It is quite common to differentiate Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Sativa as plants with different properties. Nonetheless, this assumption is not always right and the difference between Indica and Sativa are sometimes not well understood. For instance, we tend to classify Cannabis Indica as a cannabis variety with higher CBD:THC ratio and hence more suitable to reduce anxiety. On other hand, cannabis sativa is generally considered a plant with higher THC:CBD ratio and therefore a more psychoactive variety.
It is a matter of dispute if cannabis Sativa and cannabis Indica are separated species. Both are part of the cannabaceae family where we can also find another variety with very low THC levels, the cannabis ruderalis.
According to Antonio Escohotado, renowned for his research on drugs (General History of Drugs), the French naturalist Lamarck, had made the mistake of considering the Asian and Euro-American plants different families. Lamarck called them Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Sativa, even though the active principle of both is identical.
Difference between Cannabis Indica and Sativa
Cannabis Sativa and cannabis Indica are slightly different plants. The main difference between Indica and Sativa are anatomic. For instance, cannabis sativa is longer in stature and more suitable for warm climates.
However, it’s a common misconception to attribute mainly psychoactive properties to cannabis Sativa and sedating ones to Cannabis Indica. As a matter of fact, it depends on the cannabinoids and terpenes and not about the cannabis variety. For instance, there are Cannabis Sativa plants with low THC and Cannabis Indica plants with high THC and vice versa.
Cannabis Indica is shorter and more suitable for cold climates. As previously mentioned, it’s generally considered “less psychoactive” than Cannabis Sativa. However, this is not completely right, and we should focus on the chemical composition of the plant rather than the plant variety.
Both cannabis Sativa and Indica have cannabinoids and terpenes. Smoking or vaping cannabis Indica or Sativa will not necessary cause different effects. On the contrary, it’s more important to know about the chemical composition of the product we are about to consume. In other words, when we think about one or the other variety, we should focus on their chemical properties and terpenes. This is a better indicator of its properties and effects.
There are also Hybrid cannabis plants. According to Leafly, hybrids generally inherit the shorter flowering time of the Indica variety and the psychoactive properties of Sativa varieties. In other words, hybrid plants have the anatomic characteristics of both cannabis Sativa and cannabis Indica.
Active Components: Cannabinoids and Terpenes
There are many cannabinoids. We have already published a blog post about CBD and THC and their acidic forms (prior decarboxylation). However, there are other cannabinoids such as CBG (cannabigerol) or CBC (cannabichromene).
What is CBC?
CBC or cannabichromene is one of the six major cannabinoids. It doesn’t have the psychoactive properties of THC as it doesn’t interact with our CB1 receptors (part of our endocannabinoid system). Nonetheless, CBC has some promising properties and it might have anti-cancer properties (reduce inflammation and tumor growth).
It displays less psychotropic effects than THC, but it is thought that CBC can play an overall effect of the drug.
What is CBG?
CBG or cannabigerol is present in small proportions (less than one percent). In addition, It’s cannabis producers are trying to develop strains with higher CBG. Furthermore, some theories claim that CBG is a potent anti-cancer cannabinoid.
CBG-a (the acidic form of it) is the precursor of both CBD and THC. It has many promising properties, including the treatment of glaucoma and even inflammatory bowel syndrome.
It’s often considered “the mother of all cannabinoids”, it is been researched for its pain-relief properties.
It has very promising properties, including mood regulation. However, hemp contains very small amounts of CBG and therefore, lots of biomass is required to produce small amounts of CBG. To sum up, CBG is very expensive to produce.
What are the Terpenes?
Terpenes are aromatic compounds produce by plants. They produce strong odors that generally protect the plants of being eaten by herbivores. It’s not well-known to what extent cannabis terpenes have any health effects. However, there are some theories about its effects but it’s generally associated with aromatherapy. Some sources claim that the different terpenes can induce states of calmness, excitement etc. However, we can just speak about potential effects.
Conclusion: Sativa vs Indica vs Hybrids
The difference between Indica and Sativa are mainly anatomic. Sativa is higher in stature and Indica has broader leaves than Sativa. There are probably more Sativa varieties with high THC than Indica ones. However, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t Indica varieties with very high THC. Nonetheless, it is controversial whether cannabis sativa and indica should be classified as two different varieties or not.
The physical classification of cannabis was more important in times of Carl Von Linné (eighteenth century Swedish botanist) than it is today. After Von Linné, Lamarck identified another cannabis variety that he called cannabis Indica. Human intervention has influenced the THC:CBD ratio of both cannabis Indica and Sativa. In other words, Sativa and Indica isn’t and indicative of higher THC or CBD as it was for 200-300 years ago.
We have mainly three varieties of cannabis: Sativa, Indica and Ruderalis. However, the ruderalis variety has almost no psychoactive effects because cannabis ruderalis is low in THC and high in CBD.
Hybrids of sativa and Indica inherit the shorter flowering time of cannabis Indica. There is almost no difference in THC or CBD levels between hybrids and Indica and Sativa.
Finally, terpenes also play a role in the effects of cannabinoids. We still don’t know to what extent terpenes influence the experience, but it is thought that they can induce calmness, energize sensations, euphoria among other feelings. Cannabis has many terpenes such as myrcene, limonene, pinene, caryophyllene and terpinolene.
In conclusion, it is not as simple as saying that Indica induces calmness and Sativa euphoria. That is to say, it is more important to focus on the chemical composition of the plant instead of the variety to which it belongs.