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Many cannabis consumers and laypeople are familiar with sativa and indica, the two species (or sub-species, for those keeping score) that compose the dual world of marijuana. Sativas, the more rare species, convey an uplifting, energetic, and euphoric high that is good for those suffering from depression and PTSD, whereas the more common indica delivers a solid body buzz, pain relief, and the munchies and is good for insomnia, arthritis, and those undergoing cancer treatment.

What many don’t realize is that there’s a third cannabis cousin typically not considered by patients and cultivators: Ruderalis. Hailing from Central and Southeastern Russia, this variety produces poor yields and contains little THC, giving it no value on the black market. It can be found today throughout China and Russia.

Ruderalis is the most hardy type of cannabis, however, able to withstand conditions in the northern Himalayas region and southern states of the former Soviet Union that would kill sativa and indica strains. The word “ruderalis” is derived from “ruderal,” a botanical term used to describe hardy, non-domesticated plants, including weeds.

himalaya marijuanaphoto credit: Andrea de Franciscis

Cannabis ruderalis was first discovered in 1924 by Russian botanist D.E. Janischevsky, who was studying cannabis along the Volga River. What makes ruderalis special is its ability to autoflower. Unlike sativa and indica strains, which require a change in light cycles to bring on the flowering stage of the plant, ruderalis needs no such illuminatory nudging. It does not grow wild at latitudes south of 50 degrees north of the equator.

Good Source of CBD

The recent focus on tinctures and other medical cannabis preparations high in CBD and low in THC — perfect for treating conditions like childhood epilepsy — has renewed the focus of many gardeners on ruderalis. Strains low in THC are being embraced for their ability to deliver the efficacy of cannabis without the psychoactivity provided by THC.

According to celebrated California cannabis author and entrepreneur Ed Rosenthal:

“The high from ruderalis is more of a zoom that quickly descends into a headache. Hybrids and cross breeding, on the other hand, often produce a very respectable high.”

Although many label ruderalis a species or sub-species of cannabis, a 2005 study found little genetic justification for considering this odd man out of the marijuana world a separate species. Some researchers and breeders believe ruderalis to itself be an ancient hybrid of indica and sativa genetics.

More Common Than You Think

Cannabis cultivators have for years been using ruderalis strains for the creation of hybrids that grow fast and autoflower. Ruderalis plants are also typically short and stocky, sometimes making them more practical and discreet for indoor gardens. If done properly, hybrid strains containing some ruderalis genetics can offer many of the best characteristics of a sativa or indica strain combined with a solid amount of CBD and faster growth.

Today, large farms of ruderalis plants can be found in central and eastern Europe, the Himalayas, and the former Soviet Union for the production of hemp. Ruderalis is also believed to be more resistant to infestation by insects and a variety of diseases.

cannabis leaf comparison

Popular Ruderalis Strains

Popular strains that are hybrids composed of at least some ruderalis include:

  • LowRyder (LowRider)
  • Ruderalis Skunk
  • Easy Ryder
  • Fast Haze
  • White Express
  • Speed Ryder
  • Quick Fruit
  • Low Diesel

While these strains may not appear on the top shelf of your local dispensary, cultivators are increasingly attracted to ruderalis hybrids for their medicinal efficacy and low THC content. Typically, ruderalis strains are bred with indicas to increase their THC content and yield while maintaining the plant’s relatively rapid growth, high CBD content, and short, thick phenotype.

Although rarely mentioned, cannabis breeders should consider the use of ruderalis strains paired with indica varieties to create powerful new medicines for both recreational and medical use.

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