There are probably well over 1,000 marijuana strains in the world at the time of writing. As breeders continue to experiment, we can expect dozens, if not hundreds, of new strains each year. Each time you breed, a strain may develop slightly different characteristics due to mutations in genetic material. As a result, a strain becomes a ‘new’ strain in its own right, at least in a technical sense.
Overall, there are three unofficial species of the genus cannabis: indica, sativa, and ruderalis. As you probably know, indicas are known for their numbing and sedative effects. In contrast, sativas are more likely to provide you with a euphoric and energetic feeling. Hybrids are a cross of the two popular species, and can produce a wide variety of effects. Occasionally, you will find a strain that somehow provides the best of both the indica and sativa worlds.
However, some members of the scientific community claim that marijuana strains have the same effect on body and mind.
Are Weed Strain Labels a Load of BS?
A study led by Dr. Elizabeth Mudge of the University of British Columbia looked at 33 marijuana strains (indica and sativa) from five licensed providers. According to her research, the 33 strains had roughly the same amount of THC and CBD. It didn’t matter whether it was an indica, sativa, or a hybrid.
Also, the research team found that breeding potent weed strains impacts the genetic diversity of a crop; however, it does NOT affect THC or CBD content. Interestingly, Dr. Mudge said that they found numerous previous unknown cannabinoids in subsequent generations. These compounds, although present only in small quantities, are likely related to the varying pharmacological effects of different strains.
Simplistic & Incorrect
Unfortunately, we live in an era of memes where substance is ignored in favor of labeling. The internet is awash with articles that contain snazzy headlines, but in reality, ‘headlies’ would be a far more accurate term. You are lured in with promise of quality insight into a certain topic; instead, all you read is weak evidence – or complete nonsense.
Browse the web, and you’ll discover headlines such as ‘Weed Strains Are All the Same’ and other such garbage. Marijuana is complex in terms of its phytochemical content, and the simple reality is we haven’t studied it thoroughly. Most certainly all weed is not the same. Rather, it is more likely a case of incorrect indica and sativa labeling.
What’s the Difference?
There are unquestionably physical differences between these two different types of cannabis. Indicas tend to grow shortier and bushier than their sativa counterparts, which generally are lanky with narrow fan leaves. According to Dr. Ethan Russo, there are undoubtedly biochemically distinct marijuana strains; however, the distinction between sativa and indica plants is likely a myth, at least taxonomically.
Case in point, not all indica strains make you feel sleepy. Likewise, it is false to claim that all sativas provide you with a boost of energy and creativity. While different cannabis cultivars may prefer different climates for optimal growth and harvest, both indicas and sativas are capable of producing effects that differ wildly from their respective stereotypes. A 2015 study published in PLOS tested 81 marijuana strains, and researchers discovered that the indica-sativa split seldom matched their real genetic makeup.
Dr. Russo said that you couldn’t tell a plant’s effects based on its shape or height. Instead, it is essential to look at the chemical composition of the plant. In other words, that tall indica you have your eyes on may not help you go to sleep. What Dr. Russo says makes perfect sense; it is folly to assume a marijuana strain is going to have a specific effect if you have no idea of its cannabinoid content.
A different study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in October 2014 tested the effects of indica and sativa strains on 95 users. They found that the two species had different effect associations on symptoms, “possibly because of ingredient differences,” the study suggested.
All things considered, it is ridiculous to suggest that all marijuana strains are the same. While you may not become sleepy when using an indica, you won’t feel the same effect from 100 other strains.
Why Don’t Indica and Sativa Strains Act the Way They’re ‘Supposed’ to?
Different strains will affect you differently. The trouble is, there’s doubt as to whether indica or sativa strains exist in their purest forms. Some companies claim to sell you a 100% indica or sativa. In reality, it is likely a hybrid.
Remember, the marijuana plant was passed through countless human hands over the millennia. There were pure indica, and pure sativa strains thousands of years ago. However, no one has kept track of weed with the methods of an agriculturist from 3,000 years ago. As a result, we are not sure what a pure indica or sativa strain is in terms of DNA. As a result, there may not be an original version of either left on the planet.
In general, the assumption is that plants on the sativa side of things contain more THC. Meanwhile, plants on the indica side have more CBD. We also know that THC has a psychoactive effect, whereas CBD is non-intoxicating. It also seems as if CBD and THC can work together in high doses (the entourage effect). CBD is believed to alleviate the adverse side effects of THC, such as anxiety and paranoia.
