Indica and sativa labels aren’t meaningful: study

Indica, sativa and hybrid labels are often seen on various types of cannabis products, where it’s believed that indica-dominant products are sedating and calming, while sativa products are energizing. But after re-analyzing 297 cannabis samples, a new study published in Nature Plants concludes that samples labelled indica and sativa are “genetically indistinct” — and that current labels aren’t very helpful to shoppers.

Retailers take note

“Breeders label their cannabis strains using the terms indica and sativa,” explained Dr. Sean Myles, lead author and associate professor in the Faculty of Agriculture at Dalhousie University

“Retailers then rely on these labels to market their products, and consumers believe these labels are meaningful. But there is now broad scientific consensus that the current use of indica and sativa is misleading. These labels are simply not reliable indicators of a plant’s genetic or chemical composition.”

Goodbye, strain names?

The paper also called out strain names, which they say rarely correspond to any consistent chemical or genetic compounds.

“If Pinot Noir appears on a bottle of wine, a consumer can be confident the wine is made from Pinot Noir grapes,” Myles told Dalhousie University. “Unfortunately, cannabis consumers cannot have this confidence — labels and strain names do a poor job of informing consumers about what they are consuming.”

Terpene time

Interestingly, certain terpene profiles — the distinctive and varied scents and flavours associated with cannabis — sometimes do correspond with the indica and sativa categories. For example, sativa-labelled strains often had “tea-like and fruity aromas,” they said, while indica-labelled strains had “higher concentrations of terpenes that smell earthy.”

To better-serve customers — particularly those who buy cannabis for medical purposes — researchers say “that an evidence-based naming convention is required for the cannabis industry.” 

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