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Do Terpenes Determine Indica or Sativa?

Do terpenes determine whether a cannabis plant is Indica or Sativa? If you’re talking about plant structure, then no. If you’re asking whether terpenes determine effects, however, then yes! 

If you’ve been keeping up, you know we’ve been clearing the air around the whole indica/sativa conversation. Well, we’re not even close to being done! There's so much confusion surrounding these terms and their appropriate use that sometimes people don't even know what questions to ask.

So, before moving on, let's get one thing clear. If you’re asking if terpenes determine whether a cannabis plant is categorized as Indica or Sativa, you’re asking about plant structure… right?

If you’re asking whether terpene content determines if cannabis plant structure is categorized as sativa or indica, the answer is no. However, many people REALLY mean to ask whether or not terpenes dictate if a cannabis strain will be stimulating or sedating. In that instance, yes!

We understand the confusion. Read on and discover what determines whether a strain is Indica or Sativa, what these terms really mean, and how terpenes dictate a strain’s effects.

Terms Like Indica and Sativa DON’T Indicate Effects

If you’re already well-versed in these terms, feel free to skip ahead. However, we feel a responsibility to explain what indica and sativa really mean in light of their widespread misuse.

While sativa is often used to describe chemovars with energizing or uplifting effects and indica is used to describe those with more sedating effects, this type of categorization isn’t accurate. These terms are more appropriately used to describe plant biology. 

Some plants are tall and thin, some are short and broad, and the leaves and bud structures can vary quite a bit. The former are generally categorized as sativas and the latter are generally indicas. While the effects of these plants do differ somewhat, it’s not accurate to say that all sativas are energizing and all indicas are sedating.

The findings of a 2022 study that analyzed roughly 90,000 samples from legal markets across six states even found that terms like indica, hybrid, and sativa really are unreliable indicators of effects. 

Which Terpenes Are More Prominent in Indica and Sativa Chemovars?

While there is some research that suggests certain terpenes are more dominant in indica or sativa plants, the previous study didn’t find a correlation between these categories and specific terpenes.

The samples they analyzed did, however, tend to fall into three distinct groups: a group with high amounts of beta-Caryophyllene and d-Limonene, another with high amounts of beta-Myrcene and Pinene, and a third group with high amounts of terpinolene and beta-Myrcene. Again though, these groups didn’t correlate with plants described as sativa, indica, or hybrids.

This seems to contradict a previous study from 2011 that found, “‘mostly Indica’ strains were characterized by dominancy of β-myrcene, present in high relative contents, with limonene or α-pinene as second most abundant terpenoid, while ‘mostly Sativa’ strains were characterized by more complex terpene profiles.”

It’s important to note, however, that the more recent study is the largest cannabis analysis to date and had a much larger pool of data to draw conclusions from. So, what can we take away from this? 

First, cannabis research is vital! Every day we learn more about this plant and how it interacts with us, so promoting cannabis research and education is essential. Second, it’s important to determine whether the people asking about indica and sativa labels are actually asking about plant biology or cannabis effects.

What is the Significance of Terpene Content in Cannabis?

If someone asks whether terpenes promote certain effects in cannabis, the answer is a resounding yes. The most accurate way to determine a strain’s effects is by looking at its terpene and cannabinoid profile. While psychoactive cannabinoids like THC are what actually get you high, terpenes are what promote specific effects.

While you can find the same terpene isolates throughout various chemovars, each chemovar has a unique blend of terpenes that gives it a unique scent, flavor, and variety of effects. That’s why some of your favorite chemovars give you “couch-lock” while others make you want to socialize. Cannabis terpenes are essentially what dictates the type of experience cannabis will give you.

Promote Specific Cannabis Experiences with Terpenes

One of the most incredible things about terpene science is that it’s opened up a wide variety of commercial applications for these compounds. Terpenes are found in most plants, not just cannabis. So, not only can terpenes be added to cannabis products to promote certain effects, but they can also be added to non-cannabis products to add aroma, flavor, and different experiences. 

Our AI Terp Effect formulas are crafted with machine learning in combination with our state-of-the-art research and manufacturing capabilities to create optimized blends that deliver specific sensorial experiences.

Interested in taking control of your product’s effects? Contact us today.

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