The Complexity of Cannabis Strains: The Difference Between Sativa and Indica

Unveiling the True Distinctions Between Common Cannabis Categories

The cannabis world is fraught with choices, and for consumers, one of the most pressing questions is the difference between Indica and Sativa strains. Distinct experiences reported by consumers discussing each strain’s difference are not backed by science. We can learn why the difference between Indica, Sativa and Hybrid strains is negligible from a recent study from Dalhousie University, published in Nature Plants. This research dives deep into distinct properties of marijuana, raising questions about the validity of labeling strains in today’s hybrid-heavy market.

Indica and Sativa: Labels or Lore?

The labels of Indica and Sativa when referring to Marijuana is not meaningful

“Some people are adamant that indica strains are sedative with earthy aromas. In contrast, sativa strains are supposedly energizing with sweet aromas. However, the extent to which indica and sativa labels actually capture meaningful information is unclear.”

From the earthy aromas commonly associated with one category to the invigorating scents often attributed to the other, it’s a popular notion that these labels signify distinct features and experiences. However, the study calls this widely accepted differentiation into question. Specifically, the researchers found that “strains labelled indica were just as closely related to strains labelled sativa as they were to other strains labelled indica.”

What to Expect When Choosing a Strain: Sativa vs. Indica

When discussing the benefits or effects of Indica and Sativa, common rhetoric often frames Indica as a downer and Sativa as an upper. Indica is believed to be sedative, giving consumers a “couch-lock” effect, while Sativa is seen as invigorating, providing a more cerebral high.

The research, however, shows that the “Indica and Sativa labels do not provide reliable information on the genetic or chemical composition of the plant.” This is a direct challenge to long-standing beliefs about these two commonly used categories of cannabis. For example, strains traditionally thought to be relaxing and those considered invigorating showed minimal correlation when it came to aromatic compounds known as terpenes. As a result, the calming or uplifting effects often attributed to specific strains may actually stem more from subjective labeling based on scent, rather than any consistent scientific attributes.

“In certain cases, [the researchers] found weak correlations between indica and sativa labels and a small number of the aromatic terpenes.”

The Urgent Need for Standardized Labelling

Labeling of marijuana

“As Canada moves into its third year of legalized cannabis consumption, there is a need to revamp how cannabis is labelled, and clearly communicate its effects.”
Sophie Watts

The inconsistent naming conventions aren’t just confusing for consumers; they could potentially be dangerous. For example, incorrect labeling can lead to adverse or unexpected health outcomes, particularly for medical cannabis users. The distinction between Indica and Sativa can be crucial for individuals using cannabis for therapeutic reasons. This makes the need for standardized labeling practices increasingly urgent.

The study ultimately suggests that moving away from these traditional classifications may be beneficial. Labeling strains based on the amounts of specific compounds known for their therapeutic properties or their impact on consumer experience would be more valuable.

Said best by the researchers:
Considering the historically clandestine nature of cannabis breeding, it’s unsurprising that labelling would have been relegated to more subjective methods, like smell, rather than a more consistent system that reliably distinguishes strains.

Final Thoughts

In summary, the traditional binary distinction between Indica and Sativa may be more folklore than fact. This is according to the latest research. However, the study does leave room for nuance. It suggests new ways to categorize cannabis based on its aromatic and psychoactive compounds. As the cannabis industry evolves, transparency and scientific rigor become crucial. This is especially true for consumers seeking to understand different strains for their needs.-

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