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Why It’s Virtually Impossible to Identify Your Cannabis Strain Based on a Photo

March 1, 2015

For those of you who thought a magical strain identification scanner was possible and tried to use Leafly’s Marijuana Analysis Recognition Interpreter (or MARI), we’re sorry we fooled you but we couldn’t resist. Over the last few years, we’ve received a comically large volume of emails asking us to identify strains based on bud photos, so we were compelled to finally (a) prank y’all, and (b) explain why this would next to impossible without a really specific and random superpower.

First off, there are tons of strains out there. The Leafly Explorer documents over a thousand varieties, but new hybrids are born all the time. No matter how crisp and clear your photo is, that strain is going to look like many, many others.

Second, even strains with the same genetic background express variable characteristics. Think of wine: can you look at a glass of red and determine whether it’s a Merlot, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Malbec, a Syrah, a Pinot Noir, a Zinfandel, a Sangiovese, or a Barbera based on sight alone? A Cabernet Sauvignon made in Bordeaux is going to taste different than a Cab Sauv from Napa Valley, which will differ from a Cab Sauv from Canada’s Okanagan Valley, which will be distinct from one crafted in Australia.

Even if each bottle is comprised from the same percentage of Merlot, Cab Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, a variety of factors such as temperature, soil, water, and other growing, cultivation, and processing techniques means that the taste and look of the same type of wine will differ depending on the region (or even different batches from the same region).

These factors affect cannabis as well. Your Blue Dream may not look like your friend’s Blue Dream because strains can exhibit different outward appearances in response to environmental factors – we call these variations within a given strain phenotypes. Here, look:

Leafly Blue Dream cannabis strainLeafly Blue Dream cannabis strain photo

Two Blue Dreams, two different looks entirely. Like little fraternal nug twins.

If you have a mystery bud, you can use Leafly’s effect and flavor filters to help you narrow it down, but of course, this won’t give you a definitive answer. We’re sorry technology has let you down, but the minute humans figure out how to interpret DNA visually, we’ll be sure to let you know.

  • LeeAnne B Averyheart


  • Are there qualified people who can analyze a nug? If so, where can they be found?

  • Monica Shlayer

    okay but u never heard this idea before, you could come up with an app and through this app the users would take a picture of their buds, and well you’d narrow it down to what the strain could be based on the picture (although you’d have to give strict instructions so the users would consider the lighting and the quality of the picture) and then you give the users a quiz to take so you could identify the strain (like asking questions to determine wether its sativa or indica.. etc.) and then we users would get a result. and it doesn’t have to be just one result it could be like a few suggestions of what the strain could be. and yes i did come up with this while high af lmao

  • suprememagnetic

    Lame… Whoever thought that crap up is an idiot.
    ANYONE that smokes and is worth their salt knows this… ESPECIALLY a grower.
    A trick for children I suppose?
    Either way, waste of time.
    It’s IMPOSSIBLE to know WHAT EXACT strain you have from a picture.
    An educated guess? Sure. But definitely not:
    “Oh that’s such and such, I know for certain”
    With all the hybridizations in the world now? You could be growing “diesel” when it’s really Afghan or whatever.

    You could certainly classify the bud by indica/sauces standards. But an EXACT?
    No. I don’t think so.
    I only have 22 years experience though… What do I know?