What is a backcross?

Backcrossing in cannabis is a fascinating and intricate process where a plant is bred with itself or one of its parents. This technique is a form of inbreeding primarily used to enhance or solidify specific genetic traits in a cannabis strain. Traits like flavor, aroma, effects, and resistance to diseases or environmental stressors are typically the focus of backcrossing in commercial cannabis breeding. The process often takes months or years of diligent growing, crossing, and backcrossing to achieve the desired results​​.

The Process and Benefits of Backcrossing

The procedure starts by crossing two cannabis strains to create a new hybrid. Breeders then cross this new strain again with a genetic clone of itself or one of its parents. This method, known as backcrossing, reinforces specific traits like effects, flavors, and aromas. Essentially, backcrossing is used to “stabilize” a strain, ensuring the offspring consistently exhibit the desired characteristics. The ultimate goal is to produce a strain where the majority of seeds grow into plants that mirror the mother in taste, effects, and appearance – akin to cloning but through seeds​​.

Advantages of Backcrossing

  • Trait Reinforcement: By repeatedly crossing with a parent strain, breeders can amplify desired traits, such as potency, aroma, or resistance to diseases.
  • Genetic Stability: This method helps establish genetic stability within a strain, ensuring that offspring closely resemble the hybrid strain’s desired characteristics.
  • Consistency in Phenotype: Backcrossing increases the likelihood of offspring with consistent phenotypes, crucial for commercial production and meeting consumer expectations.
  • Preservation of Genetic Diversity: While enhancing specific traits, backcrossing also maintains genetic diversity within a strain, preventing genetic uniformity that could lead to increased vulnerability​​.

The Art and Science of Selecting Parent Strains

Choosing the right parent strain for backcrossing is critical. Breeders typically opt for a parent strain that possesses the traits they aim to reinforce. This could be a landrace strain, an heirloom variety, or a previous generation of the hybrid strain. The chosen parent should contribute the desired traits without introducing unwanted characteristics or diluting the desired genetic expression​​.

Challenges and Considerations in Backcrossing

While backcrossing offers several benefits, there are also challenges to consider:

  • Inconsistency with Non-True-Breeding Parents: If the recurrent parent strain does not breed true, it can result in offspring with segregated traits that fail to be reproduced consistently.
  • Limited Trait Enhancement: Sometimes, the enhanced variety may differ only slightly from the recurrent parent, particularly when focusing on a single trait. For multiple traits, other techniques like inbreeding or recurrent selection might be more effective​​.


Backcrossing in cannabis cultivation is a pivotal technique that combines the art of selective breeding with scientific understanding of genetics. It plays a crucial role in developing strains with desired traits and ensuring genetic stability. However, it requires careful selection of parent strains and a deep understanding of the intricacies of cannabis genetics to be effective. As such, it remains an essential tool in the arsenal of both commercial and amateur cannabis breeders.