What Is A Cannabis Strain? Indica vs Sativa & Beyond
June 10, 2021
Granddaddy Purple, Strawberry Cough, Green Crack. It sounds like the flavour-namer at Ben and Jerry’s is on a roll—but what does this have to do with weed? It’s time to de-mystify the cannabis strain.
Simply put, cannabis strains are particular cultivars of the plant, much like breeds of dogs. And just as Border Collies and Bulldogs are different, you can say the same thing about cannabis strains.
Strains Are the Product of Careful Experimentation
Like dog breeds, we’ve been creating and breeding particular strains for years. Over time, we’ve worked out how to nurture useful traits of a particular plant through cultivation. Cannabis today is very different to the landrace (wild) varieties of centuries ago.
As our knowledge grew, so did our process, and today we’ve created a library of cannabis strains with all effects under the sun. Some strains might glue you to the couch, some are stimulating, and others might put raiding the snack cupboard on the top of your list of priorities. So while Northern Lights might have us giggling on the couch for the next two hours, Durban Poison might propel us to dance-clean our entire houses.
Indica And Sativa Don’t Tell Us Everything
Here’s the first misconception: indica has a calming effect; sativa has an uplifting effect. Right? Actually, not necessarily.
Cannabis is separated into three categories; indica, sativa, and hybrid. These classifications look at the structure and growth habits of the plant. Indicas are shorter, denser plants with wider leaves and darker colours. Sativas tend to stretch more with thinner leaves and lighter greens. And hybrids hang out somewhere in the middle. While this is helpful for growers, the differences between strains can go much deeper than that.
And Neither Does THC
Misconception number two: the ratio of THC to CBD determines how you’ll feel. Well, not quite.
THC and CBD are both cannabinoids, compounds found in cannabis. They’ve been at the center of cannabis research for decades. THC gives us the ‘high’ feeling we get from weed. CBD has subtle, other effects that we’re still studying today.
While knowing the ratio of these two cannabinoids shape our idea of how the journey will be, it still doesn’t give us the whole picture. It’s like judging a pizza based only on the cheese. Cheese is important, absolutely. But cheese with no crust, no tomato base, no added toppings—is just cheese. It’s not going to cut it if you’re expecting pizza.
Terpenes: A Strain’s Best Friend
Enter terpenes. These little compounds are having their moment in the spotlight. They contain fragrant oils responsible for the pungent aroma of cannabis and other smelly plants. Some smell floral, citrusy, or like a pine forest on a misty morning. Others really come with a kick. Think skunk, diesel, even pepper.
These smelly clues can help us guess how we’re going to feel after we indulge.
Let’s look at linalool, a terpene found in lavender. Linalool gives us the soothing, relaxing properties lavender is famous for. And wouldn’t you know it, linalool is found in certain cannabis strains too. Strains known for their calm vibes and floral aromas. Do-Si-Dos, for example, is rich in linalool. It’s like taking a lavender bath for your brain.
Other terpenes, such as pinene, may spark a creative and focused vibe. Pinene smells like, you guessed it, pine needles.
Knowing your terpenes and how they affect you can help you choose a strain that gives you the vibe you’re after. But focusing only on the terpene profile is judging the pizza based only on the cheese again. We need to look at how everything works together.
Putting It All Together
When trying to pinpoint how a strain will make us feel, we need to look at the whole picture.
- Growth Habit: Indicas are generally darker, denser plants with wider leaves. Sativas are lighter, taller plants with thinner leaves.
- THC vs CBD: Also known as the cannabinoid profile. THC makes you ‘high’. CBD is more calming and neutral.
- Terpene Profile: Responsible for the smell and taste of cannabis. Offers clues to the more nuanced things going on behind the scenes of each strain.
And when we put everything together, especially cannabinoids and terpenes, something else happens entirely. The hundreds of different compounds interact with one another and make magic while doing so.
This results in something called the entourage effect, which is just a cool way of saying they trigger a cascade of good vibes. The entourage effect is only theory at this point, but it’s an important step in learning exactly how cannabis interacts with us.
At The End Of The Day
There are hundreds of compounds found in cannabis, and they all work together to give you the buzz you want. So it’s important to look at these compounds as a whole, not alone. Scientists can give us an idea of how we might feel and why we might feel this way, but cannabis affects us all differently.
The most effective (and fun) way to find the perfect strain for you is to experiment. So break out the notebook, pack your favourite bowl, and get experimenting!