It’s time we cleared up a little confusion on strain classification and selection.

The majority of society seems to believe that there are two types of cannabis strains. Sativa which gives you an uplifting, energetic feeling – mostly with cerebral effects, and indica which stimulates a deep relaxed feeling in your body. And then of course there are the hybrids which are a combination of the two.

Well you might have noticed that this classification of strains is not always accurate from what we expect: a strain labeled as a sativa can sometimes still make you tired and a strain that is labeled as indica can still sometimes create a mentally uplifting effect.

Cannabis consumers are discovering that making strain selections based on whether it is an indica or a sativa is not the most efficient or accurate way.

Let’s talk about why...

Where the terms indica and sativa come from.

The terms sativa and indica were created to easily pick out the different types of cannabis plants back in the day, primarily based on where they were grown and what they looked like.

Sativas are tall and lanky, growing from 6-20 feet high. They grow slower taking 9-12 weeks to become ready to harvest, and they have long narrow leaves that respirate because these plants were found in areas of high humidity around the equator like South East Asia, Columbia, Thailand and Mexico.

Indicas, on the other hand, are shorter and bushier, growing 2-4 feet and have thicker, wider, shorter leaves. They grow faster at about 6-8 weeks until harvest, and they were found in colder climates in the middle east region such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Indica leave versus sativa leaf
Indica and sativa are two species of cannabis plant – effects may vary.

Why sativa-indica classifications aren’t so helpful.

Cannabis strains have been crossbred so many times all over the world that finding a true 100% pure sativa or indica strain can be extremely hard to come by these days – not to mention all the mislabeling that occurs.

And here’s another important point to keep in mind: the same strain cultivated in two different places will not necessarily produce the same effects. Factors such as the climate, soil, fertilization, and even when the cannabis is harvested affect the chemical makeup of cannabinoids and terpenes.

different cannabis grows
The conditions of a cannabis grow can have a surprising impact on end-user effects.

So we have completely mixed up cannabis genetics after all these years of cross breeding with pure and impure strains and important environmental factors during actual cultivation.

This leads us to the all-important question…

What is the best way to choose your cannabis strains?

The answer: pay attention to the cannabinoid and terpene ratio and profile.

All cannabis is made up with different types of cannabinoids and terpenes, which can be identified through accurate lab testing.

Steep Hill, one of our content partners and one of the leading labs in the U.S. for cannabis testing, classifies cannabinoids and terpenes like this:

Cannabinoids are chemical compounds which activate cannabinoid receptors in our bodies.

Terpenes are the fragrance molecules which emanate from all plants - including cannabis, which offers a unique scent from one strain to the next.

Each different type of terpene and cannabinoid exhibits unique medicinal properties that affect different aspects of the brain and body and can help treat different types of ailments.

Ultimately, when selecting any cannabis strain, you want to keep in mind the “Entourage Effect” which refers to how these cannabinoids and terpenes work better together, enhancing each other’s therapeutic effects and efficiency.

When you know which cannabinoids and terpenes are best for particular ailments you can select the appropriate strains to get your desired effect.

For example:

The cannabinoid CBN is known for its sedative effect, which makes it ideal for people with insomina or other sleep issues. In fact, according to Steep Hill Labs, 5mg of CBN is as effective as a 10mg dose of diazepam, which is a mild pharmaceutical sedative for sleep.

Some strains that have been reported to have high CBN are Purple Kush and Strawberry Haze. Also, as THC oxidizes or starts to break down over time it converts to CBN. So your older cannabis – even a sativa – is likely to have larger amounts of CBN, which will make you sleepy.

cannabis versus pharmaceuticals
Cannabis is generally much safer than many of the pharmaceuticals out there.

The cannabinoid CBD, is known for reducing pain and inflammation, reducing seizures and lowering blood pressure so it’s great for patients with MS, epilepsy, diabetes just to name a few examples.

Some popular CBD strains are Charlotte’s Web, ACDC, Harle-Tsu and Tora Bora.

And how about a few examples of terpenes to consider?

The terpene pinene which can also be found in conifer trees, orange peels and rosemary, is primarily known for being a bronchodilator, increasing airflow to the lungs, which makes it great for people with asthma and shortness of breath. Some strains that have been known to have higher amounts of pinene are Jack Herer, Chemdawg and Super Silver Haze.

pine needles and orange peel
Terpenes are found in many different plants.

Now the terpene myrcene is also an important one to pay attention to. Myrcene can be found in fresh mango, hops, eucalyptus and lemongrass to name a few. Myrcene is known for being an anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory, helping to relax muscles and relieve pain to name just a few of its medicinal properties.

But one of the things you might want to pay the most attention to with this one is that if a strain has over 0.5% myrcene, Steep Hill Labs has found that it will have an indica or “couch-locking” effect, and if the strain has less than 0.5% myrcene, it will have uplifting sativa-like effects.

mangoes and eucalyptus
It’s true: a serving of ripe mango 45 minutes before cannabis consumption can actually increase the effect because mangos have myrcene.

When you’re in the dispensary…

Now it is becoming more and more common these days for dispensaries to start to show the ratio of percentages of different cannabinoids in strains which is great and I suspect that more and more will start to do this as well.

If you don’t have the appropriate lab results at your finger your tips, you can also rely on your trusted sense of smell. A strain that has a lot of myrcene in it might smell like hoppy beer, a strain with pinene is going to have a pine scent and a strain with lots of limonene is going to have a strong citrus scent.

that shows dispensary labeling the cannabinoids in strains called labeling
Whenever you visit a dispensary, don't hesitate to ask for lab-test results.

I suspect that companies will still be referring to strains as indica and sativa for classification of strain effects for a while, because the majority of the public understands this classification and has been operating under this assumption for quite some time. Sativa versus indica has become a universal phraseology so to speak.

And the other challenge is that there still aren’t a lot of laws on standardized testing and labeling for strains in dispensaries in many states and countries and until that happens we won’t see consistency on detailed labeling.

In the meantime, you now have some additional information so that you can make more educated decisions when selecting the best strain for your desired experience and ailments you are looking to treat.

Do you agree the indica-sativa classification is outdated?

Do you agree the indica-sativa classification is outdated?

yes
74%
no
9%
not sure
18%

Source: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0133292