If you are a medical marijuana patient, the chances are that you have heard of the terms sativa and indica. So what are they? Sativas and indicas are terms used to classify different strains of cannabis plants. The difference between sativas and indicas is chemical, due to their different terpene profiles. Terpene profiles of a strain determine the effects, and while a strain may be classified as a sativa or an indica, these labels may be misleading. “Sativa” and “indica” are terms used by growers to indicate which plant they are working with. Although pure sativas and pure indicas flourished at one point, many strains have been crossbred to create hybrids, whose terpene profiles fall somewhere between those of a sativa or indica.
However, these terms were not always used this way and the taxonomy of cannabis can be a little tricky. Cannabis sativa was first coined by Carl Linneaus, who used the term to describe hemp plants. Hemp plants are the variety that grow high CBD and little to no THC. Today, ruderalis is the term used for this plant. The discovery of plant producing flowers high in THC and low in CBD was made by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, after he found the plant in India. Although this plant can express both indica and sativa properties, he named it cannabis indica. What is commonly referred to today as a sativa is sub-classified as Cannabis indica ssp. indica and indicas are known by their sub-classification Cannabis indica ssp. afghanica.
Today, these terms can be useful tools to indicate how a plant will look as it grows. Sativas, by nature, are tall plants with narrow leaves and a longer flowering time. In contrast, indicas are short and bushy with broad leaves. The flowering seasons are shorter and these plants are well suited for colder climates with short seasons.
Many have heard that sativas are known for their uplifting, energizing effects, while being balanced by heavy cough-locking indica. However, as strains have collectly moved towards more hybrid-like profiles, these descriptions may need to be reevaluated. It is commonly believed that sativas are energizing and tend to provide cerebral effects. Sativas pair well with physical activity and creative thinking. In contrast, indicas are sedating and associated with “couch-lock”. Indica strains are often used for relaxation or sleep. Hybrids, which can be either sativa or indica dominant, give the best of both world and can have effects of either sativa or indica. These descriptions may give good general impressions but they are not true for all strains. Some sativas may cause drowsiness, and some indicas may be energizing. Terpene profiles are the best indications of a strain’s true overall effects.