When you walk into your neighborhood pot store, you have three basic choices: indica, sativa, or a hybrid of the two.
However, what you see may not be what you get. The most common ways to categorize cannabis strains could be misleading, according to a new study. Leafly Editor-in-Chief David Downs breaks down how inaccurate product labeling can be.
What are indica, sativa and hybrids?
David Downs: Those were the three basic ways we used to rank the pot when it was all pot.
It started with how it was grown. Indica Plants are smaller and bushier. Sativa Plants are larger and more airy. Hybrids tend to be a mix of the two. This is because sativa has evolved in the tropicsand indica evolved in the mountains.
The [were] some initial morphological differences in these plants that growers thought were associated with different chemicals in the plants and, therefore, different effects on the plants. That’s why we ended up with indica, sativa, and hybrid as the three broad categorizations you’ll see when you walk into a dispensary and check out a menu.
What did the study find?
The indica-sativa-hybrid classification system may not be very helpful when it comes to determining the true effect of the cannabis you are taking.
This new study was published in PLOS ONE by researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder as well as leafy. It examined 89,923 lab samples sent to cannabis labs in six states. These laboratories analyzed the samples for THC and CBDthe main active ingredients of cannabis, as well as the terpenesthe aromatic molecules, to see if these samples correlated with the labels for indica, sativa and hybrids.
So [looked at] the names of specific strains, such as Blue Dreamof which there are 6,000 or more in the Leafly database.
What about strain names?
They do not correspond to indica, sativa and hybrid designations, but strain names can be correlated to terpenes and THC, and therefore to effects in cannabis.
Really popular varieties like Purple hallmark Where White Tahoe Cookies generally have the same chemotype wherever you buy it, but older strains that have drifted over time as a Tangie or one Durban have less of this correlation.
Instead, the study found that there are three main types or clusters of terpenes in all of cannabis in America that are only loosely related to indica, sativa, and hybrid.
Any caveats in the study?
We are learning that not all terpenes are created equal. Miners can have outsized effects relative to their weight, and people’s bodies are different.
Another caveat is that there are more than terpenes in cannabis, and they are not necessarily tested. Scientists Discover Things Like Volatile Sulfur compounds, or phenols. Laboratory standards also vary. We are still in the infancy of cannabis science.
What does this mean for consumers?
I think the big takeaway is to know THC. You’re going to see a THC percentage on things, and that THC percentage really drives a lot of the effects of cannabis in terms of high or euphoria.
Some people say, “I don’t like marijuana. I don’t like how that makes me feel. It’s usually related to the THC content, which can reach 25-30% now, and very high. These people might want to try the second most common cannabinoid in marijuana, cannabidiolwhich has a different effect on the nervous level than THC.
If indica, sativa, and hybrid work for you, great. But if not, there’s another layer you can go down, and that’s in the terpenes where you might find things that work better for you than the old classification system.
How can consumers know what they are buying?
One thing I tell people is to follow your nose. Your nose is very sensitive and powerful, and it’s really associated with memory. You are going to have a memory of what is good or bad in terms of your past experience with cannabis.
Another is to get fresh cannabis. Look at these terpenes to find correlations with effect, but now also look at the date of the manufacturer.
There is more old weed on the shelves of legal stores than ever. You want to look for fresh cannabis because it is an agricultural product and degrades over time. Even if you’re right about the terpenes you want, if this jar is 6 months old, those terpenes might be long gone.