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Indica and sativa: just to confuse us

In the marijuana industry, it is common to classify by differences between indica and sativa. differences between indica and sativa . The indica effect is popularly associated with relaxation and pain relief, while the so-called sativa-type cannabis is attributed with stimulant effects. However, the separation between indica and sativa is often inaccurate and confusing. In this article, we delve into the subject.

A botanical species: Cannabis sativa

First of all, we will make a reference to the scientific name given to all cannabis plants, including hemp and marijuana: Cannabis sativa L. In this case, “sativa” refers to the botanical species and has no relation with the effect or sensations produced in the organism by its consumption.

The first description of the plant species Cannabis sativa L. was made by Carolus Linnaeus in 1753, who was familiar with the hemp plants that were cultivated in Europe [1]. A few years later, in 1785 Jean-Baptiste Lamarck described what he believed to be another species of the genus Cannabis, with plants from India, which he called Cannabis indica [1]. The main difference between the C. sativa plants described by Linnaeus and by Lamarck at that time, responds to the differences between hemp and marijuana [2]. differences between hemp and marijuana that we saw on a previous occasion.

Currently, Cannabis sativa is a single species and the botanical name Cannabis indica is obsolete. In addition, it has also been found that the cannabis plant exhibits great variability in both its genetic material(genotypic variation) and physical characteristics(phenotypic variation) [2-4]. However, the words “indica” and “sativa” wander around the industry. But do such groupings really exist within the C. sativa species, and do these groupings determine the effects we feel when we consume the plant?

Are there types of cannabis within the Cannabis sativa species?

Yes, the Cannabis sativa species has different groupings or lineages. We know of at least two lineages of marijuana-type plants, which are used medically or recreationally. We also know of at least one lineage of hemp-like plants [3, 5, 6].

We also know that the C. sativa plant can be used for a large number of applications, including medicine, food, paper, clothing, paints, personal care products, construction and insulating materials, plastics, batteries and biofuel, among others [7].

As you can see, we could build our homes and cars, run them, clean ourselves, dress ourselves, eat and smoke from the same plant. This is due to the enormous genotypic and phenotypic variety of cannabis, which allows the development of different lineages of plants for different purposes.

Phenotypic variation of the Cannabis sativa plant.

The Cannabis sativa plant exhibits extraordinary phenotypic variation, i.e., distinct physical appearances. There is variation in plant height and leaf characteristics (e.g., leaflet width and number of leaflets) [4], in the production of cannabinoids y terpenes [8], flowering time [9], and also in the appearance of its buds! All this phenotypic variation explains why the plant is so versatile in its uses.

Genotypic variation of the Cannabis sativa plant.

The cannabis plant also has a large genetic variation (in the DNA, genome or genetic material). Although there have been no exact comparisons, at least in some parts of its genome, Cannabis sativa may have more diversity than other nearby plant species [10]. This genetic variability of cannabis probably leads to its phenotypic variation, which in turn leads again to the plant’s multitude of uses. the plant’s multitude of uses. .

“Sativa” vs “indica”: just to confuse us.

As explained above, C. sativa is a single species, and ‘indica’ or ‘sativa’ groupings of buds with particular phenotypic characteristics are not correct.

The physical traits (phenotype) of cannabis are not a good indicator of the effect it can have on the body.

It is not possible to classify the effect that the consumption of marijuana or CBD cannabis will produce in the body only by the shape or color of its leaves, the height of the plant or by the richness in any component such as cannabinoid or terpene.

Differences between indica and sativa marijuana
The differences between indica and sativa marijuana are not obvious at first glance.

The terms “sativa” and “indica” are imprecise.

First, we know that the current classification between “sativa” and “indica” is not related to the chemotype or chemical compounds contained in the plant [8]. The set of compounds found in a plant commercially named “sativa” are completely independent from those compounds found in another plant also colloquially called “sativa”, or in one called “indica”. In other words, the biochemical compounds produced by the plant are independent of the groupings commercially attributed to the indica and sativa effect [8].

Therefore, there is no specific morphology of cannabis that determines its cannabinoid, terpenoid or flavonoid profile, which makes it impossible to classify it at a glance as a sativa (stimulant) or indica (relaxing) effect. That is, these commercial groupings are not based on plant chemotype, and other phenotypic characteristics, such as height or leaf characteristics, are independent of chemotype. The question remains, then, whether these trade names really describe the effects of consuming the different varieties of C. sativa.

In addition, plants designated as “sativa” or “indica” are not necessarily related in their genome. These designations could be completely independent of the relationship that exists between the individuals. Therefore, two “sativa” plants may be equally or less genetically related to a “sativa” or an “indica” [3, 6].

The indica or sativa effect is not related to the content of cannabinoids such as THC or CBD.

Apparently, neither the THC content, nor the content of CBD or other cannabinoids, determine a relaxing or stimulating effect of cannabis. Much research is needed to understand the relationship between cannabis compounds, their combinations, and the effects they produce when consumed.

The different phenotypic characteristics, such as the color of the plant, the size and shape of the leaves, the amount and type of cannabinoids and terpenes it contains, its height, and its supposed origin, are not correlated with these “sativa” or “indica” groups [4].

These physical characteristics are not associated with each other, and, by the biological process of recombination, these associations can be broken, if they ever existed. So, a tall plant with a narrow leaf can have a high THC content, and a short plant with a broad leaf can also be rich in THC and perhaps both can produce a similar effect. All these features are independent. In other words, you can be tall, with blue eyes and brown hair; or tall, with brown eyes and black hair. These characteristics are independent of each other.

