What are Terpenes?
Before getting into specific classifications, let’s start at the beginning. In the simplest terms, terpenes are the part of plants that you can smell. They are organic aromatic hydrocarbon molecules produced by plants that fall into a class of compounds made up of linked isoprene unit chains.
As potent scent compounds, terpenes serve three primary purposes; protecting plants from predators, attracting pollinators, and cooling the plant during periods of extended heat by releasing terpenes as an aerosol in the atmosphere to form water vapor in hot weather.
When used by people alongside cannabinoids such as THC, CBD, etc, terpenes can enhance the therapeutic benefits of such cannabinoids.
While the popularization of cannabis specifically made more people aware of terpenes, they are commonly occurring in just about every plant.
Cannabis terpenes are simply terpenes found in the cannabis plant. Terpenes have a significant impact on the taste and aroma of each cannabis varietal, and although taste and aroma are entirely subjective experiences, this is why isolating them out of the plant to control such properties has become so popular among professionals and connoisseurs. However, it’s worth noting that terpenes are not the only compounds responsible for these experiences in the plant. Ketones, aldehydes, esters, flavonoids, etc, all contribute to the plant’s unique aromatic fingerprint.
Besides people’s interest in terpenes for their contribution to taste and aroma, the other major attraction to terpenes is for their immense therapeutic value. This is one of the reasons herbs are so medicinal, they are rich in terpenes. And although those found in cannabis exhibit much useful diversity in this area, the cannabis culture (by means of intellectual laziness and behavioral reinforcement), has erroneously narrowed the therapeutic spectrum of terpenes down to just two categories. This trend primarily continues for the often subconscious purpose of satisfying societies common conditioning of binary decision making. When people have multiple choices they tend to lock up, which slows down the consumer buying process.It requires people to think through their choice, as opposed to making easy “and/or” decisions. This overly simplified dual category found in the market of cannabis products, and thus often their corresponding terpene profiles, is the all too familiar branding of Indica vs. Sativa.
So is Having an Indica vs Sativa Terpene Classification for Products at all Valid?
Short answer: Depends on how accurate you want to be.
As a more technical and scientifically oriented company, we care about truth and accuracy. We are not afraid of complexity, and we certainly will not hide behind buzzwords just to simplify our sales process and dodge the responsibility of thoughtful and educational marketing. We are cannabis advocates and we know the incredible value the plant has to offer. We don’t want to sacrifice the therapeutic opportunities by participating in an errored behavioral loop that only reinforces the problem of confusion in the cannabis market.
However, besides the hard-nosed approach to binary categorization, there is still another common question that is asked, which is: “does this product have a more indica or a sativa leaning?” Although still highly over simplified, it is possible for the predominance of terpenes within a profile to lean more in one direction. But regardless of what potential merit this question may or may not have for any given product, it is still ignoring the plethora of other contributing factors that truly answer the question more accurately. So when the question of a product being more indica or sativa is encountered, it’s really just boiling things down to a single interest with two possible answers; “Is this sedating or stimulating?”.
And therein lies the age-old boxes that people have packed all of cannabis into. Will this product relax me as a downer or energize me as an upper? And although these certainly are responses people experience with different varieties, it is physiologically inaccurate regarding what is actually going on in the human body, and biologically inaccurate regarding the classification of the cannabis plant. The truth is, although some strains may give a person a relaxing body high or even a full fledged “couch lock” effect, all cannabis is an upper. Most cannabis increases heart rate and blood pressure. On average one’s heart rate will increase 20-50 beats per minute. The only real exception would be a predominance of CBR2 binding specific cannabinoids like CBD alongside a caste of terpenes with more sedating properties. But therein lies another issue, as most sedating terpenes like Myrcene and Linalool are currently predominant in high THC varietals, while CBD predominant strains are often accompanied by stimulating terpenes like beta-caryophyllene and alpha or beta pinene. So cannais in its natural form can be highly confusing for the body mixing what the body sees as both uppers and downers. And even when a person experiences a heavy couch lock body high, their heart rate and blood pressure have still increased.
But let’s get out of the weeds and back to the topic at hand. Indica vs Sativa. So other than looking at the entire profile of a particular cannabis strain, what about single isolated terpenes on their own?
Are there Single Indica or Sativa Cannabis Terpenes?
Short answer: No!
