Sativa and Indica: Just Smoke and Mirrors?


An unpublished study by Dalhousie University on behalf of the Dutch medical cannabis producer adds another challenge to the long-debated designation of cannabis strains as “Indica,” “Sativa,” and “Hybrid.”

Well-known cannabinoid researcher Ethan Russo presented the study at the 9th IACM cannabinoid congress in Cologne, Germany last Friday. The recent study is third scientific work since 2013 that finds there is no basis in science for the widely used modern classification of cannabis strains.

Researchers analyzed the genetic makeup of 149 Dutch cannabis samples and found a lack of genetic distinction between “Indica” and “Sativa” samples. In plant taxonomy, specific rules dictate which family, genus, and species are used to categorize a plant. These categorizations help scientists and growers identify plants with similar characteristics and provide an avenue for predicting the traits they’ll carry, such as smell, appearance, and therapeutic properties.

When it comes to cannabis, however, the lack of available resources for research over the past few decades has resulted in a deeply-rooted folk taxonomy that oversimplifies the complex makeup of cannabis and disregards what scientists are finding to be the key indicator of a cannabis cultivar’s effects — terpenes.

“This study shows that the Indica-Sativa differences could be largely based on terpene content, which instead of the current Indica/Sativa labeling might require more insight into the terpene profiles related to the Bedrocan products available for patient use,” Hugo Maassen, head of the phyto engineering department at, stated in a press release on Friday.

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