Why Indica and Sativa Characterizations are Outdated

When it comes to comprehending the complex world of cannabis, one of the first things that many novice users learn to help put things into context are the supposed differences between indica and sativa strains.

However, while this characterization has consistently evolved within the fundamental cannabis canon for decades now, recent innovations within the industry have arguably rendered this complete separation moot.

While there are still some characteristics that many believe hold true regarding the various attributes of cannabis indica and cannabis sativa, the once distinctly drawn line between indica and sativa strains is becoming more and more blurred following the introduction of an entirely new sub-category of cannabis strains known as hybrids.

In the following article, we will discuss the history behind indica and sativa strains, outline the various supposed characteristics of sativa and indica cannabis plants, and describe why these characterizations are becoming outdated.

Without further delay, let’s begin.

The History Behind Sativa and Indica Strains

indica and sativa definition

As we alluded to previously, the concept of distinguishing sativa and indica cannabis plants as entirely separate entities is not new. It has been a highly held distinction for quite some time.

In 1785, French scientist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck proposed that cannabis plants came in two variations: Cannabis sativa, a species largely cultivated in Western Continent, and Cannabis indica, a wild species that grew in India and its neighbouring regions.

From that point on, the two varieties of cannabis served as the primary basis of the cannabis industry and community. 

Eventually, the terms indica and sativa became synonymous with the different effects they were perceived to supply.

However, are they entirely accurate, and do they remain true to this day? We’ll discuss these questions a little later on.

Indica vs Sativa – Definition and Meaning

Before we divulge whether the various labels and characteristics placed on sativa plants and indica plants are to be believed as fact, we must first discern what their assigned properties and traits entail.

Cannabis Indica

cannabis indica

As Jean-Baptiste Lamarck established back in 1785, indica cannabis strains are typically derived from India and outlying regions, including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkey.

Indica plants are typically physically characterized as short and bushy in stature, with wide leaves and dense, compact flowers.  These landrace strains

Additionally, indica strains are widely believed to contain higher ratios of THC to CBD concentrations than sativa strains. 

In other words, the levels of THC are considered to be higher than in sativas.

The perceived effects of indicas are that they are more physical in nature. Popular interpretations of the indica side effects include users feeling sedated and relaxed. 

Cannabis Sativa

cannabis sativa

As opposed to indica strains, sativa plants are classified as tall and fibrous in structure, with long, thin leaves and less dense flowers. 

They are also posited to have lower overall potency and higher ratios of CBD to THC compared to indicas.

Users frequently perceive the sativa cannabis plant to possess more cerebral rather than physical effects. Sativa strains are typically described as containing energizing, uplifting and mentally engaging properties.

This difference is widely believed to be because of the unique profiles of cannabinoids and terpenes that are more variable than in indicas. 

This versatility makes the different strains of sativa less consistent overall in terms of side effects, with several differences arising between the various sativa strains alone.

Indica and Sativa – Legitimate Differences

Returning to Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s theory once again, while conjecture remains surrounding the identification of indicas and sativas as two separate cannabis species, they do indeed grow in separate regions of the world.

These geographic variations cause each sativa or indica plant variety, respectively, to develop different characteristics. 

These so-called “landrace strains” eventually grow and adapt to suit their unique environmental growing conditions, leading to the creation of different genotypes and phenotypes within each characterization. 

The two also differ in their comprehensive cannabinoid content, with indicas containing a higher concentration overall than sativas. 

Differentially, humans historically cultivated cannabis sativa plants for their fibrous qualities (i.e., hemp plants) rather than for consumption purposes. 

However, some early human societies also used sativa strains in traditional, cultural and spiritual rituals.

Why Indica and Sativa Characterizations are Becoming Outdated

sativa and indica differences

Until around the 1970s, the cannabis grown in North America was almost entirely comprised of sativa plants.

As landrace strains were transported overseas from their native lands of India, Pakistan, India and other northern Asian locales, the catalogue of available cannabis across the Western world changed exponentially.

What resulted was the emergence of an entirely new sub-sect regarding unique types of cannabis where the labels of strictly indica or sativa would no longer apply. 

Instead, this new category would henceforth be known as hybrid strains.

Through exchanging seeds and cultivation techniques, cannabis growers can essentially cross-breed any two ‘parent’ strains they choose to generate an entirely new strain. 

Cultivators strategically combine various strains based on their unique sets of terpenes, cannabinoids, and other chemical compounds to create products that possess a distinct set of desirable characteristics.

Of course, even the predisposed characteristics of indica and sativa strains bestowed upon them all those years ago are not necessarily set in stone. 

Cannabis produces different effects and interacts with and affects every individual’s endocannabinoid system differently. 

Individual metabolisms, tolerance levels and other unique physical traits play a substantial role in the potential outcomes following cannabis ingestion. 

Therefore, the characterization of indicas and sativas should be considered a classification of commonly experienced effects rather than a classification of the strains themselves.

Put another way, when the cannabis community initially separated these variations, it was more so based on the popularly recognized effects that were indica-like (sedative, relaxing, and physically-oriented) or sativa-like (energizing, uplifting, and cerebrally-oriented) rather than the plants themselves.

Indica and Sativa – More Than Meets the Eye

With the introduction of hybrid strains, the clean categorization of individual cannabis varieties is not as simple or straightforward as initially believed. 

Now, strains can contain a unique mixture of perceived indica and sativa characteristics to create something entirely new.

While there may be some evidence to support claims that indica and sativa strains possess different properties, it’s typically due to the distinct effects each supposedly provides. 

These results come from a combination of terpenes, cannabinoids, and other chemical components that comprise the chemical profile of a specific plant rather than the actual plants themselves.

In this way, categorizing so many different possible combinations as falling under only two sects of characterizations is no longer plausible, let alone accurate.

Instead, when determining which cannabis varieties to consume yourself, conclusions should be based on their unique compounds and effects. 

As such, examining a strain’s chemical profile, including its levels of THC and CBD and individual terpene profile, is a far more reliable assessment than whether the strain is an indica or sativa. 

Sirona Pharma

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