But to better understand this, let’s look at how the terms ever came about. Traditionally, the terms indica and sativa were derived from the two well known species, Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Sativa. Because of this, the cannabis culture decided at some point to start discussing cannabis terpenes in light of the species of cannabis they originate from, i.e., indica terpenes from cannabis indica and sativa terpenes from cannabis sativa.
However, this has been in error since the very beginning as the same terpenes are present in both the indica and sativa species and not exclusive to either. So this binary classification does not work for classifying individual terpenes and has never been scientifically correlated to the component chemical parts of the plant.
Comparison: Sativa Terpenes vs. Indica Terpenes
Although there’s no such thing as an individual indica or sativa terpene, there can still be terpene profiles (combinations) that are commonly found together in indica or sativa species, as well as their respective varietals. These different species are classified in biological taxonomy by their genotype/phenotype characteristics, geographical regions, and known attributes. We will explore this a little more here, and also a bonus point of discussion on what we see as the future of cannabis medicine.
1. Taxonomy, Geography, and Traits
The terms indica and sativa have been in use for centuries to differentiate cannabis species.
Without getting lost in the genetic differences between the species as identified through modern sequencing, the physical characteristics (phenotypes) are the historical parameters used to classify species in taxonomy. When talking about indica, people expect a product derived from the species that is short and bushy, with short, wide, fat, leaves. The short and stocky nature of indica makes the plant grow wide. They have a high resin yield, as well as high trichomes and cannabinoid production. That also means high terpene producers. This means that from a medicinal standpoint, indica is preferable to sativa. Indica was originally native to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, and India, where it was adapted to the dry, harsh, and turbulent mountainous terrain. Though these plants have since been found to do very well in more humid, temperate, and cloud covered regions.
The sativa plant, on the other hand, is generally very tall (around 15-20 feet high), fibrous, with thick stocks that are popular for industrial hemp textile manufacturing. The tall and fibrous nature of sativa plants (with finger-like leaves) can be attributed to the fact that they are primarily found in hot, dry climates characterized by long sunny days. Such climate is prevalent in Central America, Africa, and parts of Southeast and Western Asia.
2. Therapeutic Effects Comparison
Although the subjective experiences humans and animals have from interacting with the plant (consuming, smoking, etc.) have nothing to do with its scientific classification, as the plant’s evolution has nothing to do with us, it is still the topic of primary interest to humans. While the cannabinoid profile of the cannabis plant contributes greatly to its therapeutic value for humans, this value is highly qualified and modulated by the terpenes present alongside them; noting that every person’s biology is unique and thus so is their subjective experience and response to any given plant, and such experiences are in no way objective characteristics of the plant.
Extracts derived from the cannabis indica plant have been associated with a relaxing and calming effect, attributable to terpenes like myrcene and linalool. So if one were to manufacture a product using the entirety of an indica species extract or terpene profile, and not just one of the associated terpenes, it would generally be considered to embody sedating attributes from the induced body high, however, as previously mentioned it is not technically a sedative.
Similarly, products made from extracts that were derived from the cannabis sativa plant would be more associated with having stimulating effects on the body linked to high amounts of herbal and sweet terpenes like beta-caryophyllene, farnesene, terpinolene, and alpha-pinene.
3. Terpene Profiles
As mentioned above, terpenes are aromatic compounds. They are present in many plants, including cannabis, and contribute to its unique aroma. Originally, indica strains were packed with terpenes that have a sweeter and fruitier smell. Sativa strains, on the other hand, are rich in terpenes with a spicy and earthy aroma. Generally, indica plant profiles feature larger quantities of certain single terpenes, while sativa plant profiles tend to be more varied and complex.
As mentioned, this classification into indica vs. sativa is a misguided and outdated habit of the cannabis culture and not rooted in science. There is no such thing as single terpenes specific to indica vs. sativa species, because the same terpenes can be found in both plants. So then what exactly is going on with a product that claims to be either sativa or indica leaning?
Well, the key word is in “leaning”. As all cannabis plants these days are the result of cross-breeding that has taken place over the course of a few decades with the sole focus of increasing THC levels, with no attention whatsoever to the terpenes present. Put plainly, everything is a hybrid. Although a strain can have a leaning in one direction, it most often also contains competing terpene profiles that mix both sedative and stimulant properties. This is the primary cause of people often experiencing paranoia, anxiety, and an increased heart rate and blood pressure when consuming cannabis. The body is confused when it receives a mixed caste of molecules that carry opposite therapeutic properties. It is basically mixing uppers and downers.
