Beyond the Label: Indica, Sativa or Hybrid
If you’ve ever been in the company of cannabis, you may know that most people classify the plant as an indica, sativa or hybrid of the two. The categories of cannabis are based on the plant’s physical properties but have also been generally used to predict certain effects of use to the dismay of many cannabis advocates.
Many companies, especially those who manufacture cannabis vape products are over generalizing and falsely labeling their offerings as a shortcut to attract and satisfy consumers who do not have an in depth understanding of the plant’s chemical profiles and methods of production.
Scientists and researchers are working to dispel the myth of the connection between plant classification and effects of consumption. Instead, they are encouraging a more accurate way for cannabis companies to label their products and to help consumers select the ideal strain for desired effect and healing properties.
The History of Classifying Cannabis
The labels indica and sativa were first introduced in the 18th century to describe different species of the cannabis plant found in varying regions of the world. Over time, the terms have shifted to describe the physical properties of the plant such as height and leaf shape. Indica plants are short with broad leaves and sativa plants are tall with narrow leaves.
In more recent times, this system of labeling became popular with cannabis’ widespread use. It was implemented for marketing purposes and to assist with customer selection of product in an industry with rapidly expanding options of strains and effects.
Historically, indica strains are believed to give a relaxing or sedating feel, while sativa strains boast uplifting or energizing experiences. However, all indicas and sativas are not created equally because their chemical profiles can vary greatly especially with all of the cross breeding of strains that has occurred over the years.
The result of this system of labeling is an oversimplification of the true nature of the strains and effects felt by consumption. The true determining factors of the effects felt from cannabis include the chemical profile (cannabinoids and terpenes), user’s biology, tolerance, dose and method of consumption.
Cannabis strain chemotypes are similar to human DNA chains, as no two are identical. These profiles are a compilation of cannabinoids and terpenes. Together cannabinoids and terpenes create an entire user experience that is not only unique to the plant but also to the brain of the person consuming it.
Cannabinoids are molecular components of cannabis. These molecules interact with our brains and create chemical reactions that induce feelings or exhibit healing properties. THC and CBD are the most well-known types of cannabinoids today.
Terpenes are essential oils that enhance your high while also having medicinal benefits. They are the building blocks of aroma and taste, and occur naturally in fruits and plants. They are what give citrus fruits that notorious zest and also create the calming floral aroma in lavender. If you’ve ever used aromatherapy, you are experiencing the terpenes of the plant that have been extracted into oil. Terpenes have properties that create a response in our bodies and our experience.
Energizing/uplifting terpenes include limonene, pinene, and caryophyllene. Sedating/relaxing terpenes include myrcene, terpinolene, linalool, and nerolidol. But it doesn’t end there. There are over 100 terpenes found in cannabis plants and over 20,000 in existence which allows for many variations of potential effects felt from cannabis strains and products.
The chemical profile of a cannabis strain is comprised of an intricate combination of cannabinoids and terpenes that makes it unique. When you process, extract and modify the plants original properties, you are also changing the individuality and specific effects that come along with it.
Vape Pens: How They’re Made and Determining Effects
First, food-grade ethanol is used to extract all THC from the cannabis plant. Next, a triple distillation process removes all terpenes, metals, and minerals. Then, the oil is tested for potency and absence of pesticides. Finally, pure THC is diluted with 7- 8% terpenes and 15% organic MCT oil before filling carts.
When isolating the THC for extraction, all terpenes and any additional cannabinoids are separated, removing the true “indica” or “sativa” qualities along with it. Next, terpenes are re-added to the extracted THC to give the pen its flavor and effects beyond that of the pure THC. The THC and terpenes may be sourced from different strains. Thus, one can see that the label of indica, sativa or hybrid is not enough to accurately describe the product but, in fact, requires more of an in depth look at the chemical profile of what’s inside.
Eliminating the terms Indica, Sativa or Hybrid
World renowned neurologist and cannabis researcher Ethan Russo states, “In the future, I’d like to see the terms ‘sativa’ and ‘indica’ be abandoned in favor of a system in which the consumer tells the budtender what s/he would like to have in terms of effects from their cannabis selection, and then study the offerings together. If a buzz is all that is wanted, then high THC with limonene or terpinolene would be desirable. If someone, in contrast, has to work or study and treat their pain, then high CBD with low THC plus some alpha-pinene to reduce short-term memory impairment would be the ticket.”
When it comes to accurately determining the effects of cannabis strains, it’s important to look past the classification of indica, sativa or hybrid. Pay attention to the labels when shopping for cannabis products and empower your choice with knowledge. Familiarize yourself with the various types of cannabinoids and terpenes and explore which variations, strains and methods of consumption work best for your desired experience.
Creativity, spirituality and entrepreneurship are the fuels for Lauren’s fire. She has a passion for movement and light and currently runs two companies focused on making and performing with LED dance equipment: SpinFX & PoleFX. In her spare time she enjoys meditating, writing and time in nature.