the hybrid strains. As cannabis made its way around the world, folks started realizing its benefits and wanted to combine strains to get the best “bang” out of the plant.  So they took two distinct landrace strains and combined them; this is how we now have a Hybrids.  

Hybridization is literally taking a white rose and red rose to create a pink rose.  Now when that’s done with cannabis, there is a whole process and many intricacies that are involved, way too many to get into in this article.

These hybrid strains are often all that is left of the original genetics found in the stronger landrace strains in our Pennsylvania program. These essential landrace strains are tried and true and have helped people for decades and generations and we are losing access to them via hybridization. The “Designer Strain” fad is new, and it does not necessarily help patients.  

Initially, designer strains were strains of cannabis flower that mixed at least one Hybrid strain and one Landrace strain. Now, the majority of Designer Strains are derived from crossing two Hybrid strains. 

Keep in mind it’s hard to find any LandRace strains in our local dispensaries. This is disappointing for Pennsylvania patients since they set the standard by which all medical cannabis strains are measured, judged, and reproduced into future products. 

When strains are combined, the intention is to improve upon the genetics to create more effective medicines. But in fact, the opposite is true;


When two already hybrid strains are combined, quality suffers. From my experience, the effectiveness is not even close to the strength of parent strains or even their grandparent strains. Furthermore, many have similar lineage (parents) that do not mix/breed well together.

I know I am not alone as a medical cannabis patient that I use certain strains and benefit from specific terpene profiles over others. Unfortunately, all we are seeing now is a bunch of fun names and taking a chance on whether it’s really going to do what its lineage implies.

I want medicine I know will work– that means strains with reliable, predictable symptom relief.

I want the same strains that were out 2, 3, or 4 months ago from the same grower and I want it to feel the same, and have a similar terpene profile. 

I see examples of this in our PA program right now.  Every time I find something that works it’s gone, never to be found or returned again.

Cresco Durban from 2018 was better quality  (slightly squishy w/ crystals and reddish hairs throughout) with more of an uplifting mood and productive creative quality with medium-lasting pain relief in its medicinal value. 

Jump to March of 2020 and I get a gram, it’s dry, fewer crystals, and more green in color without the depth of hues I had observed in medicine by the same name a year ago.  Even more disappointing, It made me jumpy and “squirrely”. I could not focus and would forget what I was doing mid-task. The pain relief was barely there– it lasted maybe thirty minutes at best. 

Terrapin was a game-changer for me.  At the beginning of the flower roll-out with our new medical program, Terrapin was hands down the flower for myself and many other patients; 
There were strains that helped me come off of my conventional pharmaceuticals, Terrapin products were my regular go-to products and strains for almost a full year. But this is true no longer since the strain genetics became so diluted.

Why do they stop breeding the strains that help so many? Now it’s hard to find them, and when I do manage to track these strains down, even these strains do not look, smell or feel the same as the medicine I purchased with the same name prior.  I have seen a sharp decline in quality overall in Pennsylvania medical marijuana products.  It’s disappointing, to say the least.

I’m not new to the world of medical cannabis. I know my terpenes and I’m not seeking high THC content and entertainment. I haven’t been “high” in ages. I just want medicine with consistency in strength and symptom relief that is somewhat the same at regular intervals, instead of being forced to play ‘the name game’ with every dispensary visit.

I am grateful for the PA MMJ cannabis program, but we have a ways to go. I hope the grower/processors and dispensaries are listening. 


  1. Brilliantly done. Thank you for the information. I’m close to moving to a state where it is legal to grow and have been researching the best way to grow for medicinal purposes. This has given me a ton of information to mull over and look into. Big ups.

    • Thank you, I hope all goes well.

      I would love to cultivate a plant or 6 of my own, lol But will have to wait for that here.

      • That’s understandable. Keep fighting the good fight then. Think globally and act locally. We are finally being heard by state governments so it’s only a matter of time.

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