Rather than in its physical features, science says the important distinctions between the different types of weed are the varying chemical compositions within each strain or individual plant.
According to a 2014 essay by Jacob L. Erkelens published in Cannabinoids, the controversy surrounding cannabis taxonomy stems back to the 16 th century. Even then cannabis was classified with multiple names including wild hemp, domesticated hemp, Cannabis sylvestris, and Cannabis terminalem. It was Carl Linnaeus, the botanist credited with establishing the taxonomical system we use today, who formally classified the species as Cannabis sativa in 1753. A new species of Cannabis, C. indica, was formally classified in 1785 by French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamark. In both cases, these classifications were based on the geographical origins and physical appearance of each species, not their chemical compounds.
Terpenes are extremely volatile compounds that give cannabis (and other plants) its fragrance and flavor. Like cannabinoids, terpenes also interact with molecular pathways in the human body to produce primarily beneficial effects.
For this reason, when trying to decide how a specific strain is going to affect you, it’s more beneficial to look at cannabinoid and terpene content than choosing based off of indica, sativa, or hybrid.
Ethan B. Russo, renowned cannabis researcher, argues that the synergistic relationship between cannabinoids and terpenes is a far more useful indicator of medical efficacy than a cannabis plant’s species classification. In his seminal 2011 British Journal of Pharmacology review, “Taming THC,” Russo focuses on the potential for cannabinoid and terpenoid interactions to “produce synergy with respect to treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal and bacterial infections.”
The most prevalent chemical constituents in a cannabis plant are cannabinoids and terpenes. Cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in ways that produce physiological and psychological effects that are, for the most part, beneficial.
Some of the most frequently occurring terpenes in cannabis plants include the following:
Sativa Variety of Cannabis (iStock / Yarygin)
In the 234 years since Lamark’s addition, hundreds of cannabis strains, or sub-varieties within the two broader species sativa and indica, have been identified. According to their producers, each of these strains possesses the potential to create a unique set of medicinal effects. While these names add complexity and interest to cannabis subculture (as well as a mechanism for producers to compete with one another), they present a significant debacle: their differences are not supported by research, primarily because high-quality research on the topic does not exist.
The three types of weed are known as sativa, indica, and hybrid. If you plan on being a cannabis consumer, it’s important to know the differences between them.