Indica vs Sativa: Are These Useful Titles or Just Smoke and Mirrors?

“Is it an Indica or Sativa strain?”

Whether you’re a moderate or proficient user of cannabis, you’ve most likely heard this question in numerous cannabis conversations — but what does it really mean? More importantly, does it really even matter if a cannabis product is determined to be an “Indica” or “Sativa” strain?

Where do the terms “Indica” and “Sativa” come from?

A quick history lesson: In 1753, Carl Linneaus classified two subspecies of cannabis: Cannabis sativa L (hemp, non-intoxicating) and Cannabis Sativa (psychoactive and intoxicating). A second subspecies discovery was made by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in 1785: Cannabis Indica.

Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica are responsible for the Indica/Sativa classifications we know today. These taxonomic classifications are somewhat controversial, but the important distinctions have to do with geographic origins, variances in morphologies (shape of leaves, plant height, growing conditions), and slight differences in genetics.

A quick cultivation lesson: This Sativa and Indica taxonomy helps cultivators indicate the physical qualities of a particular strain (technically known as a cultivar) and its growing conditions. Sativa plants typically grow tall with bright, narrow leaves. Indicas typically grow into short, dense plants with wide leaves with deep green colors. Sativas have longer flowering cycles and are better suited for warm climates with long seasons, while Indicas have shorter flowering cycles and are capable of growing in cold climates with shorter seasons.

Due to extensive crossbreeding over the past fifty plus years, cultivators have effectively eliminated pure Sativa and Indica cultivars, leaving behind only hybrids that may lean more heavily toward one or the other initial subspecies, further confusing matters for the end user.

Are the effects of Indica and Sativa different?

You’ve heard it before: Sativas are invigorating, Indicas are relaxing. Sativas get you high. Indicas get you stoned.

Your local budtender may be quick to use words like “cerebral,” “heady,” “uplifting,” “energizing” and “like a cup of coffee” when describing Sativas, and words like “relaxing,” “sedating,” “full-bodied,” “stoney” and “like a cup of nighttime tea” when describing Indicas. Although all marijuana strains are now technically hybrids, a third categorization, Hybrid, is reserved for strains that have a balance of effects inherited from the genetic crossing of Indica and Sativa strains.

What does science have to say?

Let’s cut to the chase — is it scientifically accurate to label cannabis as “Indica” and “Sativa” based on genetic ancestry? The answer: not likely.

Or, as famed cannabis researcher Dr. Ethan Russo puts it: “The sativa/indica distinction as commonly applied in the lay literature is total nonsense and an exercise in futility.”

Science is increasingly backing this up. Bedrocan, one of the largest producers of legal medicinal cannabis, teamed up with Canadian Dalhousie University to study the genetic differences between cannabis labelled Sativa and Indica. The study analyzed 149 different cannabis samples to determine if the genotype and chemotype accurately correlated to their reported “ancestry.”  The results indicated that there is no clear evidence of ancestry differences between Sativa- and Indica-labelled cannabis.”

In short, the reported genetic lineages of strains are somewhat dubious and less distinct than cannabis cultivators and breeders would have consumers believe.

However, Bedrocan’s study did find a strong relationship between chemical and genetic profiles. This suggests that the Indica/Sativa classification has much more to do with a strain’s terpene profile and less to do with its cannabinoid profile, as previously believed.

This finding makes sense and is supported in other studies. When indicating the effect a particular strain will produce, consider the cannabinoid and terpene profiles, as the concentration of terpenes will not only indicate the aroma and flavor of a particular strain, but also shed light on the associated effects. Research is confirming that aroma profiles of a plant, coupled with the ratio of the two major cannabinoids (THC and CBD), are the most important factors when attempting to determine the possible effects of a strain.

The main Indica and Sativa takeaway

While an Indica and Sativa label may accurately indicate its genetic lineage, it doesn’t necessarily predict what effects that strain or product will produce. Not all Indicas produce Indica-like effects and not all Sativas produce Sativa-like effect. It is common to find strains with an Indica lineage that have Sativa-like effects. If you take Indica/Sativa categorization with a grain of salt and pay attention to cannabinoid and terpene contents, you’ll have a clearer picture of what each cannabis product has to offer.

Nicolas Gonzalez-Podesta is the Director of Science and Education at Weedmaps. He directs Weedmaps’ educational initiatives and works with a range of professionals including scientists, government officials and educators. Weedmaps is the world’s largest marijuana technology company working with enterprises, governments, and consumers to provide the leading cloud platform to power the marijuana industry.

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50 comments

Jerome S
Jerome S22 days ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome S22 days ago

thanks

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Jim V
Jim Ven22 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Jim V
Jim Ven22 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Janet B
Janet Babout a month ago

Thanks

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Stephanie s
Stephanie sabout a month ago

Thank you

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Angela K
Angela AWAY Kabout a month ago

noted

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Brian F
Brian Fabout a month ago

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Ellie M
Ellie Mabout a month ago

legalize weed!

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Jonathan H
Jonathan Habout a month ago

Noted

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