What is the difference between Indica, Sativa or Hybrid?
There are many physical differences, which are obvious, so I’ll start with that. However, during my research, it became apparent that there really are no pure strains of Indica and Sativa for consumer use. During the literally thousands of years that Cannabis has been used by humans as medicine…. Indica, Sativa or Hybrid have merged many times.
I think it would be more accurate to say that a plant is either Sativa or Indica DOMINANT, but no longer purebred. Cannabis breeders may use Landrace or Heritage strains of Indica or Sativa, which are considered ‘purebred’, but I doubt there is any life on this Earth that is still pure of it’s type. Ongoing natural evolution of all species from the beginning of Creation, has created and is continuing to create new versions of itself.
The outward physical differences of Indica and Sativa are still there
but the composition of cannabinoids, terpenes and hundreds of other components can vary greatly. It’s become a cliché to say that Indica strains are more for relaxing and Sativa strains are more uplifting and energetic. Yes, some are, but others are not. This cliché has become an ‘Urban myth’. Read on, I will explain.
What are the physical differences? Indica, Sativa and hybrids are considered sub species from the parent species that we call Cannabis Sativa.
Basically, Indica are shorter plants, with broader leaves and often have buds with darker colours in blues and purples. The time from seedling to harvest of the buds is shorter, from 6 to 8 weeks. The Indica subspecies originated in colder climates like Northern India and Afghanistan. With a shorter growing season, plants have to mature sooner and don’t have as much time to grow taller.
The Sativa Marijuana subspecies grows much taller and naturally takes longer to mature from seedling to bud harvest at about 12 weeks. The buds from Sativa tend to have the warmer colours of oranges and reds. The Sativa originated in hot climates, with long growing seasons. This plant therefore could grow upward for months before maturing. The leaves are thinner, stalks taller, many growing to 12 feet in height in optimum growing conditions.
The plant which we know as Hemp today, is a Sativa
and is not considered a subspecies. The THC rich Sativa and Indica varieties are generally referred to as subspecies of Sativa. I did some extensive reading on the history of cannabis taxonomy. It seems over the years of cannabis study by biologists, they could not agree as to whether Sativa, Indica and Ruderalis were separate species, or subspecies of Sativa.
It goes on and on. If you dare, like I did, read the extensive information on cannabis found on Wikipedia. Hemp’s scientific title is Cannabis Sativa L. The common name of Hemp is named for it’s fiber, which was it’s basic value for about 12 thousand years. Check out my page called Stop the War on Hemp for some eye opening information regarding Hemp’s uses.
The differences that determine the use of a particular strain of Sativa, Indica, hybrid or any wild variety is in the Cannabinoids and Terpenes. Cannabis has over a hundred different cannabinoids, researchers still don’t know exactly how many and what value each and every one has. The two best known are CBD and THC.
All Cannabis Sativa L (that includes Hemp, and the subspecies Sativa, Indica and hybrids) have the same kinds of cannabinoids, just in different amounts. All have Terpenes, just different types.
All Cannabinoids and Terpenes are found in the Trichomes
or glands of the flower and smaller upper leaves (close to the flowers). The seeds and larger leaves contain none. This goes for Hemp as well.
The strains bred for high levels of THC are chosen for their euphoric effect (getting high) but also for pain relief, insomnia, depression, seizures, cancer, increases appetite and much more.
The strains bred for high levels of CBD, and low to only trace amounts of THC, are chosen for pain relief, depression, anxiety, seizures, insomnia, cancer, decreasing appetite and more. High CBD strains have great value for people who are overly sensitive to THC or just don’t want any euphoric effects (I am one of those overly sensitive people).
Hybrid strains have profiles from one spectrum to the other, super high THC, super high CBD to more balanced amounts of CBD to THC. The hybrid strains that have balanced CBD to THC 1:1, are great for people that don’t want to be flying high but need the THC as well as the CBD and others, for their symptoms.
It was once thought that Indica had higher levels of CBD than Sativa, causing more sleepiness. Testing has disproved this theory, as both Indica dominant strains and Sativa dominant strains have varying amounts of CBD to THC.
So if Indica, Sativa, hybrids and Hemp all have cannabinoids,
with varying levels, how can you tell one from the other? Physical differences aside, how can you tell whether a selection of buds/flowers is more Indica dominant or Sativa dominant? The best way is to have a test done of the kinds and percentages of the Terpenes in the flower.
The second best is by smell. Only a very experienced cannabis breeder would be able to tell you, by smell, whether a selection of buds was more Indica or Sativa. Terpenes all have a scent and flavour, and are often associated with certain colours.
