Have you ever known someone to claim they felt an Indica effect from a Sativa product, or vice versa? Most people make their decision on what type of cannabis they buy based on whether the strain/product is an Indica or Sativa for their “known” effects, but do these subspecies really have the specific effects they claim to carry? Indica’s are generally known to have a body high, being physically sedative, and due to its drowsiness or “couch-lock” effect is suggested for nighttime use. Sativa’s are known for its head high or cerebral effect, claiming to be more energizing and uplifting, is suggested for daytime use. Though these seem to be what Indica and Sativa are known for, the real difference between the 2 are actually based on the physical characteristics, genetics, morphology, and the geographic areas they are indigenous to.
Indica strains are known to grow in less hot dry climates in high altitudes (indigenous to the Middle East and the Hindu Kush Mountains), are more likely to thrive during seasonal changes. Indica plants are short in length, generally measuring 3-4 ft in height due to their short flowering season, are densely branched and have broader leaves. Sativa’s on the other hand grow in hotter and more humid climates with longer summers (indigenous to areas near the equator) and take longer to fully flower making their height an average of 8-12 ft, but can grow up to 20 ft. Since Sativa’s are so tall they are usually grown outdoors, and are loosely branched with longer narrow leaves. It was thought that Indica’s had a higher THC:CBD ratio, and Sativa having a higher CBD:THC ratio. But recent studies have shown there is hardly any difference in cannabinoid content between Indica and Sativa plants.
Originally, there were an estimated 60 naturally evolving strains prior to human intervention with evolving cannabis, but as of 2018 there are over 6,000 hybridized strains derived from the 60 known landrace plants. Most current strains that are available today are hybrids. They are bread to get either a high THC or CBD content. Rather than leaning towards an Indica or Sativa these are truly hybrids strains that claim to be Indica/Sativa dominant. Consumers have been informed Indica and Sativa labels and now that is what they expect. For marketing purposes, it only makes sense to label strains as Indica and Sativa based on effect, since that is what they are expecting. Indica vs Sativa can end up being more of a placebo effect (i.e.-being told a strain is Indica, making your belief in the claimed effects of an Indica occur when consumed, rather than the products it’s self actually giving the claimed effects).
Though there is little to no known difference in cannabinoid content between Sativa and Indica, terpenes are likely to determine the underlying effects of individual cannabis strains and products. Terpenes are known for giving cannabis it’s wide variety of distinct aromas and flavors. A few known terpenes are Myrcene(earthy/herbal/clove-like), Linalool(floral/sweet), Limonene(citrusy/fruity), Pinene (piney/earthy), and Trans-Caryophyllene (peppery/woody/spicy). These terpenes are also found in other plants and fruits; and carry different effects like sedating, relaxing, elevating, stress relief, energy, alertness, and pain relief. An example of one of these is in lavender, which has the terpene linalool and has been known to have sedating and stress relieving effects.
Multiple studies found that different strains cluster into groups based on terpene profiles. One study looking into the different terpene content between Sativa and Indica strains found higher levels of hydroxylated terpenes in Indica’s, such as alpha-terpineol and linalool, which have sedative effects. Though there have been some certain terpenes/cannabinoids linked to Sativa or Indica strains, none are found exclusively or consistently in either to prove the effects are linked directly to an Indica or Sativa strain/product. There is a more recent trend in products that focus on labeling their products with specific effects rather than being derived from an Indica or Sativa, or even strain specific. These products are rather labeled with words such as “bliss”, “calm”, “sleep”, “relax”, “energize”, etc.
Another factor that could play into how one feels a “head high” or “body high” is how you consume cannabis. When you smoke cannabis, the cannabinoids go straight into your lungs and directly to your blood supply. Then the cannabinoids hit your brain and go across the blood-brain barrier and connect with cannabinoid receptors, creating the psychoactive “high”, giving you an almost immediate head high. When you ingest cannabis, like in edibles, the cannabinoids get digested and go to the liver. The liver then processes the THC and gives a different effect on the cannabinoid receptors, causing more of a body high. This does not mean that smoking or ingesting weed will give you only a head or body high. Likely, there will be both highs (considerably with edibles), but it all depends on your body’s and the product’s chemical make-up.
Next time you, or someone you know is looking into getting a good cannabis product but are looking for specific effects; don’t rely on Indica or Sativa products alone. Ask your budtender about their knowledge of terpenes and what products they carry that contain the type of terpenes you are looking for. Since this is new knowledge in the cannabis industry not every budtender, or shop will have much knowledge about terpenes or what terpenes are in their products. Do your research beforehand so when you go to ask for certain terpene pertaining products the budtender can help you find the right product for you. There are plenty of good resources on websites such as leafly.com and leafscience.com, and some even have videos that go in depth into different terpenes and their effects, aromas, and flavors.