Therefore, “sativa” and “indica” are commercial terms used by bud sellers to designate a sedative or energetic effect of marijuana, but they do not necessarily correspond to a particular morphology or composition, nor are they a good indication of the type or amount of cannabinoids. It is not known whether these trade names are really related to the effects produced by the product when consumed, since there are no studies on the matter. The same applies to the so-called “hybrids”, which are supposed to be crosses between “sativa” and “indica”.

“Sativa” and “indica” are commercial terms used by bud sellers or dispensaries to designate a sedative or energetic effect of marijuana, but do not necessarily correspond to a particular morphology or composition.

How to group the effects of consuming a cannabis strain?

So, how do we group or refer to the effects we are looking for when we want to consume a variety of C. sativa? It is quite understandable that cannabis(C. sativa) users, particularly those seeking its medical benefits, would want to specify the effects they seek to achieve from the plant’s consumption. That’s why some dispensaries adopted certain language like strains that make you feel active and energetic, or passive and calm, instead of sativa and indica .

It may be less confusing to describe strains with adjectives of how they make us feel, such as “energetic” or “sedative”, rather than using the designations sativa, indica or hybrid.

In addition, there are many other factors that can affect how a person feels after using marijuana, such as the strain and method of use. Marijuana users should experiment to find what works best for them.

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Are there cannabis compounds associated with a relaxing and stimulating effect?

The Cannabis sativa plant produces a number of compounds including cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids, among others, and many of these could be related to different effects on the body. Now, in C. sativa, we donot know exactly which phytochemicals are responsible for particular effects, especially since the plant produces so many and varieties differ in the type, rate, and set of these compounds.

Cannabis produces a wide variety of compounds, such as cannabinoids and terpenes, whose interaction with each other could lead to different effects on the body. This is known as the entourage effect.

The entourage effect: key to the relaxing or stimulating effects of cannabis?

There are those who propose the entourage effect (entourage effect), as the set of compounds acting in unison to produce a particular effect [11, 12]. All the compounds produced by the plant, which can number in the hundreds, depending on how they are counted, may be acting together to produce an effect that has been referred to as the “entourage effect”.

Although we do not yet have hard evidence to support this entourage effect, we do know that CBD and THC can have counteracting actions on our endocannabinoid system. Also, it is known that consuming THC alone in isolation can become unpleasant and that the sensations improve when administered together with CBD [13, 14]. These results suggest that at least these two cannabinoids may be acting in concert to produce particular effects.

Anecdotally, they say that there may be varieties that, although they have a lower THC content of, for example, only 18%, may be more psychoactive than other varieties with a higher THC content of, for example, 28%. This could be due to the presence of other compounds, including CBD and terpenes. Of course, these anecdotes must be studied methodically to understand if this is really a possibility.

Chemotypes of Cannabis sativa to classify plant types and their effects.

Cannabis strains differ in their chemotypes or chemical composition, such as the cannabinoids and terpenes they produce. The effect that the plant will have on the organism depends to a great extent on these compounds. Although some propose to classify plants with a sort of “barcode” indicating the set of compounds they contain and their abundance, is this the best way to classify these plants?

This question arises for several reasons. First, because we find more and more different compounds in the plant. There are some new cannabinoids such as THCP [15], and the latest one that came into my life last week was the HHC ! So, how about in a few years, or maybe tomorrow, we will discover another new compound? Would this new compound then harm our chemotype classification? Or what if there is a compound that a laboratory failed to measure because it is found in very small quantities, would this then damage our classification scheme?

Do we really know what effect the components of cannabis have on the body?

Finally, we do not know exactly how these compounds act in the organism and whether they really have a great effect on our sensations. For example, we know that there are differences in the effects of alcohol depending on whether we ate, our mood, even gender [16, 17] and race [18]. Will this exist for cannabis use as well?

In other words, would the effect of cannabis be different if taken after eating, or if we have not slept? And, about that compound in small quantities that we inquired about above, will it have an effect on our sensations, despite its small quantities?

There are many other factors that can affect how a person feels after using marijuana. Marijuana users should experiment to find what works best for them.

As research on Cannabis sativa progresses, we will also learn more answers to these unknowns. I hope you have enjoyed this article about the colloquial names “indica” and “sativa” and that you have been left with the desire to learn more about this interesting plant.

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  3. Vergara, D., et al, Genetic and Genomic Tools for Cannabis sativa. Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences, 2016. 35(5-6): p. 364-377.
  4. Vergara, D., et al., Widely assumed phenotypic associations in Cannabis sativa lack a shared genetic basis. PeerJ, 2021. 9.
  5. Vergara, D., et al., Genomic evidence that governmentally produced Cannabis sativa poorly represents genetic variation available in state markets. Frontiers in plant science, 2021: p. 1502.
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  12. McPartland, J.M. and E.B. Russo, Cannabis and cannabis extracts: greater than the sum of their parts? Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics, 2001. 1(3-4): p. 103-132.
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  14. Calhoun, S.R., G.P. Galloway, and D.E. Smith, Abuse potential of dronabinol (Marinol®). Journal of psychoactive drugs, 1998. 30(2): p. 187-196.
  15. Citti, C., et al., A novel phytocannabinoid isolated from Cannabis sativa L. with an in vivo cannabimimetic activity higher than Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol: Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabiphorol. Scientific reports, 2019. 9(1): p. 1-13.
  16. Kerr-Corrêa, F., et al., Patterns of alcohol use among genders: A cross-cultural evaluation. Journal of Affective Disorders, 2007. 102(1-3): p. 265-275.
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Dra. Daniela Vergara
Investigadora y catedrática | Especialista en cultivos emergentes y consultora de cannabis

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