Although the difference between Indica and Sativa cannabis strains should be considered, the cannabinoid content is, by far, the most important aspect of any cannabis strain.
Cannabinoids and terpenes can be found more often in some strains than others, however, these chemical compounds are not exclusive enough within Indica or Sativa strains to warrant the claims of certain effects only coming from Indicas or Sativas. The known effects of cannabis are caused by cannabinoids and terpenes, not by a specific strain classification.
One of the worst statements that are heard consistently from budtenders across North America is Indica means “in-da-couch”. This statement is highly ignorant and misleading and budtenders should do their best to avoid the simple trap of placing all Indicas in the same basket of ‘couch-locking’ strains.
Why Cannabinoids are Far More Important Than an Indica/Sativa Strain Classification
Cannabinoids are more important that strain classification because cannabinoids are the main reason for the known effects of cannabis.
For example, a strain such as Chemdog #4, which is generally considered 80% Indica and 20% Sativa, will contain approximately 17% THC (in general).
Another strain, Power Plant, generally classified as 80% Sativa and 20% Indica, contains approximately 19% THC (in general).
These are two completely different strains with similar THC content, but, they are classified very differently in terms of Indica/Sativa labels. Both of these strains may work for an individual who needs a medium level of THC in their cannabis.
This one example shows that although strains may be on opposite ends of the Indica/Sativa classification scale, they may offer similar effects. It is best to know the cannabinoid content, rather than the strain classification.
What are Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are a class of diverse compounds that react to cannabinoid receptors within the body. In addition, the reaction between cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system can also alter releases of neurotransmitters within the brain.
Cannabinoids are far more important than choosing an Indica, Sativa, or Hybrid strain.
Although there are over 120 cannabinoids, there are arguably some more important, and more well-studied, than others.
The 5 most common cannabinoids found in cannabis are:
- THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol)
- CBD (Cannabidiol)
- CBC (Cannabichromene)
- CBN (Cannabinol)
- CBG (Cannabigerol)
Learn more about the THC, CBD, CBC, CBL, and CBG cannabinoids here.
Cannabinoids and terpenes are the future of cannabis. Strain classification is severely outdated as many Indica strains may exhibit the same traits as a Sativa strain and vice versa. Not to mention, there are almost no 100% Indica or Sativa strains in existence as almost all cannabis is considered a hybridized landrace strain.
What is the Real Difference Between Indica and Sativa?
Classification, between Indica and Sativa, refers to the plant morphology, rather than the effects a cannabis consumer will get from a particular strain.
Indica: Indica plants are shorter and bushier than their Sativa counterparts. Cannabis Indica will often have a shorter flowering time, as well as taking up less space, than a cannabis plant classified as a Sativa. The fatter leaves on a cannabis Indica plant, as well as the generally darker colouring, identify an Indica plant right away. Also, the buds produced from a cannabis Indica plant are generally far denser and round than those from a Sativa plant.
Sativa: Cannabis plants classified as Sativa will exhibit a taller stature, more like a tree, than cannabis Indica. Leaves are narrow and long with a lighter colouration than cannabis Indica. The buds produced from this type of plant can be longer, less dense, and less resinous than those from cannabis Indica. Cannabis Sativa will also have a larger separation between nodes.
In 1753, cannabis was officially classified in the Western hemisphere by Carolus Linnaeus as Cannabis Sativa. Linnaeus is well-known as the “father of taxonomy” by many and his system of classification placed plants and other organisms within a hierarchical structure within nature.
In 1785 however, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck proposed that there were, in fact, two separate classifications of cannabis. This is where we get our two main strain classifications from today. In 1785, there were only the original “landrace” strains of cannabis which made classification incredibly easy. Nowadays, there are literally thousands of cannabis strains available, some of which have been cross-bred numerous times.
Cannabinoids and the Human Endocannabinoid System: What Happens When a Human Consumes Cannabis?
The endocannabinoid system within humans, and other mammals, processes cannabis and reacts accordingly.
The endocannabinoid system transmitters begin a process in which neurotransmitters will attach themselves to cannabinoid receptors and proteins that already exist within the body. After the transmitters have bound themselves to receptors and proteins, the endocannabinoid system will begin to regulate important bodily functions such as the ones mentioned above. This process will occur whether cannabis is consumed as an edible, smoked, or vaporized.
Cannabis Edibles: Indica or Sativa?
Strain classification has absolutely nothing to do with the effects of cannabis edibles. Many cannabis consumers may get swept up in a product known as a “Sativa” edibles, but, the fact of the matter is that strain classification will have an incredibly small effect on any cannabis edibles.
Cannabis edibles are dosed with the THC content in mind. As we’ve seen, THC and other cannabinoid content may be very similar between strains that are classified on different ends of the Indica/Sativa spectrum.
PLEASE DO NOT BE FOOLED BY EDIBLES LABELLED SATIVA OR INDICA. THE THC CONTENT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PIECE OF INFORMATION.
Important Takeaways For Cannabis Consumers:
- The classification of Indica and Sativa does not matter as much as the cannabinoid content of the cannabis
- Strains classified as either Indica or Sativa can have very similar cannabinoid content
- Indicas are not necessarily best for night time use. Sativas are not necessarily better for use during daytime hours.
- The human endocannabinoid system is unique, like a fingerprint, and each individual may experience different effects from the same strain of cannabis.
- The difference between cannabis Indica and Sativa lies in classification (plant type) rather than the effects given from one particular strain or the other
- Cannabis edibles are only affected by cannabinoid content, never strain type
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- Anderson, L. (1980). Leaf variation among Cannabis species from a controlled garden.
- Pollio A. (2016). The Name of Cannabis: A Short Guide for Nonbotanists. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.
- Watts G. (2006). Cannabis confusions. British Medical Journal. Clinical Research Edition 332.