Indica vs. Sativa
The difference between Indica and Sativa is one of the fascinating aspects of the Cannabis plant genus. Cannabis plants contain a unique combination of compounds that create the effects we perceive when we consume them. Each plant has a unique expression of traits that have been curated by the genetic code and refined over millions of years. The most basic difference between Sativa and indica, according to general consensus, is that sativa provide a more stimulating experience, while indica tend to be more sedating. However, as more information comes to light through the study of cannabis genomes, structure, breeding, and cultivation techniques, the Indica vs. Sativa distinction is much more blurry than it may first appear. The difference between these two cannabis types is obvious when looking at their growth factors, appearance, and the impact they have on the mind and body. However, the vast majority of common cannabis strains are hybrids. This is because, historically, sativa are hardier plants that have been used, among other things, for their stalks and abundant seed production. On the other hand, indica are usually smaller, more delicate, and produce immensely greater quantities of flowers – which are where the cannabinoids are produced and stored. Sativas tend to have a leafier and less compact flower, and the plant itself is quite tall and lanky when compared to short, bushy indica plants.
Naturally, opportunistic farmers sought to combine the robust agricultural qualities of sativa plants with the high cannabinoid production of indica, creating a new plant with the best of both species. This is the story of the birth of hybrid strains, and it has dominated the entire cannabis genus for over a century.
It is highly likely that any cannabis product our readers have encountered has been a hybrid, which naturally leads to the next question: what causes the titanic variation between the effect of so-called couch-locking indica and mind-bending sativa?
I’m glad you asked.
While there are very few pure indica or sativa on the market, many strains are classified as indica, for example, because they display a large number of traits that are associated with indica classically. Some varieties are simply defined as hybrids, due to their genetics and attributes containing an equal balance of both Sativa and indica traits, and so on for those branded as sativa. The beauty of all this hybridization is that expert breeders can create cannabis plants that are perfectly tailored to the needs of an individual! Indeed, the differing effects of different strains of cannabis are directly correlated with the exact amounts of all of the various cannabinoids and terpenes that that particular strain is genetically capable of producing.
Terpenes are organic molecules produced by all living things, which also act on cannabinoid receptors in the human endocannabinoid system. Certain terpenes, like myrcene, are known as positive allosteric modulators (PAM) of cannabinoid receptors. PAMs are chemicals or drugs that increase the effect of another drug, so PAMs that act on cannabinoid receptors increase the effects of cannabinoids – like THC and CBD – which also act on those same receptors.
Because of this interaction between cannabinoids and terpenes – known as the entourage effect – strains with different combinations and ratios of terpenes will have entirely different effects. Cannabis plants have individual genes coding for each specific cannabinoid and terpene which they produce, and it’s these genes – which lead to physical characteristics – that create the different perceived effects of the different strains of cannabis.
Which do you prefer??