Culture

Sativa vs. indica: Is there really a difference?

Sativa and indica. Even people who aren’t steeped in cannabis culture probably have heard of these classifications.

As anyone with even a working knowledge of marijuana will tell you, sativas have uplifting effects, and indicas promote full-body relaxation.

But is that actually true?

“It all depends” according to Los Angeles-based JeffThe420Chef, the mononymous edible guru who The Daily Beast called “The Julia Child of Weed.” “There’s a lot about sativa and indica that we don’t know.”

The differences between indicas and sativas aren’t as clear-cut as people have commonly believed, experts say.

When it comes to predicting the effects a strain will have on a person, the labels “sativa” and “indica” “are kind of irrelevant,” said Jeff Raber. Raber, who has a Ph.D. in chemistry, co-founded The Werc Shop, a Southern California-based analytical lab.

Whether a plant is sativa or indica “is not an indicator of physiological response,” Raber said.

If the labels “sativa” and “indica” aren’t reliable when talking about a strain’s effects, what does that mean for patients?

As it turns out, the impact could be profound — and patients could end up trying treatments that don’t work.

For example, Raber said, someone with insomnia could try using an indica — believing it would have a sedating effect — only to find that it keeps them up all night.

But does that mean the “sativa” and “indica” classifications are completely moot?

Not necessarily, at least botanically speaking. A plant’s classification as sativa or indica can tell you about its physical appearance, said Kymron deCesare, chief research officer at Berkeley’s Steep Hill Labs.

Sativa plants are known for having narrow leaves — think of the classic pot leaf symbol crudely drawn on high school notebooks — and are long and lanky, having adapted to live in areas with high humidity.

Indicas, on the other hand, have darker, broader leaves and are short and squat — and have adapted to to conserve water in drier areas.

But their effects vary, thanks to cross-breeding. That’s why many experts say all cannabis can now be considered hybrid strains.


Check out our strain reviews here.


So how can we predict what kind of chemical properties a strain has — and therefore what kind of effects it could produce?

Lab testing, deCesare says.

Testing can assess the levels of THC, CBD, THCV (a lesser-known cannabinoid that can help suppress the appetite, among other things) and other components, as well as terpenes and other substances. Just make sure to look at labels — including the lab testing data — when you’re at the dispensary.

But as far as the belief that the “sativa” and “indica” labels can determine a strain’s effects?

According to many experts, it’s time to nip that one in the bud.

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