Less indica & sativa; more cannabinoids and terpenes

Indica and sativa strains are believed to have different effects. But besides on how they physically look, strains have nothing to do with the plant’s chemical compounds.

Here’s the truth: how a cannabis plant looks has absolutely nothing to do with how it makes you feel. Indica or sativa? Nah! It doesn’t matter at all.

Ethan Russo, neurologist, psychopharmacology researcher and one of the world’s cannabis scientific eminence agrees with this belief:

“The sativa/indica distinction as commonly applied in the lay literature is total nonsense and an exercise in futility. One cannot in any way currently guess the biochemical content of a given Cannabis plant based on its height, branching, or leaf morphology”.

So when you hear “indica strains have more CBD” and “sativa strains have more THC” it’s not true at all. Why? Because of intensive crossbreeding. But before we get into that, let’s briefly explain the two most common strains of the plant.

Cannabis Sativa and Hemp

This plant grew mostly in Europe and North America, and was used by civilizations ages ago for its strong fibers and for the nutritious benefits of its seeds.

The term Cannabis Sativa was first introduced by Carl Linnaeus, a botanist who is widely recognized for his work on taxonomy, the science of classifying living organisms. But Linnaeus’ obsession and true love were plants. In his paper, Species Plantarum (1753), he described cannabis sativa by its physical characteristics: “with loose female flowers, and narrow palmate leaves”[1].

There is no evidence or record of Linnaeus consuming cannabis. However, he did described how the female plant started to flourish when separated from the male plant.

Cannabis Indica

It was first named this way during the 18th century by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, a french botanist, naturalist and one of the fathers of evolution. In 1785, Lamarck gave the name cannabis indica to the wild species growing in India. Civilizations before Lamarck’s time used it for it psychoactive effects. As well as Linnaeus, there is no record of Lamarck consuming cannabis.

Lamarck describes cannabis indica as physically tall in stature and as having narrow leaves. It is better suited for warm climates in the equator.


So, what we have so far is the same plant used for two different purposes: psychoactive and industrial. And then, when you cross cannabis indica and cannabis sativa, you create another strain that today we call a hybrid. This is the starting point of a non-stop process of cross breeding strains that began almost 40 years ago and hasn’t stopped since.

What is known in the market as cannabis sativa or cannabis indica, is just the result of crossing hybrids with other hybrids. Or, to be even more accurate, crossing hybrid clones with other hybrid clones.

Sativa and Indica are no indicators of THC or CBD levels

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Because of interbreeding and further cloning process of female cannabis plants, THC levels have grown and CBD levels have decreased in cannabis plants.

A study published in 2014 proved it. Researchers took samples from confiscated cannabis flowers from 1995 and compared them to flowers in 2014. The idea was to analyze and compare the concentration of THC and CBD. The results are astonishing:

“Overall, the potency of illicit cannabis plant material has consistently risen over from approximately 4% in 1995 to approximately 12% in 2014. On the other hand, the CBD content has fallen on average from approximately 0.28% in 2001 to <0.15% in 2014”.

So, today we have extremely THC high strains. Regardless if it’s cannabis indica or cannabis sativa, there is no way to know how much THC or CBD you are really consuming. This is exactly what Russo was talking about in the quote above:

“The degree of interbreeding/hybridization is such that only a biochemical assay tells a potential consumer or scientist what is really in the plant”. So, if indica and sativa are no measure at all, what should someone look for when buying cannabis products? The answer is cannabinoids and terpenes.

Cannabinoids and Terpenes

You are probably pretty confused by now. But if you are going to buy cannabis products, the best thing to do is forget all you’ve heard about indica and sativa. Today, that’s all just marketing stuff.

“The data shows that Indica and Sativa is just morphology [the plants’ appearance and structure, not their highs]. It’s a misperception that Indica will put you to sleep or that Sativa is more energetic”, Jeffrey Raber Ph.D. told LA Weekly. What you need to be looking for is cannabinoids and terpenes.

You need to figure out if your body accepts THC dominant, CBD dominant or a THC/CBD balance. This will depend on the effect you are looking for and how you like to feel in certain situations. Sativa and indica can have either of this types of ratios.

Once you identify it, trust your nose. Terpenes are aromatic compounds present in plants and fruits, and they have a pretty distinguishable and strong smell.

Terpenes can have different effects such as relaxing or uplifting. So you also need to find the right terpene for you or for the activity you want to do.

In conclusion, the only way to really know what you are consuming is to ask for technical specifications, such as CBD and THC percentages as well as terpenes. Also, be patient, because this is a trial and error process only you can do.