For anyone who’s purchased or even read up on cannabis, references to sativa and indica have most likely been included. Historically, these names have categorized the “types” of pot available, and puns have even been created in reference to their particular effects; for example, “in-da-couch” reflects an indica’s reputed ability to keep you in a state of repose.
Lately, these designations have been in hot debate regarding their relevance when it comes to effectively bucketing the wealth of experiences one can have with cannabis. It might take a while for the world to unify on how to categorize strains in the future – in a way that’s not confusing to the public, most importantly – as these “types” have existed for quite some time.
It’s still not entirely clear what the actual differences are when it comes to strain types, because scientists haven’t found a way to accurately map the genetic lineage of cannabis plants; and years of cross-breeding have caused “pure” sativa or indica strains to dwindle in amount.
One of the most accurate ways to determine lineage of plants is genomics. Genomics is the art of reading an organism’s genetic story with expensive technology, then piecing it together using the information you get from the reads. With this information, the genome of the plant is compared to other genomes and are then sorted with an algorithm into relationships, essentially building a family tree. Not all the cannabis genomes have been read, so it’s going to take time and exhaustive hours of research to make definitive declarations about strain properties based on their genetic composition.
So, for now let’s go with what we’ve historically used to tell them apart.
How they look is often how they make us feel. The sativa plant is light, airy and brightly colored with its green, pointy leaves. The effects of the plant are said to be euphoric, uplifting, and energizing. Green is generally thought of the color of energy, and hot, sunny environments are happy and uplifting.
An indica plant has dark green leaves with a blue tint that are generally wider than sativa leaves. Everything about the shape of this plant suggests that it is heavy. It’s shorter, wider, darker. Heaviness is present in the effect it has, too. With weighted eyelids and limbs, you may find yourself reaching for a bag of chips (or two) while you sink into your favourite chair.
Hybrids are crosses between sativa and indica strains. The highest percentage of genetic lineage from either sativa or indica strains will determine the characteristics that strain. Crossing strains are useful when there are characteristics that you’d like to experience together. Imagine a grower has two pure sativa and indica plants but wants to produce a hybrid strain that is 75% sativa and 25% indica. Their goal is to have a strain that is uplifting but relaxing at the same time.
Assuming that the offspring of the two plants will share 50% of genetics from each parent, the first generation will be 50% sativa and 50% indica. Cross the offspring with the parent sativa plant, and now you’ve got a strain that is 75% sativa and 25% indica. Expression of the traits of the two parent strands are comparable to the percentage of genetic information in the plant. Hybrid strains have gained popularity in recent years thanks to their ability to create highly “personalized” cannabis experiences.
While we’ll most likely rely on the classic strain “types” for the near future, as cannabis production and research continues there will likely be other ways we’ll come to tell our cannabis types apart.
Story by Katarina Kostovic
Photo by Steph Martyniuk
The preceding is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to condone the use or consumption of cannabis. For more information, please refer to our disclaimer.