“Sativa or indica?” is a question you may have heard if you have purchased marijuana legally or illegally in the past 20 years. I heard these terms in High Times Magazine and in Wiz Khalifa songs when I was in school, but marijuana terminology really took hold around the turn of the decade, right before the first state ended prohibition.
I personally didn’t smoke much around this time, so when I did, I was too out of my mind to notice if I was having an uplifting or sedating experience. The emergence of medical marijuana gave smokers more confidence in what they were buying. Instead of taking a drug dealer’s word for the strain name and if it was sativa or indica, weed was now getting labeled.
Many casual cannabis users like myself had always been a bit wary about the strain names and categories. Maybe because we didn’t trust the dealer or didn’t really care. Strains started becoming recognizable after they had blown up through popular rap songs. Even a casual cannabis user could identify OG Kush and Blue Dream.
Eventually, there was no denying that some stains contain different properties than others. The consensus of the zooted community was/is as follows; indica gets you up, sativa gets you down. Reach for sativa if you want to get shit done. Spark up the indica if you want to zone out watching A Space Odyssey: 2001.
At this time, I did not care what made a marijuana plant indica, but my weed nerd friends made sure to tell me anyway.
Year 2010: Everyone Became a Cannabis Scientist
In the 2010s, many stoners were getting kernels of unsubstantiated science from their new weed man aka a budtender. One of these misconceptions was what made plants sativa or indica. With the enlightenment obtained by lying about getting into a car accident, the new cannabis expert claimed to be able to identify sativa in dried flower or in pre-cultivated plants. This is non-sense according to my personal favorite cannabis researcher, Dr. Ethan Russo, “one cannot in any way currently guess the biochemical content of a given cannabis plant based on its height, branching, or leaf morphology.”
Nearly every dispensary I’ve ever been to categorizes their marijuana into three categories: indica, sativa, hybrid. Because of the world-wide spread of seeds, no cannabis plant could be purely sativa or indica. Using terms like sativa-forward, or indica-like would be a much more accurate classification because all strains are a mix, or hybrid.
Science does not support classifying cannabis sativa and indica by appearance. But from experience, I do FEEL a difference between the strains. So, what creates the energizing effects of sativa and sedating effects of indica?
Chemistry Determines Indica/Sativa
The chemical make-up of each strain is what determines the effects. Another misconception was that the presence of CBD is what was determining what category the stain belongs. Again, this was spread throughout dispensaries without any scientific evidence or common sense to back the claim. The magical chemical in cannabis calling the shots isn’t THC or CBD, its terpenes.
Terpenes are the chemical compound in all plants responsible for their smell. They have health benefits of their own and have been used in medicine for thousands of years. Some have sedating effects; some have uplifting effects. They are what makes cannabis indica or sativa.
The original taxonomy of cannabis probably came from plants originating in different regions of the globe. Slightly different climates among other factors results in plants evolving differently. The classification most likely didn’t have anything to do with the effects or terpene content. My guess is that the strains that clearly produced a sedating effect were classified as indica by stoners.
Chemistry is responsible for the feeling certain strains give users. Sativa and indica are being used as a vague placeholder for a classification system. Indica and sativa should be used as verbs not nouns when it comes to cannabis. A bud tender referring to a strain as indica isn’t an accurate classification of species. At best, it’s an acknowledgment that the plant has been terpene tested and comes up with higher amounts of indica-like terpenes that produce a sedating feeling.
Most likely classification is being passed down by strain name. One of the most popular cannabis websites online still classifies indica and sativa by appearance. They even take popular stains and break them down to the precise percent of each species type.
OG Kush = 55% sativa/45% indica
They say that OG Kush’s genetics are unknown but its rumored that it’s a blend of Hindu Kush and Chemdawg.
Hindu Kush = 100% indica
Chemdawg = 45% sativa/55% indica
These articles do not mention terpenes.
The lack of cannabis research is to blame for all the misconceptions in the industry. However, it’s not surprising that the shape of the leaves has nothing to do with how some weed will make you feel.
Russo says some taxonomists argue that cannabis is only one species and others argue up to four. What’s important is that we understand that chemical makeup determines the effects of cannabis. Intoxication depends of the levels of THC and CBD. The same goes for the types and amounts of terpenes present in the strain. Terpenes like myrcene, and humulene are going to give you the indica feeling. Terpenes such as limonene and pinene will result in the sativa feeling.
Sativa and indica classifications are not exclusive to marijuana. CBD rich strains also contain terpenes and are classified as indica, sativa, or hybrid. A study done in Canada found that hemp plants are more likely to be indica based on their chemical make-up, according to analyticalcannabis.com. The study analyzed the genetic make-up of 81 marijuana and 43 hemp samples. PLos ONE scientists found that the genetic make-up doesn’t correlate between strains from the same species. Short stubby plants can produce indica buds. The study found this does happen, just not at a rate high enough to use as a classification method.
The presence of cannabinoids and terpenes needs to be at the forefront of a new classification system. Long lost genetic strain names and hearsay isn’t science. We have the ability to test for cannabinoids and terpenes, we do it for all our products. This is how cannabis should be classified going forward.
My Sativa and Indica Oil Blends
Currently I have sativa and indica blends available for sale. Each has a substantial amount of each terpene (1-2mg) and about 33mg of CBD per serving.
The Sativa Blend consists of the terpenes pinene, linalool, beta caryophyllene, and limonene.
The Indica Blend consists of terpenes humulene, linalool, and limonene.