EDITOR: | July 9th, 2018 | 4 Comments

Indica and Sativa strains of cannabis: A prohibitionist relic

| July 09, 2018 | 4 Comments

Should you use indica or sativa strains of cannabis? Experts provide a simple answer: neither, one should consume strains of cannabis based on their chemical profiles (chemotypes) whereas morphotypes are not useful as previously hoped.

The indica and sativa designations of cannabis strains is a hotly debated issue in the cannabis world to the point where newcomers get thoroughly confused. These designations are based on plant morphological features (morphotypes).

The indica-sativa designations are historical relics that resulted from the oppressiveness of prohibition when cannabis stakeholders did not have access to analytical tools to chemotype plants. It resulted in cannabis users developing their own taxonomy based on plant morphology.

Typically, cannabis indica plants are short, bushy plants with wide leaves. Indica plants typically grow faster and have a higher yield than the sativa variety. Medicine produced from cannabis indica plants have higher CBD and lower THC counts.

Cannabis sativa plants are opposite of the indica strains and grow tall and thin with narrow leaves. Sativa plants are also generally a lighter shade of green then their counterpart, the indica strain. Sativa strains take longer to grow, mature, and require more light. It is generally thought that medicine produced from cannabis sativa plants have lower CBD and higher THC counts.

But lay literature ascribes various medicinal properties to each of these groups of strains, which cause heartburns to medical professionals looking to match indications with strains.

An excellent article debunks claims: “The Cannabis sativa Versus Cannabis indica Debate: An Interview with Ethan Russo, MD”. I am citing below:

There are biochemically distinct strains of Cannabis, but the sativa/indica distinction as commonly applied in the lay literature is total nonsense and an exercise in futility. One cannot in any way currently guess the biochemical content of a given Cannabis plant based on its height, branching, or leaf morphology. The degree of interbreeding/hybridization is such that only a biochemical assay tells a potential consumer or scientist what is really in the plant. It is essential that future commerce allows complete and accurate cannabinoid and terpenoid profiles to be available. 

In plain language: it is not because a plant has leaves of a certain shape or whether it grows fast that it contains the right chemical to address a medical condition. One should focus on the cannabinoid content. Dr Russo provides further insights about the taxonomy of cannabis:

Botanical taxonomists never agree on anything for very long! To paraphrase and expropriate an old Yiddish expression: 12 botanical taxonomists, 25 different opinions….It is clear that there are many chemotypes of Cannabis: THC predominant, CBD predominant, and mixed types. This is a good basic classification, but it has also been possible to selectively breed for other chemotypes expressing high titers of THCV, cannabidivarin, cannabichromene, and even ones producing 100% of its cannabinoids as cannabigerol, or others with no cannabinoids at all. The debate continues. Some espouse Cannabis as a single species, while others describe up to four: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, Cannabis ruderalis, and Cannabis afghanica (or kafiristanica). 

With the legalization of cannabis in various states and countries, patients can now demand to buy cannabis products based on their active pharmaceutical ingredients rather than their strain designations. This is especially important to medical patients who will, in time, rely on the presence of over 140 cannabinoids for their medical treatment.

With time, we expect various cannabinoid formulations to receive drug approvals. This will be based on specific formulations that are backed up by clinical trials. By then the indica and sativa morphotypes will be a relic of the past.

Dr. Luc Duchesne


Dr. Luc C. Duchesne is a Speaker and Author with a PhD in Biochemistry. With three decades of scientific and business experience, he has published ... <Read more about Dr. Luc Duchesne>

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