These two joints were used in a blind test to see if I could tell the difference between indica and sativa marijuana.
These two joints were used in a blind test to see if I could tell the difference between indica and sativa marijuana.

If you’re a regular cannabis consumer like me, you’ve likely heard of different types of pot, like indicas, sativas and hybrids. These designations have become more commonplace in the wake of marijuana legalization, but what do they mean?

The common wisdom is that sativa pot plants yield bud that provides a more energetic, alert “head” high; whereas indicas are believed to produce a euphoric “body” high, along with pain relief. Hybrids are a mix of the two kinds and are most prevalent. At Blüm, 1085 S. Virginia St., the budtenders are happy to explain the differences, according to conventional wisdom.

Budtender Colin, who previously worked in cannabis cultivation, explained that indica pot plants are generally shorter and bulkier than sativas because they were originally cultivated at higher elevations in the Hindu Kush mountain range of Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan, whereas sativas tend to be taller and slimmer as a result of being grown closer to the equator in places in Central and South America.

But Colin doesn’t think designations like indica and sativa are as relevant today, mostly because different types of pot plants have been crossbred enough to muddy the waters. Instead, budtenders like him and fellow Blüm employee Sierra are paying attention to terpenes—organic chemicals produced by most plants and even some animals. They’re found in the essential oils of plants, including cannabis, and are responsible for lending pot strains their different aromas and flavors.

According to Sierra, they also produce different effects. Take, for example, myrcene. Strains with a fair amount of this terpene are often indicas, associated with sedative effects and also believed to be useful in reducing inflammation and chronic pain. The terpene limonene is believed to improve mood and reduce stress, and research suggests it may also have antifungal properties. Myrcene and limonene are the two most abundant terpenes in marijuana, though there are many, many more—more than 100, according to most sources.

According to Colin and Sierra, knowing the expected effects of different terpenes can help a person choose a strain of pot that will meet their needs and wants, but it’s not an exact science. Different strains affect people differently—and factors like set and setting, dose and tolerance play a role, too. For now, it seems the industry will continue to rely on the more general “indica” and “sativa” designations.

But can the average person even tell the difference between the two? To find out, I asked Sierra and Colin to choose two pre-rolled joints—one indica, one sativa—for me to use in an experiment. I left with a “Mendo Breath” pre-roll (the indica) from Qualcan and a “Pineapple Fanta” sativa pre-roll from Nature’s Chemistry.

The following day, I went to see a friend and asked her to pick one of the joints to smoke without telling me which it was. We’d smoke one the first day and the other the next—under similar conditions—and then I’d guess which was which based upon their effects on me.

Day one: the pre-roll we smoked left me feeling talkative and awake. When I got home, I cleaned house like a madwoman.

Day two: the pre-roll we smoked left me nearly catatonic, watching Planet Earth on BBC America and contemplating the fate of polar bears for more than an hour before I checked back in.

When it was time to guess, I was pretty sure that day-two was the indica and day-one the sativa. I was correct.

Strangely, though, when looking a the terpenes listed on the two joints, it was the indica joint that listed limonene as one of its primary terpenes, alongside b-caryophyllene—a terpene thought to reduce inflammation. The sativa joint had a fair amount of b-caryophyllene, too, and Ocimene, thought to provide energy.

Terpenes are interesting, but, having guessed correctly between indica and sativa, I think I’ll stick with those simple designations—at least for now.

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