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Cannabis Indica Vs Cannabis Sativa - Debunked!

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As the shackles of prohibition are discarded, science is finally beginning to unveil the hidden truths behind the cannabis plant. Is it time to change the way we categorise cannabis?

Should We Change The Way We Categorise Cannabis?

The last 30–40 years have seen an explosion in the selection of marijuana strains available. In countries where cannabis is now legal or at least reasonably managed and accepted, breeders have produced a prolific array of refined heirloom varieties and hybrids. Awesome-smelling, delicious-tasting, sticky recreational weed is the norm. Then there is an equally wide-ranging selection of medicinal cannabis and hemp varieties.

Challenging The Status Quo

Indica and sativa are two terms well-known by cannabis fans. Each is known to have its own unique qualities. Yet, as the science of marijuana is becoming more in-depth, these names might prove to be just that: names. As the shackles of prohibition are being cast aside, science, especially genetic science, is discovering that qualities once attributed to either indica or sativa are interchangeable and fluid.

Generally speaking, when heavily relaxing and mellow effects were the goal, breeders turned to indica varieties. When a cerebral buzz and energising effects were desired, breeders turned to sativas. However, these goals have often rendered opposite results, with very energising indicas and equally sedative sativas being produced.

Indica Vs Sativa?

Indica VS Sativa?

When cannabis is categorised, it is most often split into two taxonomies, indica and sativa. Sativas are known for being tall, narrow-leaved, and with a classic Christmas tree silhouette. They also take a long time to mature, and once they’re harvested, the effect of their buds is assumed to be energising. Indicas, on the other hand, are shorter, broad-leaved, bushier with a dominant central cola, take a short time to mature, and have sedative effects.

Prohibition did more than force cannabis underground. It seriously hindered the ability to conduct legitimate scientific research into this marvellous plant. Now that science is really sinking its teeth into the facts behind the cannabis plant, conflicting data has been found to be just as valid. Many narrow-leaved varieties induce sedative effects, while numerous broad-leaved varieties are widely experienced as energising and uplifting.

So, how are we to tell what a variety is and what its effects may be? The only true way is by knowing the chemotype (the chemical and terpene profile) and the genotype (the unique genetic profile of a strain).

Genotype & Phenotype

Genotype & Phenotype

Genotype is based on DNA. Cannabis is a diploid organism, which means it inherits a copy of each gene from each parent. This means the genotype for the gene of interest is a combination of each copy.

Phenotypes are the observable growth characteristics of a plant of a specific genotype, which can be influenced by the environment. Environmental factors include photoperiod, climate, soil quality, humidity, and cultivation practices. Phenotype characteristics can be observed, such as leaf shape and plant silhouette, but chemotype can only be measured by testing.

Cannabis genetics, like all types of breeding, is not an exact science. Crossing a narrow-leaved, low-THC plant with a broad-leaved, high-THC plant will produce seeds with genes from both parents. Only some of the physical traits from either parent will be expressed when the plant actually grows. This is why a plant's morphology—or the way it looks—is not always a sufficient indication of its characteristic effects or chemical composition.

Frustratingly, neither are genetics. Even clones taken from the same mother plant may express themselves differently under different circumstances. One grown outdoors in organic soil may have a different morphology and chemotype than one grown hydroponically indoors under lights.

Then What Is Cannabis Sativa?

Then What Is Cannabis Sativa?

If indica and sativa are not two distinct varieties of cannabis and there exists a rainbow of genetic diversity, the question needs to be addressed. Just what is Cannabis sativa, and are there really other cannabis species?

This is where genetics will help uncover the answer. By comparing thousands of samples from the marijuana multiverse, it is possible to distinguish the relationships between different cultivars of cannabis and discover the species’ boundaries—if any.

This exhausting work of comparison has led scientists so far to classify all marijuana as a single species, Cannabis sativa. This classification encompasses all of the various cultivars and includes species with industrial applications like hemp.

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What Is Cannabis Sativa?

On The Other Hand

Science has decided to classify all cannabis under the umbrella term Cannabis sativa. Sativa is a Latin word that simply means cultivated, which is an appropriate classification as most of what is used recreationally, medicinally, and industrially is far from wild. The word indica is the old Latin and Classical Greek word for India, which is the cradle of the psychotropic, resin-producing cannabis plant.

Until wide-ranging genetic assays can mould the accurate nomenclature through precise identification of cannabis strains, there is the opinion that the name does reflect the type of cannabis on offer. Sativa may be the umbrella term for cultivated cannabis, which in essence is all cannabis, but indica is the term that should be used for all psychotropic strains. Sativa should be the term reserved for what is universally regarded as hemp for industrial purposes.

