If you’re new to marijuana, shopping at a dispensary can be an overwhelming experience.
Typically, a menu board lists a dozen or more varieties, called strains, with names that sound like punch lines from a Seth Rogen movie. From the subdued Blue Dream to the upbeat and euphoric Berry White, the names give almost no indication of the drug’s effect or strength.
Knowing the difference between the two major species of marijuana, sativa and indica, may help newbies pick a product that best fits their medicinal needs. The characteristics of each are, however, hugely speculative and based on user-reported experiences.
Sativa and indica strains originated from different parts of the world. Sativa, with its long, thin leaves, is believed to have grown in a hot, jungle-like geography. The short and bushy leafed indica evolved in drier conditions.
Ask any “budtender” or black market dealer and they will tell you the differences in how these two strains affect the body and mind are easy to spot.
Sativa strains produce a rush of energy that leaves people feeling energised and uplifted, according to strain review site Leafly. It’s a good pick if you’re heading to a Rihanna concert or penning the great American novel, but not ideal for toking before bed.
Indica strains, on the other hand, help you wind down into a relaxed, sedated state. They’re often believed to be responsible for the “couch-lock” phenomenon that lets stoners binge television mindlessly. (Might I suggest Netflix’s “Stranger Things” for such activity?)
These classifications make our lives easier as consumers. Unfortunately, they may be more fiction than fact.
Dr. Ethan Russo, a neurologist and president emeritus ot the International Cannabinoid Research Society, described the myths around sativa versus indica strains as “total nonsense.”
“We would all prefer simple nostrums to explain complex systems, but this is futile and even potentially dangerous in the context of a psychoactive drug such as cannabis,” Russo said in an interview with the Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research journal earlier this year.
He, and other scientists, believe that marijuana’s terpenoids — a large class of organic compounds produced by plants — are largely responsible for the differences in observed effects. A strain’s myrcene content is more likely what causes couch-lock, while limonene produces a heady high.
These compounds and more appear in varied concentrations in sativa and indica, though they’re rarely reported. Smokers don’t know what they’re getting, short of a lab-grade biochemical analysis on the bud they’re buying (which some providers do offer).
It’s nearly impossible to make any definitive assumptions since research has been limited for so long. The federal government currently classifies marijuana in a category of drugs believed to have no medicinal benefits, placing severe restrictions on research, though those are loosening. In August, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agreed to increase the number of institutes it certifies to grow marijuana for research.
There’s also something to be said for the placebo effect, science writer Simon Oxenham points out in a recent investigation. When we read this strain will do that, our minds will the suggestion into reality.
The mind works in mysterious ways, as does marijuana.
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