It is commonly accepted that cannabis is divided into two major families that produce distinct effects: a Sativa will give you an edifying and energetic feeling while you’d go with an Indica for its relaxing and sedative characteristics. Be that as it may, your experience has undoubtedly pointed out that this classification isn’t fully accurate, and a variety identified as such can sometimes create the opposite effects to what’s expected of it. This is in fact not surprising as we are now discovering through research and new scientific technologies that the notions on which the current system is based are just plain wrong. Let us explain.
A QUESTION OF MORPHOLOGY
Like any living organism, cannabis evolved by adapting to its environment, and the difference between Indica and Sativa would, therefore, be above all physical. The first is historically shorter and stubby allowing them to survive in dry and arid climates, while the high humidity of equatorial regions would have led to the development of the latter with thin and slender foliage.
According to Dr. Jeffrey Raber, a pioneer in medical cannabis laboratory testing, these terms should be used by producers, breeders, and scientists only, who wish to articulate the growth profiles, needs, origin, flowering time, and genetic lineage of each species. This also means that external attributes have no power to predict the type of sensation one will get. Not to mention that about 95% of the current plants are the result of a long hybridization caused by decades of crossbreeding and intentional genetic mutations. In other words, there are very few pure strains today, but rather thousands of different variations - a situation that only contributes to the general confusion.
BACK TO SCIENCE
Everything could be summed up by the chemical composition of a flower, towards which we should turn to predict the multiple effects it can have depending on its strain. At the risk of repeating ourselves, there are hundreds of active chemicals - cannabinoids and terpenes to name just a few - that alter your body and mind. Their presence in varying degrees will determine the overall individual experience, which can again fluctuate according to your physiology, biochemistry, mood or genetics.
Let’s go back to terpenes since there is growing evidence they might have an important role to play in the psychoactivity of cannabis. Already widely used in aromatherapy, these components can be found in a large part of plant life and are responsible for the smell and taste that is associated with certain varieties. The magnitude of their medicinal properties opens up unsuspected possibilities in the development of scientific research on ganja, and as studies progress, the complexity of the functions they may have on the body can be slowly discerned.
Myrcene for example - common to several strains of weed and found in hops, mango, bay leaf, and lemongrass -, is known to have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and analgesic properties. Others, such as limonene - also in citrus peel and various flowers -, is anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and acts as an anti-carcinogen by helping to prevent the growth of tumors. More than a hundred terpenes have been identified in cannabis, and there are actually way more if you consider the many variations that can occur.
These natural chemical substances therefore work in synergy with cannabinoids to complement, reinforce or alter their repercussions, an interaction known as the "entourage effect". This explains why some varieties containing identical ratios of THC and CBD can produce completely different benefits. To this end, researchers now claim that a laboratory analysis of terpenes would allow us to somehow detect the fingerprint of each strain and predict its applications. This sounds very relevant, especially since it is known that two plants of the same variety can lead to different terpenic profiles according to their age, but also based on the climate, soil and fertilizer they grew in - which is also true for cannabinoids. About that, a study co-led by Jonathan Page - President and CEO of Anandia Labs - and in collaboration with several Canadian researchers, revealed that there can be notable variations within the same strain variety of different origins: in 6 cases out of 17, samples were in fact genetically more similar to some sold under a different label. We admit this is not getting simpler.
A NEW NOMENCLATURE
Consequently, the reality is much more nuanced than what is actually suggested and this is partly why the Indica versus Sativa distinction is omnipresent in that it offers an easy delimitation to a much more complex situation. On this matter, we would all benefit by moving away from this binary classification to favour an approach based on systematic laboratory tests. A change that is according to us inevitably necessary to go towards a more coherent understanding of the psychological and physical effects of cannabis and thus allow for the consumer more informed decision-making.