A Fistful of Cannabinoids
There is even a dispute over the entourage effect. There is a lack of concrete scientific evidence, but that’s not to say there is zero evidence either. Rosenthaler et al. published a study in Neurotoxicology and Teratology in 2014. It showed that non-THC cannabinoids have some neurochemical action. These cannabinoids impact the cannabinoid receptors in our central nervous system (CNS) in different ways.
As CBD is the most abundant of these cannabinoids, it has the most potent effect. This is why it is often associated with mitigating THC’s effects by blocking cannabinoid receptors. Russo is confident that CBD is the most significant player in the entourage effect.
According to Russo, just 10mg of THC (he did not outline if it was per kilogram of body weight) alone can cause toxic psychosis. When mixed equally with CBD, there is less than a 2% chance of toxic psychosis when consuming 48 mg of THC (again, we are not sure if this is per kilo of body weight).
Then there is the small matter of the 100+ other cannabinoids in weed. At present, legal markets only require sellers to display the CBD and THC of marijuana, but there is so much more going on. There is a possibility that cannabinoids such as cannabichromene (CBC) and cannabinol (CBN), do much of the work. This is despite being available in relatively small quantities.
You are unlikely to find more than 0.1% of either cannabinoid in most strains, although there are some with CBN levels of 1%. The thing about CBN is that it is primarily degraded THC. CBN is said to cause a woozy and nauseous high. We need to learn more about the lesser-known cannabinoids if we want to understand why weed works. During Mudge’s study, her team discovered 20 ‘new’ cannabinoids.
Wait! There’s More!
Aside from the cannabinoids in weed, there is also an enormous number of terpenoids. The assumption is that these terpenes are responsible only for the aroma and taste of marijuana. However, there’s a lot more to them than meets the eye (or nose). For instance, limonene could elevate your mood and is potentially anticarcinogenic. Alpha-pinene could increase memory retention and alertness.
It is possible to quantify the precise amounts of terpenes and cannabinoids via lab testing. Regardless, even a look at the lab report is not enough to guarantee a strain’s effects. For example, alpha-pinene could help you become more alert by itself. However, its impact is altered or even mitigated by the presence of specific chemicals. Another terpene, terpinolene, is a known sedative. Oddly enough, it has also provided an energetic effect in some lab tests on rats.
Russo refers to THC as a “lousy drug” when used by itself. He is not happy to hear that pharmaceutical companies are creating THC-only drugs. A prime example is Syndros, which is pure synthetically produced THC dissolved in alcohol. This was placed on Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act. Its status means it is federally legal for a physician to prescribe it.
Russo says Syndros will not gain a lot of traction. It is puzzling that a drug made solely from THC, which is likely relatively ineffective, is now federally legal. Meanwhile, the marijuana plant, full of helpful cannabinoids, remains illegal. This does nothing to dismiss the suggestion that Big Pharma lobbyists have too significant an influence on politics.
Final Thoughts on the Difference Between Marijuana Strains
Suggesting that all marijuana strains are the same is like saying stale piss and Grey Goose vodka are similar. The reality is that the entire ‘sativa does X, while indica does Y’ rigid school of thought is worthy of elimination. The real effects of a marijuana strain depend on its chemical composition. As there are hundreds of strains, there are undoubtedly a few with very similar effects.
However, it is complete nonsense to suggest that all cannabis produce the same effects. No one who has tried disparate strains believes it! Have you ever tried Gorilla Glue #4 and Harlequin for example? Do you really think the effects are the same? Likewise, there is no way that you can believe Madman OG and Candyland do the same thing.
A ‘marijuana strains are basically the same’ headline does its job. It is pure clickbait and attracts plenty of views, but these articles are incapable of proving their bold claim. Instead, these articles tend to say that indica and sativa strains are different than advertised. That much is true.
Russo is adamant that cannabis strains have different effects, based on almost 40 years of research. He admits that we need more studies to provide complete proof. It is difficult to achieve this because of the ridiculous ban on the herb. However, as more states legalize marijuana, we may finally get the scientific evidence we need.
Such studies will ideally include people with little knowledge of the herb to avoid the placebo effect. If you tell someone that the weed they use will make them sleepy for instance, that’s likely to happen regardless of the chemical makeup of the plant. Any claim that all marijuana strains are the same is complete crap made up to undermine the industry.