When shopping for cannabis, you’ll most commonly see flower strains, edibles, extracts and other products categorized as a sativa, indica, or hybrid. These labels were created to describe genetically distinct varieties of the cannabis plant.

Cannabis sativa, which includes industrial hemp varieties of cannabis, originated in Europe where it was cultivated for its fibrous stalks and nutritious seeds. Sativa strains tend to appear taller and slimmer with narrowly-shaped leaves. They also tend to thrive best in warm climates. And while not originally psychoactive, some sativas were eventually cross-bred to create the THC-rich sativa strains we know today.

Cannabis indica is thought to have originated in the Indian subcontinent. This variety of cannabis is generally shorter and bushier with broad leaves and can grow in colder climates than its sativa cousin. Like sativas, Indicas were valued for their stalks and seeds, however, cannabis indica also possessed psychoactive properties. As a result, this cannabis variety was used to produce hashish and other medicinal preparations with analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects.  

These different strain categories are also touted to consumers as having unique psychoactive effects. Sativas are said to be more uplifting and better for daytime use while indica strains stimulate the appetite and induce relaxation and sleepiness.

But How Accurate Are These Categories?

While knowing whether a particular strain is a sativa, indica or hybrid may be useful for cannabis growers, these designations are not particularly informative for consumers. That’s because, despite conventional wisdom, these categories don’t tell us a great deal about the genetics or psychoactive and therapeutic effects of a given strain.

According to Dr. Ethan Russo, a prominent psychopharmacology researcher, “The clinical effects of the cannabis chemovar have nothing to do with whether the plant is tall and sparse vs. short and bushy, or whether the leaflets are narrow or broad.”

This is especially true when it comes to medicinal and recreational varieties of cannabis. Intensive selective breeding over the past several decades—which has only accelerated in recent years with the legalization of cannabis in several states in the U.S—has significantly changed the gene pool of modern cannabis strains to the point that the classical sativa/indica categories are no longer strictly reflective of a strain’s effects.

Instead, the chemical profile of a strain can give a much more accurate and informative picture for consumers when cannabis shopping. The cannabinoid and terpene profiles are especially important. For example, a strain’s ratio of THC to CBD (also referred to as the chemotype) is a well-defined, quantifiable indicator of a strain’s effect. This means that accurate and reliable cannabis testing is becoming more important than ever.

Interested in the chemical profile of your cannabis products? Encore Labs is an ISO accredited California cannabis testing lab with more than 25 years of combined laboratory experience. Contact us today for full-service cannabis testing.