Beyond Indica and Sativa: The Real Determinants of Cannabis Effects

Understanding Terpenes and Why They Matter More Than Traditional Labels.

Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid: Common Misconceptions

Indica, Sativa, or Hybrid? These are probably the three most common terms heard amongst fellow cannabis users. The problem with these three words is that there are two separate meanings for each one, and most people are using these terms incorrectly. In this article, I will explain the differences of the two meanings and the best way to identify the potential effects of a given strain.


Origins and Morphology: Why Appearances Can Be Deceptive

The most common way these three terms are used is to describe the effects of a specific strain of cannabis. If a strain is sedative, it's indica. If it makes you energetic and alert, it's sativa. If it is only slightly sedative, it's called an indica-dominant hybrid. If it's slightly energetic, it's a sativa-dominant hybrid. If it isn't very sedative or energetic, that would be called a 50/50 balanced hybrid. This terminology originates from scientists identifying specific plant morphology (the looks and characteristics of the plant). Sativa cannabis plants are known to be very tall with thin leaves and larger spaces between the nodes of the plant, which create a more elongated bud with energizing effects. Indica plants are known to be short and stubby plants with smaller node spaces and smaller, more round buds with sedative effects.


The Challenges of Classifying Cannabis by Its Look

There are two main problems when using this terminology to explain the effects of cannabis. The first is that through the evolution of cannabis, most of it has been hybridized, meaning people have crossed indica and sativa so many times that there are very few pure indica and sativa strains. Because most cannabis today has been crossed so many times it's very hard to know the exact effects just by the plant's morphology. The second problem is if a grower grows a strain like Bubba Kush, which should be very sedative, if it's pulled too early before the trichomes can fully mature, you can be left with a plant that feels very energetic due to the unripe trichomes. The same can happen with a pure sativa; if the plant is pulled too late, there will be an increased amount of CBN, which can lead to a plant that should be energetic, and making it more sedative.


Terpenes: The True Indicators of Cannabis Effects

If we want to truly know the potential effects a specific strain of cannabis will give us, there is only one way to do that, and that is by identifying the specific terpenes and other flavor-smell producing compounds within the trichomes. This can be done through lab tests, which will tell you exactly what compounds are within the plant. So, if you see high amounts of valencene or limonene, you can be sure the strain will be quite energetic. If the strain is high in myrcene or camphene, then it will be more sedative. Another easy way is just to use your nose. Usually, very fresh, lemon-lime cannabis tends to be more energetic. When you smell more dank and earthy notes, that generally will be more sedative. Using your nose isn't a perfect science, so if you can one, the most accurate way to know the effects will be through a COA (certificate of analysis). But if you can't get your hands on one, the nose is your next best option for assessing the potential effects of a given strain.


Making an Informed Purchase: Looking Beyond the Labels

When purchasing cannabis, we want to make sure we stay away from any companies that only label their cannabis as Indica, Sativa, or Hybrids, because this is just an assumption of what a given strain effects should be and not necessarily the exact effects they will produce. The best way to truly know the effects a strain will give you is with a COA because the terpenes are what produce the effects. By knowing the exact terpenes and other smell and flavor-producing molecules, we can know more precisely how the cannabis will affect us before we ingest it. Without this, it is essentially a guessing game, and we will not find out until we smoke the product. So the best way to purchase cannabis and know the exact effects you may get from it is to look for companies that list the dominant terpenes present within the cannabis and stay away from any companies using the antiquated sativa and indica labeling method.