Indica vs. Sativa – Part 2

It has become common knowledge in the world of cannabis research that the indica and sativa naming convention is a semantic distinction without a scientific difference. In 2015, University of British Columbia botanist Jonathan Page studied the DNA of 81 cannabis “strains” that were self-identified by the growers or distributors as either indicas or sativas. They found that they were almost genetically identical, and many were mislabeled. This is a long way to say that the ‘distinction’ of sativa vs. indica is bullshit.

Sativa vs. indica has become a marketing tool rather than a a scientific separation of ‘strains’. There is no sativa. There is no indica. And it’s a shame. We seem to have lost the origins of our favorite plant. But we still have cannabis and the multitude of effects that are possible. The real question is how are we differentiating the two? The real answer is marketing. Breeders tell us that the parentage of this strain or that strain is 80% indica or whatever. And absolutely none of it makes any sense scientifically. But it does make good sense from a marketing standpoint because it tells consumers about what they might expect although it’s not all clear. Sativa is supposed to work on the thought process and indica is supposed to make your body feel more, uh, “stoned.” Whatever that means.

The Survey

While I was writing this, I decided I needed to look at an overview of was going on with different types of cannabis in the market. Since the dispensaries were all advertising sativa, indica and hybrid strains, I wanted to see what’s selling and where it was selling. I did not check for percentage of THC in the mix, I looked at random dispensaries in Michigan, Colorado, California and Washington and in each state I picked one market. The sample size is small, but I believe it gives a pretty good indication of what people are asking growers to produce. The results were fascinating, but not unexpected; 50% of the flower was listed as “Hybrid”. 33% was called Indica and only 17% was called “Sativa” by the various dispensaries. The sample size was small, only about 400 strains from 35 or so dispensaries, but significant as I looked at many more in other states and the percentages were always about the same.

“Hybrid” strains in the majority was not unexpected. The cannabis genome has now been thoroughly trashed by breeders, so everything is a ‘hybrid’. The real question to me is; Why are people looking to indica for their cannabis and not to sativa? Since the names are irrelevant, I’m going to stick to what I think and not any statistical evidence. That would take interviews and during the time of COVID, that’s just not going to happen.

Different States, Different Products

While I was in California, one thing I noticed was that the questions all revolved around if I wanted edibles or pre-rolled product. When I said flower, the reactions in the three dispensaries I visited (fully masked with an N-95 mask and in and out quickly) when I asked for flower was all the same…”Are you crazy?” And yes,  I like to roll my own or use one of my glass pipes. I’m distrustful of pre-rolled cannabis as it’s mostly shake and always has the question of whether or not it was just dregs. And many dispensaries only had about 10 or fewer different strains. My impression was that flower is not in favor in California, at least where I was in Southern California.

In Colorado, the reactions were different and there was a lot more variety in the flower to be had. This wasn’t surprising. Maybe California is ahead of the curve or maybe they’re just lazy. I won’t have the opportunity to find out soon as I’ll not be traveling back to California until we’re all vaccinated. Colorado just felt more open to flower users as well as experimenters with cannabis. In Michigan, there’s a lot more flower available and the budtenders I talked to never asked if I was more interested in flower or pre-rolls. I’ve had pre-rolled cannabis joints.

How Does it End?

Reality check. If we keep hybridizing our favorite plant; crossing “sativas” with “indicas,” how does this end. WAIT!!! There is no sativa. There is no indica. What does this mean for us? Does it matter? I’ve never been a budtender, so I can’t write about this with any authority. I have spent a lot of time in dispensaries though and listened to a lot of customers.

If my listening to conversations is at all accurate, it would seem that most people are looking for the highest percentage of THC they can get in a flower. Personally, I think that’s ridiculous. That’s like looking for a wine with the highest alcohol percent you can get. I can relate from personal experience, a chardonnay over about 14% and a cabernet sauvignon over 15% or so isn’t very good wine. Shouldn’t cannabis be about taste; Terpenes and the quality of the cure (smoothness)? Cannabis should be, above all, an experience, and we are at risk of losing that experience if the only thing we look at is the percentage of THC.

Are we at risk to lose the beauty of what the ‘fragrant reed’ should be about? We might be. Breeders need to be more aware about what they’re doing to the cannabis genome. Genetic manipulation is one thing. Over-hybridization is another.

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