What’s in a Strain Name? A Closer Look at the Indica-Sativa Divide

As modern cannabis patients and recreational users, the legalized market offers us the opportunity to develop our individual preferences as to the mediums and strains of cannabis we consume. We might cultivate a tendency towards discreet vaporizers over raw flower, or chewy edibles over tinctures. Many regular cannabis users, like the sommelier or coffee enthusiast, eventually land on a favorite strain, like Jack Herer, Three Kings, or Northern Lights.

A conventional method for classifying these strains, and the spectrum of cannabis products in general, is the classic Indica versus Sativa binary. But where did these classifications come from? And how accurate are they at predicting the effects of the cannabis we consume?

The species Cannabis Sativa was first named and described in 1753 by botanist Carl Linnaeus. Thirty-two years later, naturalist and biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck would be the first to describe a new species of cannabis originating from India, Cannabis Indica. Fast forward to the present day and the standard understanding of indica vs. sativa varieties is that indica flower (or infused products) induces a sleepy, lethargic effect in the consumer, while sativa provides a peppy, energetic one.

When cannabis was in its earliest stages of scientific description and commercial cultivation, these quick categories may have been useful and may have held greater accuracy, but in the contemporary state of cannabis cultivation, most, if not all, of our favorite strains are likely to be the end result of hybridization and less likely to be purely indica or sativa. Take the strain Berry White, a cross between the classic indica Blueberry and the famous hybrid flower White Widow. In the era of modern cultivation, rather than parsing between indica or sativa, it may actually be more useful to look at strains through the lens of a new tool: the Cannabinoid Profile.

A term originating from the nascent industry of professional cannabis lab testing, a cannabinoid profile refers to the overall concentration of active cannabinoids and terpenes present in a given strain or infused product.

A little jargon to bring us up to speed ––– Cannabinoids are the chemicals present in cannabis that, when picked up by the brain’s CB1 and CB2 receptors (part of the body’s Endocannabinoid system), are responsible for the medicinal and recreational properties of the plant. The most famous of these cannabinoids are the all-stars THC and CBD –– though there are up to 113 currently known cannabinoids!

Terpenes are actually not exclusive to cannabis and refer to the aromatic oils that give a particular strain its unique smell and taste. The characteristic smells and tastes of basil, rosemary, or citrus are all examples of terpenes. New research is beginning to indicate that what we refer to as classic indica or sativa characteristics (pain relief and sleepiness vs. energy and alertness) may actually be hinting at a strain’s terpene profile.

By investigating a strain’s lab-tested results, we can infer with greater accuracy as to whether or not it may be the right choice as a sleep aid based on its concentration of Myrcene, or helpful with pain relief based on its concentration of β-caryophyllene. Combined with information on a strain’s make up of THC and CBD (among other cannabinoids), patients and recreational users can make informed decisions when seeking to alleviate a certain ailment or achieve a desired state of mind.

As trusted brands and cultivators rise in the legalized market, shoppers can also hope to experience greater consistency in the effects of the medicine they purchase as manufacturers begin to offer proprietary takes on classic strains, such as 1964 Supply Co.’s GSC Thin Mints or THC Design’s XJ-13. Over time, consumers looking for brand-specific strains can expect the same effect time after time, the way they would when buying from their favorite brewery or coffee brand.

You can always view detailed lab results on your favorite strains and products when shopping with HERB by clicking the full product view of the item and checking out the Description and Lab Results tabs.

If you are a recreational patient of 21 years or older, or a medical patient of 18 years or older, you can browse our extensive selection of Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid strains here and receive your order in the next 15-45 minutes.

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