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You may have heard the adage: sativa is for head highs and indica is for body highs. Well… that’s not entirely the case. It’s a simple way to navigate the hundreds of products on a dispensary menu, but it’s not the whole story. There’s a whole lot more to your experience than indica, sativa, and hybrid classifications. How did this Sativa Indica myth come about, and what should you look for instead while you shop?

Fact vs. fiction: Indica, sativa, and hybrid

The umbrella terms indica, sativa, and hybrid are commonly used to describe the potential effects a certain cultivar or product may have on your mind and mind. Generally, Indica strains are associated with relaxation, sedation, and body-centric effects, while sativa strains are linked to energizing, uplifting effects, often favored during the daytime. Hybrids combine characteristics of both indica and sativa to offer a balance of efforts.

Or, so says common knowledge.

Indica, sativa, and hybrid myths, debunked

Myth #1: ‘Indica’ means sedative and ‘sativa’ means stimulating

Fact: The terms indica and sativa refer to plant biology, not its effects.

While these terms provide a general classification, the true diversity of cannabis lies in the terpene and cannabinoid content of each cultivar. Indica, sativa, and hybrid actually describe the plant’s phenotype or physical characteristics. Their genotype, or the cannabinoids and terpenes each cultivar contains, varies widely and wildly, sometimes even within the same harvest of a single cultivar.

Physically, Indica plants typically have broader leaves and a more compact structure, while sativa plants exhibit narrower leaves and a taller, more elongated structure. Hybrids can take on any characteristic from either parent plant and those characteristics may not match. For example, a sativa-dominant hybrid may have some classic physical indica traits, even if its genetics are predominantly from a sativa.

Myth #2: All strains are either indica or sativa

Fact: The strains are hybrids.

Not all cannabis strains fit into the categories of ‘indica’ or ‘sativa.’ Very few do. There are very few landrace, or pure native, indica and sativa strains out there. Durban Poison is an example of a Sativa landrace cultivar, and Hindu Kush is an example of a landrace indica cultivar.

The clear majority of strains available today are hybrids, blending attributes of both indica and sativa plants. Cultivators do this to enhance certain attributes, such as resistance to disease; to increase cannabinoid content; or to enhance certain terpenes, among other reasons.

Myth #3: The effects of Indica and Sativa are consistent for everyone

Fact: Your response to a cultivar is not guaranteed.

Assuming sativas keep you alert and indicas help you sleep is an oversimplification. Not only does phenotype not guarantee genotype, as discussed earlier in this guide, but the overall effects of any cannabis product are not universal. Your response to a cultivar is influenced by your biochemistry, tolerance to cannabis, overall health, and your environment, among many more factors. The method you use to consume (like smoking a joint versus eating an edible) and how much you take also plays a significant role in shaping your cannabis experience.

Overall, recognizing the personalized nature of these responses underscores the importance of a tailored and informed journey to find the right products for you — not just what’s written on the label.

Myth #4: Sativas have more THC, while indicas have more CBD

Fact: Cannabinoid content varies within indica and sativa cultivars.

Understanding cannabinoid content is not strictly determined by the indica or sativa classification. There may be tendencies toward one or the other, but cannabinoid content in any cultivar can vary significantly. While some sativa cultivars may indeed have high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentrations, others may exhibit diverse cannabinoid profiles. Similarly, indicas can showcase varying levels of THC and CBD.

Where did the indica vs. sativa myth come from?

The classifications of cannabis indica and cannabis sativa are quite old — 1700s old. First described in scientific literature by Jean Baptiste Lamarck, the French naturalist noted the physical differences between the two plant types: the skinny and squat stalks, the thin and fat leaves, the familiar high feeling we now know is caused by THC.

Lamarck’s description of the sativa and indica experience stuck. More than two centuries later, cannabis is still categorized by Sativa’s energizing effects, India’s relaxing effects, and hybrid falling somewhere in between. Underground cannabis culture perpetuated this approach for decades.

But we’ve learned a lot about cannabis since the late 1700s. We now know that the compounds in cannabis are what make your experience, not the physical characteristics of the plant. Putting the plant into neat categories has proven to be much more complicated than Lamarck first opined.

What’s better for you: Indica, sativa, or hybrid?

There’s no “better” cultivar between indicas, sativas, or hybrids. This completely hinges on what you want out of your cannabis experience. That can vary from time to time, and even at different points throughout the day. In any case, we’ll say it again: looking at cannabinoids and terpenes is what’s key, not the indica, sativa, or hybrid classification.

Cannabinoids and terpenes each bring their own effects to the party. When they come together, they contribute to something called the entourage effect. While researchers are not quite sure how it works, the theory states that cannabinoids and terpenes behave differently when influenced by other compounds in their presence. For example, this is why a product with a more even THC to CBD ratio won’t make you feel as high as one that only contains THC. If you want to feel more even-keeled, look for a product with these ratios.

Instead of looking at the packaging label, turn to product test results. These screenings, required on all licensed cannabis products in New York, detail precisely which compounds are in your product, and how much of each is present in the product you want to try.

Experience personalization with The Travel Agency

While Indica, Sativa, and hybrid classifications provide a starting point to navigate a robust dispensary menu, they are far from the end of the story. Cannabinoid and terpene content is essential to understand how a product may make you feel and to truly personalize your experience.

Start your journey at The Travel Agency. Whether you’re a seasoned enthusiast looking for something new or a curious newcomer who doesn’t know where to start, our travel guides are here to point you in the right direction. Stop by Union Square, Downtown Brooklyn, or Fifth Avenue seven days a week for guidance.

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