Nov 23, 2023

Indica vs Sativa

Hemp buds in jar

Do you know what a budtender is?

Well, I sure didn’t. Not in 2014. But when I walked into a dispensary for the first time, I was greeted by one. Smiling from behind the counter she asks, “Hi, are you interested in some flower? Indica vs indica vs hybrids effects folks differently so…”

With floral aromas overwhelming my senses, I said nothing. I just stared in wondrous disbelief at all the jars of weed on display. What’s sativa? Indy who? What is hybrid weed? I thought to myself. She even called it “flower.” Back when I was a kid, my buddies and I didn’t know jack about the grass we were smoking. We’d get weed from a friend of a friend who knew somebody who had a cousin that would sell us a few joints. And the strain? What strain? We got whatever this “cousin dealer” had. Usually, Indiana ditch weed grown in secrecy on somebody’s deer hunting property.

Up until about ten years ago, that summed up my knowledge of cannabis. Things have come a long way in a short time. Reliable cannabis information is now widely available, but it’s still a bit confusing. We’ll use this chapter to break it down and focus on the stuff that’s useful.

Cannabis is a plant in the botanical family Cannabaceae, which encompasses both of what we think of as “hemp” and “marijuana”. Industrial hemp plants are genetically predisposed to grow tall and lanky with small flowers, using much of its energy for developing fibers. These sturdy plants were grown by early civilizations to make a variety of clothing, rope, sails, and building materials.

Medicinal cannabis plants, on the other hand, are designed for phytochemical production, growing shorter and bushier, with more branches that support more flowers and therefore an abundance of therapeutic compounds. Cannabis sativa plants became popular for medicinal and recreational purposes. Eventually, these plants were bred for their resinous trichomes. This led to the unique varieties we see today.

From a legal perspective (as it stands today), the only thing separating “hemp” from “marijuana” is the amount of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC) in it. Currently, in the United States, “hemp” is legally considered a variety of the cannabis plant with a THC content of .3 percent or less.

On the flip side of the coin, “Marijuana” is legally considered a variety of the cannabis plant that contains more than .3 percent THC. Any cannabis product with a THC level higher than .3 percent is currently only legal at licensed dispensaries but not legal to purchase in stores or online.

What is THC?

THC is short for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (I can see why we refer to it as THC). THC is the psychoactive compound inside the cannabis plant that makes you feel the “high.” Although THC is famous for its intoxicating effects, it’s also known for having numerous healing properties. The most widely reported benefits include relief from pain and nausea, mood enhancement, and reducing inflammation — it’s even been shown to have anti-tumor properties.

Cannabis has been approved in several state medical programs to treat the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. The reason cannabis buds are so precious to us is because they contain hundreds of active chemical compounds within the plant that we can use as medicine. These compounds include cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, and all of them work together to provide us with the medicinal benefits that are still being discovered.

Most people don’t realize the cannabis plant is packed full of active compounds. In fact, there’s over 400 of them! Cannabinoids are a big subset of these active compounds. Historically THC has been the star of the show. However, in the last few years, CBD has stolen the spotlight. THC and CBD aside, there are over 100 other cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. Other popular cannabinoids that are gaining attention include cannabinol (CBN), cannabichromene (CBC), and cannabigerol (CBG).

There are basically two strains of cannabis.

Cannabis plants are primarily categorized into two main types: sativa and indica. These two strains have very distinct characteristics and effects.

Sativa and Indica strains of Cannabis

Sativa effects, the uplifting energizer.

Sativa strains typically have higher levels of THC, which is the psychoactive compound responsible for the "high." You might think of sativa as the espresso shot of the cannabis world. It’s known for uplifting, cerebral effects and often described as producing a "head high.” Sativa strains can boost your energy, focus, and creativity. So, if you're looking to embark on a creative journey or simply to stay alert and social, sativa strains, including sativa edibles might fit the bill.

The relaxing indulgence of indica effects.

Indica strains usually have higher levels of CBD, a non-psychoactive compound with potential medicinal properties. Indica strains are more like a soothing melody for both your body and mind. Unlike sativa, indica is known for its relaxing and sedating effects, often described as a "body high." indica can help you unwind, relieve stress, and ease physical tension. If you're aiming for a peaceful night's sleep or to chill out, indica strains including indica edibles are the ticket.

Getting a “twofer” with hybrid strains

Many strains available today are hybrids. They combine characteristics of both sativa and indica, so hybrid effects can effect the user differently. As you can imagine, there’s a wide range of diversity within each category.

Crossbreeding pioneers in regions like Afghanistan, Thailand, and Colombia played pivotal roles in cannabis cultivation. These fellas began experimenting with crossbreeding different landrace strains to create hybrids with the desirable traits 
of sativa and indica.

In the 1970s, the first and most famous strain “Skunk," emerged when breeders combined Afghani, Colombian Gold, and Acapulco Gold strains. The result was a plant with a pungent aroma, short flowering time, and a balanced mix of sativa and indica effects. With the advent of hybrids, you could have your brownie and eat it too!

These days, hybridization is a sophisticated science. Breeders use techniques like backcrossing, selection, and genetic testing to create strains with predictable characteristics. The availability of genetic data has further accelerated this development. As cannabis continues to gain acceptance, we can expect breeders will keep dreaming up new combinations, using specific cannabinoid and terpene profiles that cater to consumers' desires and medical needs.