The chart above is called a Flavour chart. Cannabis breeders often have wheels such as this to show the different strains associated with various flavours. Terpenes and flavours are linked. Read on…
Sativa and Indica strains can have distinctive terpenes, that make them different from one another but can also have terpenes that are similar to one another. Confusing? When I first learned about terpenes, they didn’t have much importance for me. The same glands, Trichomes, on the flowers that product the valued cannabinoids, also produce Terpenes, which are what give a plant it’s scent and flavour. I did not think Terpenes would have much medicinal value. I was wrong.
As a matter of fact Aromatherapy uses Essential oils to either invigorate your senses or to calm or even to excite them. This is all due to the Terpenes in the essential oils.
Have you ever used aromatherapy? You’ve probably heard of it or know something about it though right? Aromatherapy is the process of inhaling the scents of essential oils to affect the mind and body in a positive way. Aromatherapy is the art of using essential oils to treat certain conditions, either by inhaling through diffusers or mixed into other oils and used topically.
Essential oils contain Terpenes. All fragrant plants contain Terpenes, like lavender flowers, oranges, pepper, lemons, roses, geraniums, cannabis and thousands more found in fruit and flowers and trees.
There are many types of Terpenes found in Cannabis, because breeders have focused on creating strains with varying scents and flavours. Terpenes are what give all the thousands of strains of Cannabis their unique features.
Here’s a quick list of Terpenes found in Cannabis
I borrowed this information from a Website called Medicaljane.com
“Pinene is used in medicine as an anti-inflammatory, expectorant, bronchodilator and local antiseptic. α-pinene is a natural compound isolated from pine needle oil which has shown anti-cancer activity and has been used as an anti-cancer agent in Traditional Chinese Medicine for many years. It is also believed that the effects of THC may be lessened if mixed with pinene. It is found mostly in balsamic resin, pine woods and some citrus fruits.
Myrcene– A high myrcene level in cannabis (usually above 0.5%) results in the well-known “couch-lock” effect of classic Indica strains. Myrcene is found in oil of hops, citrus fruits, bay leaves, eucalyptus, wild thyme, lemon grass and many other plants. Myrcene is a potent analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and antimutagenic. It blocks the action of cytochrome, aflatoxin B and other pro-mutagenic carcinogens.
Limonene is a monocyclic monoterpenoid and one of two major compounds formed from pinene. As the name suggests, varieties high in limonene have strong citrusy smells like oranges, lemons and limes. Strains high in limonene promote a general uplift in mood and attitude. This citrusy terpene is the major constituent in citrus fruit rinds, rosemary, juniper and peppermint, as well as in several pine needle oils.
Limonene may be beneficial in protecting against various cancers, and orally administered limonene is currently undergoing clinical trials in the treatment of breast cancer. Limonene has been found to even help promote weight-loss.
Beta-caryophyllene is a sesquiterpene found in many plants such as Thai basils, cloves, cinnamon leaves and black pepper, and in minor quantities in lavender. It’s aroma has been described as peppery, woody and/or spicy. β–caryophyllene was identified as a functional non-psychoactive CB2 receptor ligand in foodstuff and as a macrocyclic anti-inflammatory cannabinoid in cannabis.
Linalool is a non-cyclic monoterpenoid and has been described as having floral and lavender undertones. Varieties high in linalool promote calming, relaxing effects.
Linalool has been used for centuries as a sleep aid. Linalool lessens the anxious emotions provoked by pure THC, thus making it helpful in the treatment of both psychosis and anxiety. Studies also suggest that linalool boosts the immune system; can significantly reduce lung inflammation; and can restore cognitive and emotional function (making it useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease).
Linalool has been isolated in several hundred different plants. The Lamiaceae plant and herb family, which includes mints and other scented herbs, are common sources. The Lauraceae plant family, which includes laurels, cinnamon, and rosewood, is also a readily available source. The Rutaceae family, which contains citrus plants, is another viable source. Birch trees and several different plant species that are found in tropical and boreal climate zones also produce linalool.
Terpinolene is a common component of sage and rosemary and is found in the oil derived from Monterey cypress. Terpinolene has been found to be a central nervous system depressant used to induce drowsiness or sleep or to reduce psychological excitement or anxiety. Further, terpinolene was found to markedly reduce the protein expression of AKT1 in K562 cells and inhibited cell proliferation involved in a variety of human cancers.
The aroma of terpineol has been compared to lilacs and flower blossoms. Terpineol is often found in cannabis varieties that have high pinene levels, which unfortunately mask the fragrant aromas of terpineol.
Terpineol, specifically α-terpineol, is known to have calming, relaxing effects. It also exhibits antibiotic, AChe inhibitor and antioxidant antimalarial properties.
Camphene, a plant-derived monoterpene, emits pungent odors of damp woodlands and fir needles. Camphene may play a critical role in cardiovascular disease. Camphene is a minor component of many essential oils such as turpentine, camphor oil, citronella oil and ginger oil.
