Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The Truth About Sativa v. Indica

What Do the Labels Mean?


Most cannabis connoisseurs will tell you that “sativa” cannabis plants are tall, produce narrow leaves and give users a speedy rush of creative energy while “indica” plants are short with broader leaves and leave users feeling sleepy and relaxed. It might sound like science, but the truth is that these distinctions are mostly based on the subjective psychoactive effects reported by users rather than any genetic background or testable chemical makeup.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. The labels “sativa” and “indica” don’t actually mean much. It’s not quite a scam—indica strains will usually make you feel relaxed and calm, and sativas will generally make you feel more cerebral and open—but it’s also not exactly a science. You can’t test a strain to see if it’s sativa or indica. There’s no official database of strain classifications. There is no specific combination of cannabinoids and terpenes that will produce a sativa or indica strain. These classifications are subjective and solely descriptive, having been declared by pot aficionados who smoked the individual strains and returned with their reports. “It made me sleepy,” they said. “It must be an indica.”

Don’t be surprised if you one day go into a dispensary and find that your favorite strain has suddenly switched classifications. It just means that the consensus has shifted.

This is probably confusing enough as it is, but it becomes even more of a headache when it’s revealed that there actually are two genetic groups of plants known as Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica—but they have no relation to those classifications found in dispensaries.

According to UNM Professor Chris S. Duvall’s The African Roots of Marijuana, Cannabis sativa was a genetic group of cannabis that originated in Central Asia. This plant reportedly did not exhibit psychoactive effects. Cannabis indica came from South Asia. This plant was psychoactive but was very different from the cannabis we find in modern dispensaries.

In a 2017 study published in Cannabis Sativa L. - Botany and Biotechnology, University of Vermont’s John McPartland reports that modern “sativa” and “indica” strains are both consistent with varieties of Cannabis indica. McPartland says that science supports the separation of modern “sativa” and “indica,” but that these two groups aren’t at all consistent with their namesakes. He also points out that the distinction between modern strains is becoming less pronounced over time as breeders hybridize plants.

And that means those distinctions are nearly worthless to most consumers. It might be best for users to experiment and shop for certain terpene profiles rather than classifications (or just use their noses while choosing strains). Terpenes are chemical compounds found in plant oils that can determine taste, smell and/or color.

Different strains affect people differently. The science behind this mystery is still in its early stages. It’s unclear why certain strains featuring the terpene limonene, for example, will cause some users to become excited and happy while locking other users to the couch. Unfortunately, the best move for consumers is to experiment until they can narrow down which terpenes are best for them and keep those in mind while shopping.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here