Stoner science: Busting the Indica vs Sativa myth

This article is brought to you in conjunction with The Long Leaf, a UK cannabis lifestyle brand & company for the cannabis connoisseur. 

As the world increasingly opens up to recreational cannabis, consumers are thought to know more about the plant than ever before, including the likely effects of each product they buy. For many of us, cannabis has long been divided into three simple categories: Indica, Sativa, and Hybrids – and the same is often true in a retail setting. These three categories allow us to distinguish between a cannabis product that will cause sedation and relaxation and one that will give us a lift and even make us more energetic… or do they?

The Indica vs Sativa theory is one that has been upheld by cannabis consumers for decades. Even in markets where cannabis is illegal and detailed descriptions of the products purchased from your local dealer aren’t available, most people are still aware of the perceived differences between Indica and Sativa. But is this really the best way to categorise cannabis? The evidence suggests not.

In fact, there is very little (if any) to support the Indica vs Sativa theory, with many experts claiming that attempting to simplify the biochemical content of cannabis strains in such a way is – to put it bluntly – nonsense. 

The origins of the Indica vs Sativa theory

So, if Indica vs Sativa theory is actually a myth, where did this myth come from? Well, while there is no evidence to suggest that these two species (there is still a debate about whether this word is correct) elicit different effects, they were originally classified because of differences in their appearance. In the 18th Century, French biologist Jean Baptists Lamarck suggested that Indica “species” (found in India) were shorter with thicker leaves while Sativa plants were taller with thinner leaves. 

We now know, however, that – on a molecular level – there is no difference between these two types of cannabis. The likely cause of their difference in appearance likely came from environmental factors such as altitude, temperature, and sun exposure. These factors may also have had an impact on the cannabinoid and terpene profile of different cannabis plants.

The two “species” names were used as a way to classify and market cannabis by providing buyers with a general rule: Indicas contain more THC and terpenes such as myrcene and are more sedating while Sativas contain more CBD and limonene and create a more energetic high. Nonetheless, it is unlikely that this approach to categorisation was ever very accurate – even before the massive rise in the hybridisation of cannabis.

The hybridisation of cannabis

Decades ago, it may have been relatively easy to distinguish between Sativa and Indica plants based on their appearance alone; however, after generations of crossbreeding to create more desirable strains, the vast majority of products on the market today are, in fact, hybrids. This means that they contain genes and characteristics from both Indica and Sativa plants. 

In commercial and consumer settings, hybrids are widely considered to be a middle ground between the two supposed effects of Indica and Sativa. Hybrids can contain an extremely varied THC:CBD content as well as an abundance of other cannabinoids and terpenes. As such, it is effectively impossible to predict the effects of any given strain based on this label alone.

But if an “Indica”, “Sativa” or “Hybrid” label can’t help you to predict the effects of your weed, what can?

The various effects of cannabis

There is no argument that some strains of cannabis can make you feel like sprawling out on the sofa and zoning out to some low-quality television while others give you a buzz that may make you more sociable and even more active. But far from being down to whether a plant is perceived to be Indica or Sativa, it is the compounds found within the plant that have the biggest influence on effect. 

THC is the most common intoxicating cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant – and that’s all cannabis plants. The levels of THC in relation to other compounds, such as CBD and other cannabinoids as well as terpenes like myrcene, limonene, and pinene will likely impact the effects of any given product. But there is another important factor to consider: your own body chemistry.

Just like any other drug, different strains of cannabis will affect different people in different ways. While being aware of the cannabinoid and terpene content in your chosen cannabis product can be a good place to start (high THC, low CBD; equal parts THC and CBD; and high CBD, low THC), the only completely reliable way to know for sure is through trial and error. 

A new way of doing things

Cannabis growers, dispensaries and consumers continue to use Indica vs Sativa ideology for one reason – it’s easy. As the legal market continues to expand around the world, consumer education is key, and sticking to outdated and disproven classification models like the Indica/Sativa/hybrid system could potentially do more harm than good. However, the cannabis industry is slowly beginning to realise there is a more accurate way to classify their products.

Placing a focus on cannabinoid and terpene content when classifying cannabis is a more effective way to predict the effects of your chosen product. To sum up: it’s time to say “goodbye” to the (let’s face it) lazy Indica vs Sativa myth and welcome a new way of doing things that is based on scientific evidence and fact.

This article is brought to you in conjunction with The Long Leaf, a UK cannabis lifestyle brand & company for the cannabis connoisseur. 

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