For decades, the iconic meme of the lazy stoner couchlocked while watching television and eating Doritos has permeated American culture. Pot is simply assumed to provide a sedative effect, especially if enough of it is smoked or vaped. It is understood that it calms users and relieves stress and anxiety.
Most of these stereotypes, however, are based on only one of the three varieties of cannabis: Indica. Most would assume that cannabis, as a plant, is a single species. However, marijuana is actually three separate species, all of which share a common genus, Cannabis. Thus, the formal Latin names for the most popular types of marijuana are Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica.
Consider the variety of skin colors, hair and body types, and facial proportions found among humans. Then realize that all humans are the same species, Homo Sapien.
If sativa and indica strains are different species, do their medical efficacies and high types reflect this gap?
Pure Sativas Are Rare
Sativa (left)/Indica (right)
One of the problems with personally testing the difference between indica and sativa strains is the relative rareness of sativa-dominant marijuana on the commercial market. Because they take longer to grow and yield considerably lower bud weight per plant, commercial growers of all sizes lack incentive to grow sativa strains.
However, two things have conspired to make sativa more widely available to consumers: Open commercial markets, like found in Colorado, and high-quality hybrid strains. Most strains of cannabis on the market are a hybrid. This means that both indica and sativa strains have been cross bred to create a new strain that, in theory, has the strengths of both its parents (and hopefully few of the weaknesses).
While even pampered pot purveyors in Denver will find it difficult to obtain a pure sativa, both raw cannabis and edibles derived from hybrids that are dominated by either indica or sativa characteristics are available in most medical dispensaries and retail shops.
For patients who must medicate throughout the day, choosing the wrong type of herb can be the difference between a productive day and one spent napping or playing Xbox. Clearly, an uplifting sativa in the morning is the best choice, whereas the same herb at 11:00 p.m. is probably a bad approach and could result in insomnia. For patients who must smoke or vape on a continual basis to deal with a chronic or terminal condition, the difference between an energetic, social sativa and a relaxing, calming indica are night and day.
Uplifting and Cerebral
Some sativa strains, like Jack Herer and Durban Poison, are highly desired based on their uplifting effect and cerebral high type. Not only will these strains not deliver couchlock and hours of munchies, but they sometimes kill appetite and result in unusually productive sessions.
Open markets, of course, provide opportunities for entrepreneurs and shop owners wishing to differentiate themselves from their competition. Stocking a variety of sativa and sativa-dom strains in a range of forms is a good way for a dispensary or retail store to develop a dedicated customer base.
For patients and customers who have either never consumed a sativa-dom strain or, if they have, had no idea what was in their pipe or vaporizer, the value of a regulated legal market is readily apparent. The inability of the black market to simply make available or properly label indica and sativa strains means patients are left wondering — and their medicine may not be the most appropriate.
In a perfect world, patients would have a variety of indicas and sativas in their medicine cabinet. Some would be chosen because of their targeted medical effects. Others would be included specifically for their ability to deliver either energy and a cerebral high or relaxation and the munchies (those suffering from a wasting syndrome probably prefer an indica for appetite stimulation).
Benefits of indica-dominant strains:
- Relieves body pain (analgesic)
- Stimulates appetite
- Relaxes muscles
- Relieves spasms and reduces seizures
- Relieves migraine headaches
- Relieves anxiety and stress
Benefits of sativa-dominant strains:
- Encourages a perception of well-being
- Promotes uplifting and cerebral thoughts
- Stimulates and energizes
- Increases focus and creativity
- Fights depression
From a compassion perspective, desperate patients will take relief in any form they can get it. It’s unfortunate, however, that many who medicate with cannabis are unaware of the differences between indica and sativa. Fortunately, in states with legal medical programs and retail dispensaries that provide safe access, budtenders can act as consultants, giving new patients a nutshell education and helping ensure that customers use the correct strain for a particular disease, situation, or time of day.
While many patients and recreational consumers like to focus on particular strains of cannabis — and who can blame them? — it is really the percentage of sativa or indica genetics in a particular sample that should be the biggest concern. For those with personal gardens, one must ask if the lower yield and longer flower cycle of a sativa-dominant strain is worth it. For many, a nice, balanced hybrid that won’t put them to sleep and can be smoked mid-day is the best candidate for their garden.
Examples of good sativa strains:
- Jack Herer
- Durban Poison
- Amnesia Haze
- Kali Mist
- Super Silver Sour Diesel Haze (SSSDH)
- Maui Waui
photo credit: coedmagazine
This post was originally published on June 5, 2015, it was updated on October 5, 2017.