The first thing you’ll need to understand about cannabis is the three distinct categories colors that strains are sorted into : sativa, indica, and hybrid. Early taxonomic distinctions between Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa began in the 18th century when differences between their structure and resin production were first noted. The hybrid category was adopted later on, as growers began mixing genetics from different geographic locations. Indicas are believed to have originated in the Hindu Kush region near Afghanistan, where they developed thick coats of resin as protection against the harsh climate and conditions. Sativas thrive in temperate areas closer to the equator amidst more variable weather patterns. Today, people generally ascribe more meaning to these categories than when indicas and sativas were originally categorized. These distinguishing characteristics include morphology, effects, flowering time, yields, geographical origins, and even flavors. This system has become so engrained in cannabis culture that many people will base their purchases on a strain’s classification alone.
The majority of cannabis users tend to think of indica strains as being more sedating and relaxing, with full-body effects that give you “couchlock” (which means your state of mind prevents you from getting off of the couch ). On the other hand, with sativas a racier cerebral effect that leave one feeling energized and uplifted. Because of this typical contrast, consumers tend to prefer indicas for nighttime use while sativas are typically used from morning to afternoon. Indica and sativa strains both have medical use, but because of their perceived differences, they are often selected for different symptom management; for example, indicas are generally looked to for insomnia and pain, whereas sativas might be chosen for depression and fatigue. As varying combinations of the two, hybrids are often thought of as a “balance” of effects, offering a little bit of what both have to offer
Two types of cannabis compounds – cannabinoids and terpenes – hold most of the influence when it comes to effects. Cannabinoids like THC and CBD are molecular structures with their own unique properties and medical benefits. Terpenes are the aromatic oils secreted in cannabis resin that modulate the effects of cannabinoids, and these too have their own set of effects. In this way, cannabis strains are the sum of smaller parts that may be passed on genetically. This helps explain the undeniable consistency in strain types, but there is still room for variation. Let’s take the sativa-dominant hybrid Blue Dream as an example. Blue Dream descends from a line of sativas and indica-leaning hybrids, so you might expect to feel uplifted and energized due to its mostly sativa composition. Sometimes, however, you’ll find a more indica-like phenotype, or a strain that expresses characteristics we associate with indicas, such as a shorter flowering time and bushier plants. How the plant is grown can also affect the strain’s terpene and cannabinoid contents, and more or less of either compound type may give rise to different physical sensations.