The Truth About Sativa & Indica
Please allow us to nerd out for once. We’re all guilty of it…you’re at the dispensary when the budtender shows you the latest nugs that they’ve received. You inspect it as though you’re a cannabis afficionado and the first thing out of your mouth is “is this a sativa or indica?” The budtender shutters before hitting you back with something along the lines of “bruh…this thing is a sativa powerhouse” and you quip back an insightful “oh. Word.” From that point, you probably don’t give much thought to your bud’s classification and what that means. Then you throw the whole hybrid concept into the mix and it becomes even more complicated! That’s why we wanted to take the time to simplify things and shed a little light on the truth about sativa and indica.
How Sativas and Indicas Have Been Perceived
When it comes to the unique characteristics and effects of these two classifications, the primary difference can be traced all the way down to the biological level. As you may suspect, this difference lies within each plant’s unique concentration of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. For example, you’ve probably heard that Sativa strains typically pack a high THC content and low(er) CBD concentration, while on the other end of the spectrum, Indicas are usually the opposite. Although this isn’t the entire story, it isn’t exactly “wrong”. Then there are the hybrids. Thanks to innovative breeding processes, we now have the opportunity to create hybrid strains that combine the dominant parts of two or more plants.
When it comes to the effects and benefits provided by these variations, you’re probably familiar with the concept that sativa dominant strains usually result in an uplifting, “happy” cerebral, or popularly known as “head high”. On the other hand, indica dominant strains tend to product a more relaxing, body-oriented, calming, and appetite stimulating high. However, this is only considering the THC and CBD concentrations and while cannabinoids play a vital role in providing these specific effects to the consumer, it’s important to know that an entire range of other substances also play a part in creating a strain’s distinct and unique profile.
The Other Guys
By now, most canna-consumers understand the concept of cannabinoids, at least the major players (THC and CBD), but what about the other compounds that make a cannabis strain unique? If you’ve spent much time in a dispensary lately, you’re probably accustomed to budtenders throwing around the term “terpenes”. As we learn more about the cannabis plant, we are discovering that terpenes play as vital of a role in the categorization of a cannabis strain as cannabinoids. In fact, we put together an entire article taking an in-depth look at what terpenes are, the major players, and how they affect you. Terpenes truly are your weed’s fingerprint.
Additionally, each cannabis plant contains flavonoids. Given the name, we’re not awarding any bonus points if you can guess what these compounds are responsible for. Just like foods, and frankly, most things that are made to consume in one manner or another, cannabis strains contain flavonoids. These are the compounds responsible for communicating with your tastebuds. Have you ever tried a strain that gave you an incredible high, but tasted like shit? You probably blame the flavonoids in most cases…or lack thereof.
So, What About This “Truth” You Speak Of?
A few years ago, the cannabis community was stunned when “medical cannabis expert” Jeffrey Raber, (PhD. Chemistry, USC) made the bold claims in LA Weekly that all strains of cannabis relatively produce the same effects. He also went on to oppose the commonly accepted concept by claiming that the typical conception of indicas producing relaxing, sedating effects and Sativas being more uplifting, is a myth. “The data shows that indica and sativa is just morphology” Raber went on to state, “It’s a misperception that indicas will put you to sleep or that sativa is more energetic.” 
These claims caused a noticeable response among cannabis users. Most came in the form of mockery. Comments like “you’re telling us that the fact that an indica has put me straight to sleep in 20 minutes, while an sativa gives me enough energy to run a marathon is all a placebo?” “Do our experiences account for nothing?”, and “This must be part of the simulation we’re living in…” were the general reception of Raber’s hypothesis. Needless to say, people don’t like when they’re told their belief systems may not be valid.
Where Do We Stand?
Unfortunately, like the rest of the community, a bit on the fence. It certainly seems that different strains can present significantly varying effects, are we doing ourselves a disservice by not giving Raber’s arguments a consideration? As this subject continues to evolve and more data becomes available, it seems that the latest train of thought is that there might be another variable we’re overlooking. It seems evident that different strains of cannabis can have differences in effects, potency, and aroma…and yes, while the plant’s compounds play a role in this, the variable yet to be mentioned is growing conditions.
Having that considered and also adding on the fact that everyone can react differently to various strains because of genetic variables, maybe it would be wise to give Raber’s statements some credit, or at least consideration. Raber’s main concern is the way that cannabis retailers make claims towards patients, further supporting the fact that “their” strain is different from others and is equipped to deliver precisely the effects that a patient is seeking, when this is (in most cases) scientifically inaccurate. In other words…clever (or possibly deceptive) marketing.
Perhaps the solution to this and the means to uncovering the truth about sativa and indica lies in developing a more accurate system to improve the accountability of cannabis producers in terms of how they communicate a product’s contents. We’re usually not quick to jump on the “more regulation needed” train, but this may be one of those rare scenarios. Maryland for example, while they have their own set of issues in their medical cannabis program, they seem to have a solid foundation for holding producers and brands responsible when it comes to properly communicating the contents of a cannabis product.
Of course, this new form of ideal systematization comes second or third on the list of cannabis priorities, with first being cannabis reform at the federal level and enabling patients the access to medical cannabis, especially in areas still suppressed by the failed war on drugs. So, for now, we will just have to be satisfied with the broad categorization that we’ve all come to know and love... “Oh. Word.”