WHEN YOU WALK into a recreational cannabis store or medical dispensary for the first time, you’ll notice a couple of things.
For starters, you’ve never seen this much cannabis in one place. And in so many different forms! Glass jars of bud, concentrate cartridges, tiny cylindrical containers of wax, colorfully packaged edibles, and tubes of topicals sit alongside glass pieces and smoking devices that run the gamut from discreet to disruptive. It’s a cornucopia of delights for everyone from the novice to the expert.
The second thing you may notice is that the strains on the shelf are broken up into three distinct groups: indica, sativa, and hybrid.
Indica strains are known for being physically sedating, perfect for relaxing with a movie or as a nightcap before bed. Sativas typically provide more invigorating, uplifting cerebral effects that pair well with physical activity, social gatherings, and creative projects. Hybrids tend to fall somewhere in between the two, depending on the traits they inherit from their parent strains.
This classification has been around longer than you might think: early taxonomic distinctions between Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa began in the eighteenth century when differences between their structure and resin production were first noted. The hybrid category was adopted as growers began mixing genetics from different geographic locations.
Indicas are believed to have originated in the Hindu Kush region near Afghanistan, where they developed thick coats of resin as protection against the harsh climate and conditions. Sativas thrive in temperate areas closer to the equator.
In addition to their different geographic origins, sativa and indica cannabis strains have several other unique attributes:
- Morphology—indica and sativa plants have different appearances.
- Flowering time—sativa plants have a longer maturation cycle than indica plants.
- Yields—indica strains tend to produce heavier yields than sativa strains.
- Flavor—indica and sativa strains tend to have different flavor profiles.
Two types of cannabis compounds—cannabinoids and terpenes—hold most of the influence when it comes to effects. Cannabinoids like THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) are molecular structures with their own unique properties and medical benefits. Terpenes are the aromatic oils secreted in cannabis resin that modulate the effects of cannabinoids, and these, too, have their own set of effects. In this way, cannabis strains are the sum of smaller parts, which may be passed on genetically. This helps explain the consistency in strain types, but there is still room for variation.
Let’s take Blue Dream as an example. Due to its sativa-dominant genetics, we expect Blue Dream to make us feel uplifted and energized. Sometimes, however, you’ll find a more indica-like phenotype, or a strain that expresses characteristics we associate with indicas, such as relaxing effects, a shorter flowering time, and a bushier plant structure. How the plant is grown can also affect the strain’s terpene and cannabinoid contents, and more or less of either compound type may give rise to different physical sensations.
Our expectations must also be considered when it comes to perceived differences in strain type; when we consume an indica cannabis strain, we expect to feel calm and sedated, which plays into our experience.
As more research is conducted, our understanding of cannabis classification is bound to evolve as we learn what chemical configurations will produce these so-called sativa and indica effects. Until then, there’s a wealth of user-submitted strain reviews to guide us to our next purchase.
Red, Purple, and Green: What Do Leafly Colors Mean?
You’ll notice that strains listed in Leafly’s database are categorized into three types and colors: sativas are red, indicas are purple, and hybrids are green. But does this mean that all red-tiled sativas and purple-tiled indicas are pure, 100 percent sativa or indica? No, not always.
While pure indica and sativa strains do exist, the market today is almost entirely dominated by a mix of the two, or hybrids. However, hybrids can be heavily sativa- or indica-dominant depending on their parent strains.
Let’s take the sativa-dominant Super Silver Haze for example. This strain is not entirely sativa, given its indica genes from a Northern Lights parent. However, Super Silver Haze exhibits sativa-like attributes in appearance and effects, and is therefore considered a sativa-dominant hybrid.