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Common weed wisdom usually separates cannabis into two different kinds of high: the more cerebral, uplifting high of sativas, and the more sedating, body-centered high of indicas. While that categorization is rooted in some fact (as well as centuries of accumulated experience), scientific research points to it being a bit of an oversimplification. 

Is there really a difference between indica and sativa? Absolutely! 

Though it might not be the exact difference you think...

The Basics

Today, cannabis indica and cannabis sativa are regarded as the two main subspecies of the cannabis plant. However, that was not always the case.

One of the earlier writings on cannabis taxonomy, dating back to the 1500s in Germany, grouped hemp into two distinct categories — what the author, botanist, and physician Leonhart Fuchs, referred to as domesticated (or “sativa”) cannabis and wild cannabis

The classification of plants as either sativa or indica doesn’t begin until the late 1700’s when French biologist Jean Baptiste Lamarck allegedly coined the term “indica.” In 1785, his Encyclopédie Méthodique, Botanique proposed the existence of this new subspecies which he had identified from samples sent to him from India. In his entry on indica, he wrote:

“The principal effect of this plant consists of going to the head, disrupting the brain, where it produces a sort of drunkenness that makes one forget one’s sorrows, and produces a strong gaiety.” 

 

Modern understandings of the differences between sativa and indica haven’t evolved an enormous amount since Lamarck was writing. We know that physically, indica plants are typically shorter, with broad, dark green leaves while sativa plants are taller and have thin, pale green leaves. Genetically, indicas tend to have a higher amount of CBD, while sativas tend to have a higher amount of THC.

And that really sums up the major, scientifically accepted differences in the strains. Out of those differences have developed the more folksy (and less research-based wisdom) that sativas will get you ready for a deep conversation about the universe, while indicas are better for binging cartoons on the couch.

CBD and THC

Lamarck’s categorization of indica vs. sativa was mainly based on the plant’s physical attributes (height, leaf size, etc.), but modern research tells us that predicting the high of a given strain is much more about a plant’s chemical makeup than its appearance. Neurologist and psychopharmacology researcher Dr Ethan Russo wrote on the subject, “one cannot in any way currently guess the biochemical content of a given cannabis plant-based on its height, branching, or leaf morphology.”

The amount and balance of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in a given strain is a much better predictor for the kind of high you will get. A higher amount of CBD will more likely produce a mellow high, while a higher amount of THC will more likely produce a more energetic high.

Indicas do typically have more CBD, and sativas typically have more THC — but it is not a hard and fast rule.

In addition, while the interaction between THC and CBD is one of the main factors in predicting the effect of a given strain of cannabis, it is far from the only factor. There are over 100 different cannabinoids found in various strains of cannabis, of which CBD and THC are only two. These other cannabinoids also can have an effect on a strain’s high.

Terpenes

Then there are terpenes — compounds that are largely responsible for a strain’s aroma but also thought to co-mingle with the other active compounds to affect the overall high of a strain. Terpenes may be one reason why two strains with the same amount of THC and CBD might have totally different effects when smoked. For example, a terpene called myrcene is known to have a sedative effect while another, called limonene is known for lifting mood and energy levels (as well as for having a citrus aroma). Another terpene, alpha-pinene, may be responsible for counteracting THC-induced short-term memory loss

These various interactions are often referred to as the “entourage effect” — a kind of compounding of effects that make predicting the high of given strains much harder than simply knowing if it is an indica or sativa.

Beyond that, the effect of a specific strain of cannabis will differ from person to person — the same way that alcohol and caffeine will affect different people in different ways. The same cup of coffee might give you the jitters or while someone else doesn’t feel the effects at all. Likewise, a user’s genetic profile will influence their reaction to THC, CBD, and cannabis in general.

There is still a long way to go to understanding cannabis and the different effects of various strains. 

Why don’t we have a better understanding of the different kinds of strains of cannabis and their potential effects? For one thing, both scientific and agricultural research into cannabis has been largely curtailed by the US government. Cannabis's long time classification by the government as a schedule 1 substance has made cannabis hard to study in a formal setting. Because of that, and the informal nature of the weed economy for most of its history, classifications and “research” have been left more to users, growers, and even dealers — to describe how a given strain affects someone.

In an interview with VICE, Sean Myles, a professor of agricultural genetic diversity at Dalhousie University and co-author of a 2015 study about cannabis genetics, summed up where modern science seems to leave the indica/sativa conversation:

“We may loosely call things "indica" or "sativa," and that's a fair rule of thumb for describing their physical traits and psychoactive effects. But since nobody was keeping track of marijuana with the methods of a modern agriculturist some 5,000 years ago, we don't know what a "pure" sativa or indica really is, DNA-wise, he said. Who's to say what the defining characteristics of a pure sativa or indica really are?”

So, the next time you find a strain you like, make note of the balance between THC and CBD and use that as a good starting point for choosing your next one. With that information in hand, don’t feel like you need to stay loyal to indica or sativa — feel free to branch out!