Another Way To Categorise Cannabis

Another Way To Categorise Cannabis

The word sativa appears to be the thorn in the lion’s foot here. It now seems to have two connotations in reference to cannabis. There is the scientific classification; then the commonly held understanding that sativas are narrow-leaved and lanky, while indicas are short and broad-leaved. However, if all strains containing psychotropic resins are to be called indicas, the result is the need for four types of classification:

  • NLD: Narrow-Leaf Drug — Cannabis indica, psychoactive, narrow leaves.
  • BLD: Broad-Leaf Drug — Cannabis sativa, psychoactive, broad leaves.
  • NLH: Narrow-Leaf Hemp — Cannabis sativa, non-psychoactive, narrow leaves.
  • BLH: Broad-Leaf Hemp — Cannabis indica, non-psychoactive, broad leaves.

Humans have had a long relationship with cannabis, going back at least 12,000 years. Nobody knows what types of hybridisation took place over that very long period, or whether heirloom varieties really are that, or acclimatised versions of the same plant. One thing’s for sure; modern cannabis is largely hybridised, with the effects being what is important.

Marijuana relies on the interaction of many compounds—predominantly terpenes, flavonoids, and cannabinoids such as THC, CBD, and CBN. They all combine with a unique synergy or “entourage effect”, giving each strain its own distinct character. With so much hybridising, broad or narrow leaves become a description of morphology rather than an indication of a specific chemotype. Budtenders in retail situations are being encouraged to try strains and make their own assessments before jumping to any conclusions about energising or sedating effects as dictated by the plant's morphology. Only the future will reveal what terms will be agreed upon for the description of cannabis strains.

But Until Then...

While the nomenclature is being sorted out, you should try some of these noteworthy indicas and super sativas. Or should we say "noteworthy BLD and super NLD strains"?

Top 3 Cannabis Indica / Bld Strains

Critical Kush Feminized


Critical Kush brings together the legendary weight of Critical and the mind-warping effects of Kush. These short plants have the classic indica (BLD) silhouette. Each branch is adorned with a fat, blunt-tipped cluster of flowers in an apron around a mammoth central cola. With a tested THC level of 25%, this strain is utterly uncompromising. Great for evenings or for therapeutic purposes.

Northern Lights Feminized


One of the pillars of the contemporary breeding age, Northern Lights is still considered one of the world’s best indica (BLD) species. Even after 30 years, the massive crystallised central cola remains a thing of beauty and is still sought after by cannabis connoisseurs. This medium-sized plant is easy to grow, has a great taste, smooth finish, high yields, and legendary potency.

Eleven Roses Feminized


Eleven Roses is a strain with a unique look, flaunting dark leaves and buds that mature to express autumn shades of mauve, red, deep purple, and even black. This strain is a low-maintenance yet profit-yielding indica (BLD) that has a short flowering time. The sweet, fruity, and earthy flavours precede a hard-hitting and long-lasting effect catalysed by a THC content of 24–25%.

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Top 5 Indica Strains For 2020

Top 3 Cannabis Sativa / Nld Strains

Super Silver Haze Feminized


Boasting all the magical attributes of the original, this feminized version of Super Silver Haze delivers the goods in flavour, looks, smell, potency, and yields. The long branches adapt well to LST and ScrOG, and produce a swath of spiralling, silver-sheeted flower clusters. Flowering time is typical of sativas (NLD), but the wait is always worth it. Its high comes on slow, but then the 19% THC really goes to town.

Early Maroc Feminized


Moroccan strains were used in the seventies and eighties as breeding stock for good reason. They were hardy and produced high-quality buds under harsh conditions. Early Maroc continues this tradition in a plant that requires little maintenance to produce flowers with tremendous potency. Not really suited to indoor grows, this strain will bloom outdoors in even the nastiest soil. An initial trippy buzz mellows to a welcome body glow.

Kali Mist Feminized


Blessed with beautiful resin-covered foxtails, Kali Mist produces surprisingly high yields for a sativa (NLD). The large buds swell considerably as they get plenty of light due to the minimal leaf to bud ratio. A perpetual favourite since the nineties for its extensive, energising, and long-lasting high, this is an attention-grabbing strain for its galaxy of flower clusters on long, strong branches.

Electric Wombat

Written by: Grant Robinson
Artist and Writer, Grant Robinson is a pro gardener with a big love for the outdoors. When not growing, he tends to be working on art, enjoying nature with his dog, or even making his own clothes!

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