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the difference between indica and sativa | Lantern Cannabis Delivery
Cannabis 101

Sativa vs. indica: What's the difference? 

Beth WaterfallAugust 3, 2020

Gone are the days of “sativas make me focused” and “indicas make me sleep.” As growers and scientists explore the presence and interaction of terpenes, flavonoids, cannabinoids and other chemical compounds in various cannabis strains and their effects, the terms “indica” and “sativa” are losing relevance for patients and consumers alike.


But they aren’t completely irrelevant, especially for those who desire certain physical and environmental traits during cultivation. The distinctions between “indica”, “sativa”, and “hybrid”, have more to do with the physical properties of the plant, its climate attributes, and growth cycles, than their legitimate effects. 


Below, we shine a light on the myths causing the most murkiness in understanding the differences between sativa and indica types of cannabis. 


Myth #1: Dispensaries are accurately labeling sativas and indicas

After decades of cross-breeding and adjusting to different grow environments, the majority of cannabis strains (also referred to as “cultivars”) being sold as sativas or indicas in dispensaries today are mislabeled. The real differences between the cannabis labeled and sold as sativa or indica are entirely physical – whether they’re sold in a dispensary or illicit market. 


Indica plants tend to grow in cooler, damper climates, with shorter growth cycles that result in shorter, stockier plants with thick stems and wide leaves. True sativa plants thrive in warmer, drier climates. With longer growth and flowering cycles, sativas tend to grow taller, quicker, and have skinnier leaves.


Myth #2: Sativa strains give you energy

Most cannabis labeled as sativa today claim to produce uplifting effects, leaving the consumer focused, energized, and feeling creative. They also tend to be higher in THC, which in large doses can leave you feeling lethargic or in some cases seriously paranoid. 


Look at the cannabinoid profile (if available) and look for terpenes like pinene and limonene which have been shown to be better for those looking for a daytime strain.


Myth #3: Indica strains make you sleepy

There’s a reason why many consumers praise cannabis as a sleep aid: It works, depending on strain of course. Indicas are generally known and sought after to help relax the mind and body, commonly known as the “nighttime strains.” 


For proof this isn’t a “one size fits all” assessment, ask anyone who bought an indica hoping for a restful sleep, but instead was up all night counting sheep. Our body chemistry, nutrition, and mindset all affect our cannabis experiences. There’s no guarantee that those indica strains—or any strain—will have guaranteed effects for different consumers.


Look instead for strains featuring myrcene, linalool, caryophyllene and terpinolene.


Myth #4: The presence of myrcene makes a strain an Indica

Like all terpenes, the other chemical compounds expressed in a particular cannabis plant will have an effect on how each component works. One common misconception about indica strains is that they all contain myrcene or that any strain containing myrcene is indica and will make you sleep. 


While myrcene is the most commonly found terpene in cannabis today, regardless of indica or sativa labeling, remember that everyone responds differently based on their endocannabinoid system. Your body might react with an energetic burst while your buddy dozes off after consuming myrcene (or any other terpene). It’s all about experimentation and seeing what works for you.


The takeaway

Labeling cannabis as indica or sativa is becoming a source of confusion and controversy for consumers and retailers. But, when empowered with an understanding of the reported effects of different chemical compounds found in cannabis and how they work, consumers can ask more questions, better explore how different combinations interact with their bodies, and make the best decisions for their own needs. 


Happy exploring!

Beth Waterfall
Beth Waterfall is a cannabis writer, marketer, advocate and consumer on a mission to break stigma against cannabis and the people who use or work with it. She has written for the Boston Globe, Ladybud, 1000 Watts, Freedom Leaf, and Cape and Plymouth Business magazines, and is a frequent speaker at cannabis industry, marketing, and community events. Learn more at bethwaterfall.com.
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