Indica vs Sativa – Marketing Bad Cannabis Science

Traverse Jurcisin

29 December 2020

Imagine that being your job, to create a system of organization for organisms and organize 12,000 species. 

It’s understandable that anyone would make a mistake on some of them. Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern phenology, named and organized some 12,000 species within his lifetime.  He didn’t have the genetics tools we have today to prove more definitively the lineage amongst organisms, and his inferences were primarily based off of the plants morphology – how they looked.

One of the definitions of a species is that it cannot interbreed with another species and produce fertile offspring.  A donkey and a horse can interbreed to produce a mule, but mules are sterile – they cannot reproduce. 

Linnaeus made a mistake when naming the species Cannabis.  He saw the short broad-leafed morphology of C. indica, and the tall thin-leafed morphology of C. sativa, and deduced that they were related, but that they must be different species due to how different their morphology was.  The thing is, these two species can interbreed and produce fertile offspring, so they’re actually the same species.

This is an honest and understandable mistake on Linnaeus’s part.  This mistake is the equivalent of looking at two breeds of dogs and deducing that they are different species.  Auto-flowers, or Cannabis ruderalis can also interbreed with sativa and indica, so even though it doesn’t have the short-day photoperiodic flowering response, it too is the same species.

So why do we still use the terms indica and sativa to describe cannabis?  People are naturally drawn to 2 choice systems (aka dichotomies) – left/right, up/down, yes/no, red/blue, black/white, sativa/indica.  Picking between “uppers’ and “downers” is much easier then say choosing a musical artist or song that fits your mood in any given moment.  It’s much easier to market, and that’s why those terms are likely here to stay for a very long time.  For consumers, there is no difference between the two.  This sweeping generality about sativa’s making you feel energetic and indica sleepy is false and is simply a marketing strategy that many have bought into.

“People are naturally drawn to 2 choice systems (aka dichotomies) – left/right, up/down, yes/no, red/blue, black/white, sativa/indica.”

The real situation is much more complex.  Each variety of Cannabis produces a large array of compounds to varying concentrations.  One variety of Cannabis subjected to different conditions during its growth will produce different concentrations of those compounds.  Many of the compounds play synergistic or antagonistic effects on each other, so looking at THC alone is a very limited scope.  In addition to the variance that comes with each variety, the way in which the various compounds interact with our bodies will differ from person to person as these compounds are acting upon receptors in our bodies, and we all have different compositions of these receptors.  Receptor compositions will even change in individuals over time. 

One way I’ve likened trying to explain what the experience of a Cannabis variety will be like, is likening it to a musical artist.  The Cannabis is an orchestra of many different instruments, some playing louder than others, some players having good days, some bad.  The music they play, and how they all play together is highly variable, and given that you have an individual musical preference, there’s practically no knowing how you’ll experience the music.  We can say how we’ve experienced it but telling others how they’ll experience it is a tall order, and to do so is to directly influence that persons experience psychosomatically.