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Why Do Some People Claim Indica and Sativa Are Myths?

Are “indica” and “sativa” still relevant terms in the cannabis industry? Well, it’s complicated. Keep reading and learn why!

While the terms “indica” and “sativa” have been part of the cannabis conversation for decades, they’ve taken on meanings that aren’t entirely accurate. Oftentimes, “sativa” is used to describe chemovars with energizing or uplifting effects, while “indica” is used to describe those with “sedating” or “relaxing” effects. So…is that a myth?

Yes and no. That’s why we’re using this opportunity to bust some myths! Read on and learn what these terms really mean plus the most accurate method for determining cannabis effects. 

Reading Time - 5 min


Indica and Sativa DO Refer to Plant Biology

First, let’s cover the appropriate use of these terms. 

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to observe different cannabis plants, you may have noticed that they don’t all look exactly the same. Some of them are tall and thin, some are short and broad, and the leaves and bud structures can vary quite a bit. This is where the indica and sativa terms really come into play.

Cannabis plants that are shorter with thicker stems and broader, darker leaves are almost always categorized as indica. These specific features make it easier for plants to absorb sunlight and heat which is necessary for growth in colder climates. Since these areas also tend to have less light and warmth, indica plants have evolved to have shorter flowering times as well.

On the other hand, plants that are taller with narrower leaves that are a more vibrant green are categorized as sativa. You’ve probably already guessed it, but these features allow the plants to survive more easily in warmer climates with more sunlight, heat, and a longer growing season. Indeed, sativa plants tend to flower more than indica plants because of this. These climates also tend to be more humid. So, the height and narrow leaves make it easier for the plants to dry out and avoid things like rot.

Indica and Sativa DON’T Indicate Effects

While the effects of these plants do differ somewhat, it’s not completely accurate to say that all sativas are energizing and all indicas are sedating. Some strains that are considered sativa can give people couch lock, while some stereotypically indica strains can help people tackle their to-do lists. 

Unfortunately, these terms are very ingrained in the cannabis industry as indicators of effects. Consumers will often ask budtenders for “indica strains” because they want help relaxing or falling asleep. Even product packaging will advertise whether a strain is indica or sativa, even though these terms don’t necessarily have anything to do with the effects a consumer may experience. 

And this isn’t just hearsay. The findings of a recent study that analyzed roughly 90,000 samples from legal markets across six states found that terms like indica, hybrid, and sativa really are an unreliable indicator of effects. 

The samples they looked at tended to fall into three distinct groups: a group with high amounts of caryophyllene and limonene, another with high amounts of myrcene and pinene, and a third group with high amounts of terpinolene and myrcene. Ultimately, these groups didn’t correspond with the previous categories of indica, sativa, or hybrid.

Terpenes Are A Better Indicator of Effects

The most accurate way to determine a strain’s effects are by looking at its terpene profile and cannabinoid profile.

Cannabinoids like THC and CBD interact with our endocannabinoid systems in different ways. There are roughly one hundred different cannabinoids and depending on a variety of factors, each strain may have a slightly different cannabinoid profile. That means the psychoactive experience will be slightly different as well. 

For example, CBD dominant strains will be far less psychoactive (if they’re psychoactive at all) whereas strains with lots of THC will have more potent psychoactive effects. But that’s just talking about psychoactive potency? What about specific effects like energy, creativity, or relaxation?

For that, you’ll want to rely on the terpene profile. Each chemovar has its own 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 turn you into a “Chatty Cathy.” Cannabis terpenes are essentially what dictate the type of experience cannabis will give you. 

It helps to think of THC like an elevator. It takes you up and, when it wears off, you come back down. Terpenes, however, are like destinations. Do you want to feel energized? Try D-Limonene dominant chemovars. Want to relax and unwind? Look for chemovars dominant in Myrcene. Need a complex experience like creativity? Try a complex terpene profile like that of Tangie or Chemdawg.

When you combine cannabinoids and terpenes, they’re more like an airplane that actually takes you to those destinations. All those beautiful terpene effects are heightened by cannabinoids and the psychoactive effects of THC now provide more specific experiences.

Indica and Sativa Are Still Useful Terms…

…but only when referencing plant biology and structure. 

Yes, these terms will likely linger in the cannabis industry for some time. However, as consumers become more knowledgeable, product labels that accurately convey terpene and cannabinoid information will become the standard for high-quality products.

Ready to get that process started now? Then we invite you to try our Signature Series. These advanced terpene profiles were created in full collaboration with the original cultivators themselves to capture the truest expression of specific strains—and it all starts with our Jack Herer Advanced Terpene Profile.

Jack Herer Signature Series | Abstrax Tech


Contact us today to talk about using advanced terpene profiles in your products. Plus, don’t forget to follow us for all the latest updates.

READ NEXT → Are Terpenes More Important Than THC?


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