Indica vs. Sativa: Why the Most Basic Cannabis Classification System is 100% Wrong

Written By: Daniel Cina

All of us stoners have our preference about the cannabis we like to smoke. Some of us like the more heady psychoactive effects, while others prefer the couch sinking body relaxation of other strains. You’re probably thinking right now that I am talking about the effects of sativa vs indica cannabis and you would be correct but here’s the thing… we’re all talking about it wrong. 

Indica vs. Sativa does not accurately describe the effects of the cannabis strains you are toking on. It’s a tough pill to swallow that the most basic classification system in the cannabis world is completely incorrect but if we hope to improve how we classify our cannabis, then we have to update our verbiage. Otherwise we will never truly understand the effects of the cannabis we buy. 

How Indica vs Sativa Started 

To know where this misclassification comes from we’re going to rewind a bit back to the 18th century to the works of French naturalist and father of biology Jean Baptiste Lamarck. In 1785 Lamarck published his discoveries on a type of cannabis he studied in India. He gave this particular plant the name Cannabis Indica, and noted the bodily drunken effects of the blockier shorter leafed cannabis. 

This is incredibly important when comparing indica to sativa which at the time was largely grown in Europe and was considered to have low psychoactive properties which is why the skinnier leafed seed rich sativa plant at the time was largely used for hemp production

This distinction Lamarck made between these two cannabis plants is where the biggest misconception lies. His theory was that the physical traits of cannabis plants are directly linked to the effect that it gives, which is why we now use indica and sativa to describe the desired effect we are looking for when purchasing cannabis. 

The Big Mistake 

Lamarck’s theory is no doubt interesting and a fair assumption given the time period of his studies, but cannabis has changed quite a bit since then. Years of cross-pollination, selective-breeding, and mass cultivation has greatly narrowed the distinction between indica and sativa. Most cannabis you buy now may be labeled as one or the other, but in reality the majority of them now are actually hybrids.  Scientists today are capable of analyzing cannabis much further than Lamarck and their discovery is that there is no linkage between the physical traits of cannabis plants and the chemical effects it produces.

The Typical Stoner Experience 

When we shop for weed we typically tend to look out for a few things such as aroma, THC percentage, and looks. After all, who doesn’t like looking at a trichome covered frosty nug of Papaya Punch or Gorilla Glue #4! Here’s the thing though, none of these things determine the exact effect your cannabis will give. Sure all these things are important, and the THC percentage will determine the intensity of your elevation, but none of them determine whether you’ll experience an energetic, giggly, sleepy, or relaxing feeling from the strain you are toking on.

You may be buying something labeled as a sativa, but in reality it could have super relaxing sleep inducing properties instead of the mind expanding mood lifting boost of energy you were supposed to get. It’s not what you meant to buy, and it doesn’t give the desired effects that you paid for. This poses a major issue for all of us because the chief reasoning behind our specific cannabis purchases does not sync with how cannabis is classified resulting in consumers typically buying cannabis that does not match the effects they wanted. 

If we hope to fix this then we need to update our verbiage and further our understanding of cannabis as a plant to determine the real factors behind the effects of different cannabis strains. While all the things such as aroma, taste, and THC percentage are all important we are missing the most important factor that determines the type of elevation that we get from our cannabis. 

The Answer 

terpenes can be found in both indica and sativa cannabis plantsCannabis still holds many secrets for science to unlock, but they have currently determined the main factor behind the effects of different cannabis is in fact Terpenes. For those of us that don’t know, terpenes are one of the main components in cannabis and like many other plants, they determine its aroma and flavor. When the terpenes in cannabis begin working in tandem with THC, and other cannabinoids it is thought to produce the vast array of effects that we search for in cannabis. There are hundreds of different terpenes, but the main ones found in cannabis products are…

  • Nerol 
  • Limonene 
  • Humulene 
  • Pinene 
  • Eucalyptol
  • Myrcene 
  • Delta 3 Carene 
  • Linalool 
  • Caryophyllene 
  • Geraniol 
  • Camphene 
  • Terpinolene  

Different terpenes have different flavors, aromas, and effects which truly makes cannabis an amazing plant for being capable of such variety, but it does make our jobs a little harder when shopping for cannabis. However a little education goes a long way, so we all need to learn more about the different types of terpenes so that we have the knowledge to make more accurate choices in the cannabis that we buy. 

So be sure to start experimenting to find which terpenes are your favorite ones to smoke so you have the knowledge to make more informed decisions when purchasing cannabis. If I’ve only scratched the surface for you on terpenes then read our next article that talks about the above listed terpenes and the properties they possess more in depth. 

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