Beyond Indica vs. Sativa

Cannabis is traditionally though of as having two subspecies that correspond to cultivars from different geographic regions. C. Sativa strains originate from warm tropical latitudes while C. Indica strains are from the colder northern climates. Popular belief is that these strains also produce different effects in patients. Sativas deliver more active and energetic effects, while indicas are typically thought to be more sedative and relaxing. Many medicinal varieties of cannabis used today are hybrid strains combining genetics from cultivars of both subspecies, making it difficult to distinguish strains and their effects based on this classification system alone.

But what really gives these different strains their diversity of medicinal effects flavors/aromas? Chemistry.

Today, modern technology allows us to characterize the chemistry of cannabis varieties to unprecedented levels. We are only beginning to understand the ways that the chemical make up of a particular cannabis strain correlates to its medicinal properties and effects. As we expand our database of the chemical constituents found in different types of medical cannabis, we will continue to refine our abilities to identify and produce strains with specific desirable traits and medicinal properties.

An example of a chemical taxonomy that was previously used, is based on the ratio of the two most abundant cannabinoids in typical varieties - THC and CBD.

While this system was originally devised to distinguish “drug” type cannabis from “fiber” type cannabis, it is useful today for navigating the wide array of available of medical cannabis strains. More recently, researchers are attempting to create a comprehensive system of cannabis chemotaxonomy that includes minor cannabinoids and other pharmacologically active compounds found in cannabis plants such as terpenes.

This table, reproduced in part from Small and Beckstead’s 1973 research article: “Common cannabinoid phenotypes in 350 stocks of cannabis”, helps reclassify cannabis - a plant infinitely more complex than simply indica or sativa.

Chemical Phenotypes of Cannabis

Chemotype Classification THC/CBD Effect Example Strains
Chemotype I High THC/CBD Ratio THC/CBD greater than 1 Highly psychoactive OG Kush, Blue Dream, Sour Diesel
Chemotype II Intermediate THC/CBD Ratio THC/CBD ≈ 1 Intermediate psychoactivity Star Tonic, The OX
Chemotype III Low THC/CBD Ratio THC/CBD less than 1 Minimally to non-psychoactive Cannatonic #4, Charlotte’s Web