Cannabis Indica and Sativa: A Comparison and Clarification.
By William Mills
It’s reasonable to assume that in this day and age of Cannabis legalization that most consumers are aware of the two major types of Cannabis available today: Indica and Sativa. However, there is a huge misconception about what these terms mean and what they represent. In this article, I hope to clear up some of the misinformation surrounding this topic hopefully making you a more informed Cannabis user.
Over the past sixty or so years a myth has permeated Cannabis culture around the globe. It is very widely believed that Sativa strains are energizing while Indica strains are sedating, to varying degrees. This, however, is not based strictly on fact and is largely anecdotal. It would be fair to say that a large number of Sativa leaning strains are energizing with Indica strains being usually somewhat sedating. But this is far from the rule; you will encounter strains and even phenotypes that break this rule on many occasions. So while it can be a helpful tip when choosing a strain it should never be 100% counted on.
The easiest way to explain the truth behind this misconception is with a short history lesson. In the year 1753 the Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, categorized and described the genus Cannabis as only having one species which he named Cannabis Sativa. He chose the species name Sativa due to Its Latin definition of “cultivated” and often it refers to domesticated, seed grown crops that promote good health. Obviously views on this particular plant were much different in the past.
Around thirty years later, in 1785, the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck came to the conclusion that a formerly unclassified botanical was most obviously of the genus Cannabis but significantly differed enough to warrant the naming of and Indian species. He dubbed this plant Cannabis Indica, as he discovered it in India. This differentiation was made not because of any effectual differences but because of geographic and visual ones. From then on, any new strains of Cannabis were lineated to either coming from the tall and skinny Sativas or the short, bushy, and broad-leaved Indicas. Both species hail from different geographic regions, with Indicas generally originating in Asia and Sativas usually being found in Europe and Africa. I do feel obligated to mention that there was a third classification made in 1924 by Russian botanist D.E Janischevsky of the species or possible sub-species Cannabis Ruderalis. Unlike the two previous species, Ruderalis is a feral plant with little to no known historical cultivation. On a side note, it is interesting that modern Cannabis cultivators have used the Ruderalis’ genetic trait of “auto-flowering” to create hybrids with a set vegetation time to simplify and standardize the growing of some strains.
So, you may be wondering how we got to where we are today with classifying strains as Sativa, Indica, or Hybrid. First, please allow me to quickly address the topic of hybrids. Nearly all strains of Cannabis are, in fact, hybridized strains. As far as we can tell, people began to selectively breed and hybridize strains practically from the time they domesticated them around 15,000 BCE by most accounts. There are very few genetically pure Landrace strains out there but you are much more likely to find them in a jungle than at your dispensary. So when we talk about Sativas and Indicas, we are really only referring to which way they tend to lean the most. With that cleared up let’s go back to the subject at hand, how we got where we are. I don’t believe that there is a clear cut answer. It is true that Cannabis Indica does lend itself to being more sedating generally just as Sativas are generally more uplifting and energetic as I mentioned earlier, we believe this is due to environmental factors. However, the black market was a major contributing factor to the popular belief that all Indicas made you sleepy and all Sativas gave you energy. It was just easier to explain it that way and it is still a very common “fact” perpetuated by some unknowing budtenders. And although this may seem like an unimportant detail to some, it becomes very important to a patient attempting to treat insomnia or a patient who can’t afford to take an unexpected nap at noon.
In conclusion, don’t always expect an Indica to calm you and likewise, some Sativas will knock you out! But as always, the most important things are to listen to your body and to be able to trust your caretakers to take care of you. The best way to facilitate that is, of course, to educate and Elev8!