Phellandrene is described as pepper minty, with a slight scent of citrus. Phellandrene is believed to have special medicinal values. Phellandrene was first discovered in eucalyptus oil. Phellandrene can be found in a number of herbs and spices, including cinnamon, garlic, dill, ginger and parsley. A number of plants produce β-phellandrene as a constituent of their essential oils, including lavender and grand fir.
Carene- Delta-3-carene has a sweet, pungent odor. It is found naturally in essential oils, like cypress oil, juniper berry oil and fir needle essential oils. In higher concentrations, delta-3-carene can be a central nervous system depressant. It is often used to dry out excess body fluids, such as tears, mucus, and sweat.
Delta-3-carene is also naturally present in pine extract, bell pepper, basil oil, grapefruit and orange juices, citrus peel oils from fruits like lemons, limes, mandarins, tangerines, oranges and kumquats.
Humulene is found in hops, cannabis sativa strains, and Vietnamese coriander, among other naturally occurring substances. Humulene is what gives beer its distinct ‘hoppy’ aroma. Humulene is considered to be anti-tumor, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anorectic (suppresses appetite)
Pulegone has a pleasant peppermint aroma. Pulegone, is a minor component of cannabis. Higher concentrations of pulegone are found in rosemary. Rosemary breaks down acetylcholine in the brain, allowing nerve cells to communicate more effectively with one another.
An ethnopharmacology study indicates pulegone may have significant sedative and fever-reducing properties. It may also alleviate the side effects of short-term memory loss sometimes associated with higher levels of THC.
Sabinene has the aroma that is reminiscent of the holidays (pines, oranges, spices). Results of an ongoing study by Valente et al suggest that sabinene should be explored further as a natural source of new antioxidant and anti-inflammatory drugs for the development of food supplements, nutraceuticals or plant-based medicines.
Sabinene occurs in many plants, including Norway spruce, black pepper, basil and Myristica fragrans (an evergreen indigenous to the Moluccas)—the Spice Islands of Indonesia. The seeds of the Myristica fragrans are the world’s main source of nutmeg.
Geraniol produces a sweet, delightful smell similar to roses. This makes geraniol a popular choice for many bath and body products. It is also known to be an effective mosquito repellant. Medically, geraniol shows promise in the treatment of neuropathy.”
and further research turned up more Terpenes listed in the website HelloMd.com
“Borneol has a minty aroma and is found in high concentrations in herbs such as rosemary and mint. It has both anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects.
Isoborneol has a sweet and musty flavor; also found in mug wort. This terpene has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, and it inhibits the herpes simplex type 1 virus, (which causes cold sores).
Phytol results from the breakdown of chlorophyll. It has a floral, balsamic flavor and demonstrates sedative and anti-anxiety effects through inhibiting the activity of an enzyme that degrades GABA, which is a chemical found in the brain.”
This is just a brief outline of the Terpenes found in Cannabis, however it is enough to show you the power and influence that Terpenes have within a plant.
Some Indica strains are more uplifting
as apposed to the general belief that Indicas are always ‘couch locking’ and sedative, while some Sativa types, instead of being uplifting and energizing are more relaxing and sleep inducing.
There are consistencies in the strains depending on the ‘scents’ which the Terpenes have in the strain. Indicas varieties have more earthy scents and Sativa generally have more varieties with citrusy fruity scents.
Cannabis strains that smell strongly of lemon and pine contain higher quantities of the terpenes- Limonene and Pinene. This is indicative of a flower that is likely to have more energizing, sativa-dominant effects. At the other end of the spectrum are strains with a musky and earthy aroma that may be higher in the terpene Myrcene, which is connected to more sedative indica-dominant effects.
Hybrids, which is what most flowers are, on the market these days, are often a blending of both the terpenes that produce sedation and terpenes that produce alertness.
Terpenes that produce alertness and energy are Pinene, Terpinolene, Limonene and Borheal
Terpenes that are more on the sedative side are Linalool and Terpinolene.
One Terpene called Myrcene can go both ways-
if it is present in amounts of more than 0.5% it’s effect is as a sedative. When Myrcene is present in amounts less than 0.5% it’s action is energizing!
The Terpenes, while they are certainly amazing, are team players. All Terpenes interact with the Cannabinoids for an entourage effect. The levels of CBD and THC for instance, will have more or less effect depending on the Terpenes. A pitcher in Baseball may look like the Star, but he or she would be nothing spectacular without the batters, fielders and base members, right?
In Summary, what is the difference between Indica, Sativa or Hybrid? The answer is the kinds of and amounts of Terpenes, that interact with the cannabinoids found in all three. When choosing a strain, you will have to rely on the professionals (budtenders or website description) to tell you whether any particular strain is energizing or sedating. As you’ve learned, the label of Indica does not guarantee a sedation type, and a Sativa label does not ensure it’s energizing.