The only real reason that these dated classifications are used to describe products is, to be blunt, lazy marketing. It is a feedback loop of ignorance caused by companies continuing to market these terms due to consumers continuing to ask for them. And instead of re-educating the market, companies tend to just nod their heads and give consumers what they ask for. Educating people can actually backfire on a company causing them to lose a sale, as people often just want to be told what they want to hear and don’t want to learn. So although using these incorrect classifications is unnecessary, it is easier to just repeat behaviors that reinforce the binary thinking and decision making habits people have become accustomed to.
So… where to go from here?
4. The Future
The cannabis plant is diverse and complex with an array of therapeutic benefits for so many human ailments. But approaching this puzzle requires one to really understand the plant through all of its sub-constituent parts. One must research and do their homework. If using an extract pulled directly from the plant, you’re constrained to the profile at hand, which is the result of arbitrary breeding. Although it certainly contains therapeutic properties, it is by no means optimized for such purposes. The plant did not grow with people’s health needs in mind. Millions of years of plant evolution did not take place for our future collective or individual ailments. Nor did decades of random cross-breeding accidentally land on any holy grail remedies.
However, extracts can be broken down into their respective parts and reconstructed to specific ratios of choosing based on the properties of each component. And they are. This is where we see positive change in a diverging industry. Two lanes are being paved. The first is following the same old and dated paradigms (predominant in the recreational space), while the second lane is paying much more attention to manufacturing customized cannabis medicine for very specific purposes (more common in the hemp and medicinal markets). One particular company that has led the industry in this shift for years is CBD Global, based in Golden, Colorado. They do custom manufacturing for what they call Target Response Formulation™ and Controlled Spectrum™ products.
So there are products available out there for people to find that have specific therapeutic values, without having to use outdated naming models like “Indica” and “Sativa” to describe their effects. Particularly knowing that these classifications have everything to do with biological taxonomy (physical characteristics of the plant) and nothing to do with how the body responds to them. It is probably due time the industry stops using such terms to satisfy consumer buying behaviors.
Regarding proper classification and genetic validation for the sale and acquisition of cannabis plant genetics, the future is in the BlockChain. Currently there is no process for validation of genetics. But the technology to run genetic sequencing exists. We can scale these services commercially to create procedures for archiving these results. And if done on the blockchain under public permissionless access, anyone can find and validate their certificates of authenticity against this database. THis would allow sellers and buyers to secure the authenticity of their intellectual property as well as create the much needed environment of certified genetics distribution. Cultivation would then be guided by a professionally organized supply chain that ensures the clones or seeds sold and sowed are true to their expected genotype/phenotype characteristics. This would allow both sellers and buyers to run their own sequence tests at any time to validate a product against the database secured on the blockchain.
Now that the indica vs. sativa designations have been broken down in their origins and current modes of use, hopefully you see that this common fallacy is really an obsolete and outdated commercial behavior. Ideally, we will all stop using them over time. The next collective step should be to realize these names and categories have nothing to do with any potential therapeutic effect some products may have and instead are only related to biological taxonomy. There still are sativa and indica plants with distinct taxonomy and appearance, but that has no impact on any potential therapeutic effects humans may experience as a result.
This is why Lab Effects never uses this terminology to classify products. It’s improperly continuing a dated behavioral problem that has never been corrected in our industry. So, let’s leave these categories behind and allow the doors of a better future to open, where the rich and diverse potential of cannabis medicine can be truly realized. Nature does not provide a blueprint that maps the interoperability between plants and our bodies. We must do this mapping ourselves.
Lab Effects: The #1 Source of Natural Botanical and Cannabis Terpenes (Indica and Sativa) in the U.S.
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- Lab Effects utilizes 100% natural plant-derived sources. The terpenes used don’t contain any artificial additives or chemicals. The terpenes are also guaranteed in purity and consistency.
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- Lab Effects also has an unmatched variety of other terpene products, from powder terpenes (ideal for tablets/capsule filling) to therapeutic terpene blends with many potential health benefits. You can customize terpene blends to your precise cannabis consumption tastes and preferences, with unmatched aromas.
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