What is a strain? A common misconception is that indica, sativa, and hybrid are strains. Well, they’re not strains, but this is a good place to start.
The terms indica and sativa were first used in the 1800s to describe two distinct types of cannabis: Cannabis sativa was the low THC/high CBD plant found in Europe and Western Eurasia. These plants were used for fibre and seeds. Cannabis indica described the high THC varieties found in East Asia and commonly used for fibre, seeds, and hashish.
Today, sativa plants are high THC varieties identified by their tall stature, narrow leaf profile, and long, airy flowers or buds. Energy, creativity, focus, and euphoria are commonly associated with sativa flowers. These plants need a longer flowering time, as much as 12–13 weeks for some varieties. They also have lower yields due to their bud structure.
Indica plants are identified as high THC with a shorter, broader stature, wider leaf profile, and more compact, dense flowers. Typically these plants mature in eight or nine weeks, and have bigger yields. They are characterized as relaxing, calming, and perhaps sedative in effect. Due to their attributes in yield and maturity, indica flowers are most common.
Through both natural and selective breeding, a third cannabis variety exists: hybrids. These are crossbred plants with both indica and sativa genetics, and have effects that, in theory, are somewhere in between.
Do Pure Strains Exist in the Market?
In today’s marketplace, very few pure indica or sativa plants exist. The majority of flowers available in the market are hybrids and are identified as either indica or sativa dominant. What scientists tell us now is that indica, sativa and even hemp are merely different varieties of one genus, Cannabis.
The indica phenotype Girl Scout Cookies draws its lineage from the strains OG Kush and Durban Poison. It’s a 50:50 hybrid crossed with a pure sativa; in other words, a sativa-dominant hybrid. It can be effective when used as relief from anxiety or stress.
Love Potion No#1 is a sativa-dominant hybrid. It has an impeccable family tree: G13, a famous indica, is crossed with Colombian Gold, a pure sativa. This 50:50 hybrid is then re-crossed with the Colombian Gold to become sativa dominant, resulting in a flower that can be used to enhance energy, mood, and creativity.
It’s not quite as straightforward as we think, however. What we know through experience is that while some indica flowers are sedative, others can be uplifting and energizing. Similarly many sativa flowers deliver energetic and alert effects, yet some can be relaxing or even sleepy. The most complex issue we face is that these effects can be subtly or drastically different for individuals due to our incredible endocannabinoid systems, which are unique to each of us, much like a fingerprint is.
It’s Not Just About THC
We know that isolated THC is identical whether it’s from an indica plant or a sativa plant. What makes each plant feel different is the “Entourage Effect”—the combined effect of the full plant profile including the cannabinoids (113 unique compounds found mainly in the plant), terpenes, and flavonoids. Everything you taste and smell is due to one or more of these volatile, unsaturated hydrocarbons found in all plants. Terpenes are believed to act as modulators to the cannabinoids, and drive the effect of the plant more than the designation of indica or sativa.
What is a Phenotype?
To further confuse things, there is significant variety from one phenotype of a strain to the next. Phenotypes are like babies—the same two parents can create an infinite variety of children, or in this case seeds. Though the relative ratios of compounds in a plant are genetic, environmental conditions can also create variances between batches of the same strain or same phenotype.
Selecting a Strain
So where does that leave us with strains? According to seedfinder.eu there are almost 12,000 strains with 646 registered breeders, including some rare ones bringing the total to over 12,400. However, many would suggest that there are significant similarities in the strains currently available. Customers are looking for a desired outcome, so a selection of strains can potentially meet their needs. Customer should take the opportunity to smell each flower. The premise is that terpene profiles that smell good to the individual are likely to have a positive benefit, and as it turns out “The nose knows” really works for most people!
Though complex and confusing, there are exciting times ahead in the cannabis world!
Jeremy Jacob is the Co-Founder of Village Bloomery and President of CAMCD.