What if we told you that the labels “indica” and “sativa” are all based on outdated information? It’s true. We might use the words indica and sativa every day to talk about effects and experiences, but these terms don’t play out under scientific study.

The compounds in a sativa are just as likely to be found in an indica. Science tells us we live in a new upside-down world, where indicas are uplifting, and sativas are sedative. What has happened to the old way of describing cannabis? What does the research tell us about these beloved old-categories?

 The Assumed Characteristics of Indicas

The old ways of thinking tell us that indicas are sleepy. They deliver strong sedative qualities and are always prescribed for night time use. After all, the common refrain about indicas is that they leave you “In-da-couch.”  

If you look for indica vape pens (instead of sativa vape pens in Canada), no doubt, you want very specific qualities. You want powerful pain relief that penetrates deep into aching bones and sore muscles. You want extreme relaxation and stress relief. Indica’s are not for partying. Indica’s are for after-works sessions and sleepy Sundays.

Classic indicas include the likes of Granddaddy Purple, Afghani’s, and Northern Lights. And don’t forget to just about every single kush out there. 

The Assumed Characteristics of Sativas

On the flip side, what do we all assume about the sativa sensation? A sativa vape pen in Canada (or elsewhere) is bubbly, giggly, and incredibly uplifting. Sativa’s deliver creative and social sensations. They are energizing, rather than a sedative experience we related to an indica. 

People look for sativas to clean their house from top to bottom or to enjoy a social gathering. You’ll also see sativa’s suggested for day time relief of symptoms because we all assume they are more productive.

People typically talk about the high from a sativa as cerebral, rather than felt deep in the body. Because people often feel euphoric, patients commonly use sativas for mental health issues like depression and mood disorders.

You may have her about a few classic sativa strains, including Durban Poison, Amnesia Haze, and Super Lemon Haze.

What the Research Tells Us About Sativa versus Indica

Based on these assumptions about the properties of sativas and those of indicas, you’d rightfully assume that there are different compounds in each type. Right? 

Now that we have the technology to explore these different combinations of compounds, we can see that this is a scientifically unproven hypothesis. Under a microscope, a sativa and indica look remarkably the same.

According to Ethan B. Russo, a long-standing expert on cannabis science, “There are biochemically distinct strains of Cannabis, but the sativa/indica distinction as commonly applied in the lay literature is total nonsense and an exercise in futility. “

As he explained in a 2016 interview with Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research Journal, “One cannot in any way currently guess the biochemical content of a given Cannabis plant based on its height, branching, or leaf morphology.” Which is to say, you can’t guess the cannabinoid or terpene content of a sativa any more than an indica. 

Several big assessments have been completed to date, looking at the chemical composition of different established strains. Many theorized that sativas would lean towards certain terpenes and cannabinoids, while indicas would contain others. This would describe why a sativa is energizing and an indica sleepy. But, of course, the research proved otherwise.

In 2015, one such study working with strains catalogued in Leafly determined no chemical similarities. As a summary later explained, popular names “were no guarantee to obtain a product with a reproducible chemical composition, and that the provided product name was not a reliable indicator of THC potency or chemical profile.” They even discovered different samples with the same name looked different!.

What Sativa and Indica Genetics Look Like

The truth is out, sativa and indica describe little about the experiences and medicinal benefits. Instead, many experts suggest we should instead rely on indica and sativa for growing purposes. These labels suggest the genetic predisposition to grow a certain way. 

Cultivators need to know what to expect each strain, including the time to harvest, the size of the plant, and other botanical details. The labels of indica versus sativa work best here to talk about the characteristics during cultivation.

Indica strains originated deep in the Himalayas, somewhere around Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Traditionally, pure indicas in these harsh mountainous environments grew short and stocky. This stature was protection against cold temperatures, winds and stressful environmental factors. On top of describing the stature, indica also suggests a short growing season, something you might expect at high elevations.

Sativa’s, on the other hand, evolved in tropical climates. In these hot and humid jungles, plants couldn’t stay stocky. They grew big and beautiful, seeking sunlight from underneath the jungle canopy. They also became less compact, helping move air between the branches to reduce the risk of mold. In the tropics, the growing seasons are essentially all year long, so sativas take substantially longer to reach harvest than indicas.

Will Cannabis Categories Change?

You could argue that despite the new evidence suggesting otherwise, the assumptions the community holds about indica and sativa are here to stay. Every dispensary and online weed store still prominently displays sativa vape pens in Canada or specific indica-dominance on product labels. 

Consumers purposefully seek out these categories for very specific effects. Who is to say that the world’s kushes and afghanis don’t deliver the super sleepy results. People buy indica vape pens in Canada for a reason.

It’s 2020, and most of us have only just grasped the differences between THC and CBD, now we find out our long-held assumptions about sativa and indica are false? It will take many years for the outdated terms to dissolve off of labels and dispensary shelves. Until then, we all need to read strain information with a grain of salt. 

Take a step back when you inhale a cloud of vapour from a sativa vape pen. What are the sensations you truly feel? If the new research tells us anything, your sativa vape is just as likely to create a sleepy sensation as it is to create a social-buzz. What matters most is how it feels for you.