 

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Naming Weed Strains

Naming Weed Strains

Posted by CANNASaver on Friday, 12 March 2021 in Canna Blog

Spending time around cannabis is a much different thing when a dispensary is involved. As more and more states legalize cannabis, it occurred that many would-be legal or medical marijuana consumers and patients would have to learn the strains and products they are interested in and that provide the most benefit or experience. Naming weed strains is not always a good indicator for the experience or benefit, but in most cases, it can offer some clues. 

In this guide, we provide an overview of the top five things that can impact the naming of a cannabis strain: 

  • Genetics

  • Aroma

  • Color

  • The Year

  • The Region

How Weed Strains Are Named

There are hundreds if not thousands of different strains. Some can be informative and others exist to be random or silly. There are more clues in the names as to what you can expect from certain strains than most people realize. These clues allow patients and consumers to approximate the experience or benefit a particular strain will have.

The Genetics of the Weed Strain

Naming a strain most often comes from a reference to the genetics of the two parent plants. By crossing or splicing the genes of two-parent plants, more robust flavors, complimentary experiences or benefits, and, in several cases, can contain larger amounts of THC and/ or other cannabinoids.

For instance, several strains can be found with “Kush'' somewhere in their name. This acts as a sort of suffix that can tell you a few different things. Generally, these strains are descendants of a subset of Indica plants that originally grew in the Hindu Kush mountain ranges between Afghanistan and India. Strains with the “Kush” qualifier will generally be more on the Indica side of the spectrum, known to produce a relaxed, euphoric side experience. 

This leads us to the question: What if a “Kush” strain was mixed with a Sativa strain, which is known for being energizing and uplifting. For example, the name of the strain “Lemon Kush” implies that both the strain has ‘“Kush” genetics, but that the strain Lemon G was crossed with it. 

This allows the strain to take on, for some consumers and patients, a relaxing yet uplifting, focused experience. This is what is known as a hybrid strain. 

The Aroma of the Strain

While we are on the topic of Lemon G, a Sativa strain, let’s begin the conversation on flavor as an aspect of naming a weed strain. 

In the strain Lemon G, the strain is named based on genetics, with the “G” comes from the strain “G13” and the “Lemon” comes from an unknown cross strain. But what is also very apparent is that lemon is a citrus fruit. Just by association, one could deduce the strain will have a citrusy, lemon-like aroma. 

While the aroma and flavor of a strain is entirely the work of the terpenes in the strain, these common associations to fruit, berries, and even candy are common in naming weed strains. And in most cases, you can smell and taste a bit of the fruit or food mentioned.

There are some less sweet-sounding strains as well. Sour, Diesel, Skunk, and Chem are common prefixes and suffixes of cannabis strains. 

These are some of the most common modifiers used in naming cannabis strains, as they imply a blend of earthy, pungent, and a “definitely going to fill the room with some funky” aroma. Moreover, these terms are largely references to strain genetics and can be (accurately) used as a selling point due to potency. These strains generally carry a high THC content and a bit more of an uplifting effect than some other strains, whether they lean more on the Indica or Sativa side. 

The Color of the Strain

Both genetics and terpenes impact the color of a strain. Color is not necessarily correlated to the aroma but can draw some inspiration. In the case of Grand Daddy Purple, known as “Grand Daddy Purp”, the leaves and buds are hued with the lush of lavender yet the aroma is something else entirely: a robust mix of earth, pepper, and berries or grape. 

In naming weed strains, the color is among the top modifiers. It allows for easy visual differentiation and is generally unique to each strain. However, only certain strains express purple or blue characteristics.  

The Year the Strain Was First Created

This is rare, but one popular strain that comes to mind is Pre-98 Bubba Kush. This hybrid strain utilizes the “Pre-98” to communicate to consumers and patients the strain has roots in cannabis history as one of the best strains around. While many strains consistently outmatch Pre-98 Bubba Kush, it is still a favored strain for its heavy body high and relaxing effect. 

The Region the Strain Was Grown

Concerning “OG”, as is seen in California OG, OG Kush, and many other strains, the most commonly pointed reason for naming marijuana strains with “OG” is that landrace Afghani genetics were grown in the climate of California, managing to grow in a much different climate than the Afghan mountains. 

Much like how wines, scotch, and other foods or beverages must be from a region to be considered authentic, OG is thought to explain the plants were not mountain-grown, as Afghani had been traditionally, but were “Ocean Grown”, relaying details, not about the strength of the strain, but the environment which it was grown. 

A Blend Of Terms Make Up Modern Strain Names

As noted above, naming marijuana strains is often a blend of not only genetics but generally several other factors.

And other good news: YOU CAN BLEND YOUR VERY OWN MIXES OF STRAINS!

Whether choosing to grow your own or buying a few different strains of dry flower from a local dispensary to mix to your flavor, color, aroma, and effect preference is what the legal market for cannabis allows. So we encourage you to shop not just based on any one single quality, but on many of the above naming criteria. 

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