Article by Lester Black, The Portland Mercury
Are you looking for an indica, a sativa, or a hybrid?”
Anyone who has walked into a legal weed store has heard this question. The majority of pot stores divide their products into these groups, and people who buy weed are used to the distinction—it’s older than the pot shops themselves. Supposedly, indica sedates and sativa uplifts. But here’s the thing: That’s all bullshit.
The differences between indica and sativa plants are physical. Indicas are short and squat and supposedly come from the mountains of Pakistan. Sativas are tall and thin and supposedly come from the tropics. But according to Ethan Russo, a board-certified neurologist and one of the country’s leading cannabis researchers, these outward physical attributes have no bearing on predicting what kind of high you’ll experience.
“You cannot tell the effects a plant will have based on its shape—the shape of its leaflets, its size, or how tall it is,” Russo says. “What we really should be homing in on is the chemical composition of the plant.”
Looking at a tall pot plant and deciding that smoking its flower will uplift you is like deciding how sweet an apple variety is by examining its tree trunk in June. Wouldn’t it make more sense to decide the apple’s qualities by tasting its fruit in September?
That’s what Russo is advocating for—looking at what is actually in the pot flower to try to predict how it will affect you. There is scientific evidence that certain strains produce wildly different effects, and each strain’s specific effects are complicated by each individual person’s mood, body chemistry, and environment. That’s partly why the indica versus sativa distinction is pervasive—it offers an easy delineation when the reality is complicated.
But we do know this: There are hundreds of active chemicals in weed, called cannabinoids and terpenes, that work together to get you high. Cannabinoids interact with your brain’s endocannabinoid system; THC and CBD are the most commonly known cannabinoids, but close to a hundred others have been identified. Terpenes are aroma compounds found in all plants, and there’s growing evidence that pot’s terpenes play a big role in psychoactivity.