Indica and sativa classifications, though massively popular, have lost their original meaning over hundreds of years of domestication.
Now, science leads the next renaissance in cannabis classification — guiding us towards an understanding of cannabis effects like never before.
Indica vs Sativa: What’s the Actual Difference?
The original meanings of these classifications have nothing to do with the plant’s effect when consumed.
These terms refer to the plant’s morphology: observable characteristics like leaf shape and color, branch formation, and height. This develops from the plant’s nutrients, amount of sunlight, and moisture received.
Morphology benefits both indica and sativa in their respective climates. In a dry climate, a Cannabis indica plant prospers thanks to its broad leaves and little space between branches. It easily retains heat and moisture while maximizing surface area for photosynthesis. Alternatively, in a tropical climate, the taller and thinner Cannabis sativa thrives because it can easily dissipate heat and moisture, preventing mold. Its lengthy structure is also beneficial because it can stretch above the brush and shrubs below the canopy.
What’s In a Name? Today, Not Much.
We’ve lost true landrace cultivars that are wholly indica or sativa. This is because we’ve been cross-breeding indica-dominant and sativa-dominant varieties for generations. Almost everything available on the current market is a hybrid, featuring mixtures of both indica and sativa derived genes. So, we can conclude that binary labels aren’t rooted in reality.
The market has directed us towards strain names categorized by indica-dominant and sativa-dominant hybrids. Strain names are assigned based on flavor, the plant’s morphological features, the plant’s lineage, and whether they’re sedative (indica) or stimulating (sativa). The problem is that we all experience strains differently — an energizing strain for one person can easily induce anxiety in another. A larger test pool would prove that most strains have a wide spectrum of effects, but these effects are challenging to predict with a pharmaceutical degree of accuracy.
A naming convention that has no scientific grounding has left the entire world without understanding how to know what’s in a strain, and ultimately unable to learn how a strain may affect them personally.
A Scientific Solution: Connecting Scent and Memory
You’ve probably had emotions or memories triggered when sticking your nose in some potent bud, and there’s a legitimate reason for this. The systems in our nervous system that interpret smell are the same regions of our body that process emotions and memory.
You might think that a specific cannabis flower smells like a gym sock, but when applied to an experience with cannabis, the scent could be a distinct sensory queue that this variety will make you feel amazing. This neurological connection helps consumers have preferences for cannabis varieties that have similar aromatic profiles, targeting specific effects associated with the scent. Not every person metabolizes cannabis compounds the same, and each person will have a preference for specific varieties or fragrance profiles.
A more refined style of categorization by flavor profiles would allow manufacturers to understand what their customers want while also offering a more accurate way of identifying which cannabis profiles are best for themselves. Strengthening our understanding of how we’re driven by neurological responses will reshape the way we create quality products that meet desired effects and improve people’s quality of life.
The Future of Classification: Cannabis Varieties
With regulatory reform in full swing, it’s a perfect time to begin operating in a way that honors the historical roots of cannabis while keeping science as the North Star.
A reshaped understanding of classification will enable consumers to better understand the concept of cannabis varieties and better understand which ones they love or hate. With variety grouping, manufacturers have a well-rounded method of delivering compatible cannabis with targeted synergies between cannabinoids and terpenes.
We’ve reached a time when strain names and species classes are mostly irrelevant for the methods in which we use the cannabis plant.
Twelve thousand years of adaptation, breeding, and cultural traditions have done wonders for our understanding of this single plant. We’ve only just begun our journey into the deep inner workings of the cannabis trichome in pursuit of the life-improving experiences that it creates.