It’s a common distinction even novice cannabis enthusiasts can make. Sativa versus indica, head versus body, couch lock versus energy and stimulation. With that said, the distinction between the two really shouldn’t be thought of as either or. In most cases, hybrid indica-sativa cannabis strains are more ubiquitous than pure forms of either.
Originally, the sativa indica distinction was simply physical. Botanists found that sativa dominant cannabis plants grow with a tall bush and thin leaves, while those on the indica end grow with a short bush and fat leaves.
The common distinction between the two regard their psychoactive effects. As mentioned before, indica dominant strains are known for their sedative, couch lock feel, while sativa dominant strains create a boost of energy and creativity.
But this is not the whole story!
Indica and sativa strains cannot create their commonly known effects without the help of terpenes, the pungent oils inside cannabis buds that create their taste and scent. In a similar way, early botanical research on cannabis terpenes concerned their role in taste and scent alone.
Previously, cannabis prohibition made the possibility of in depth research small, but since cannabis has been legalized and/or decriminalized in all but 2 U.S.A. states, research has expanded. Scientists have returned to cannabis terpenes, but for much better reason than simply taste.
There would be no indica body high, no signature sativa energy boost without the help of these oils within the cannabis plant. Each strain has a unique flavor profile mapped by its terpenes. When cannabis buds grow, small crystal like structures, called trichomes, form.
You may be familiar with trichomes if you have ever admired a cannabis bud up close. These trichomes appear as green and orange hairs on buds, and sparkle in light.
The most important cannabis molecules reside inside these trichomes, like THC and CBD. These cannabinoids garner the most fanfare, and are considered responsible for cannabis’ psychoactive properties, like THC’s euphoric high and CBD’s anti anxiety effects.
However, if it weren’t for terpenes, CBD and THC wouldn’t exist.
When trichomes form, they rely on cannabis molecules, including terpenes, to push the trichomes up to the surface of the buds. Without this terpenergic push, the trichomes would not form THC or any of the 100 other identified cannabinoids present in cannabis.
So if terpenes didn’t exist, cannabis’ most famous chemicals would not even form on cannabis flower.
But how do terpenes contribute to the sativa indica distinction? Can they really help create distinct effects?
Both sativa and indica dominant strains contain THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids, but terpenes work in synergy with those cannabinoids to amplify and/or modify their effects.
How does this happen? The terpene entourage effect.
When you ingest cannabis, you’re utilizing your brain’s endocannabinoid system, or EC.
Your EC regulates many bodily processes, like mood, appetite, pain sensation, memory, and much more. Your body’s EC also has receptors that cannabinoids bind too! The endocannabinoid system allows THC and CBD cannabinoids to bind to it. Once binded, they produce effects associated with cannabis, like euphoria and pain relief, among others.
When you use cannabis, around the time cannabinoids reach your EC system, terpenes potentiate, or interact with the EC system. They will actually bind to and block certain EC receptors, and these multiple combinations map out cannabis’ psychoactive effects.
This interaction between the EC system and terpenes is considered an entourage effect. Terpenes have been lauded as, “balancers and communicators,” as they amplify and moderate cannabinoid effects. In short, terpenes shape how we experience THC, CBD, and other crucial cannabinoids effects due to the entourage effect.
Continue reading to learn more about the two specific terpenes that help create sativa and indica specific effects.
Yes, myrcene is responsible for the oft alluded to, notorious “couch lock” effect associated with indica dominant strains. This hoppy smelling terpene can be found more than any other in cannabis. Cannabis that smells quite musky more than likely has high levels of myrcene.
Myrcene has many medical effects on the body. It can be utilized for pain management, and its sedative effects make it a useful sleep aid.
Limonenes smells of citrus, and is the second most abundant terpene in cannabis. Limonene can be thought of as a sativa end terpene, as it’s found in high concentrations in sativa dominant strains.
Limonene acts with THC to produce an uplifting effect that energizes and stimulates creativity, which can help with depression, anxiety, stress, and even fatigue.
For some cannabis patients, Limonene may be remembered for something else.
Limonene has been found to reduce the destruction of the RAS gene, known to be a contributor to tumor growth.
Some secondary physical effects of this terpene are its anti inflammatory properties, making Limonene a favorite terpene for those with arthritis. When you think of sativa’s high energy, creative effects, remember limonene.
Without the presence of terpenes, cannabis may be just another plant, and not a medicinal and recreational substance known the world over for it’s helpful bodily effects. There are more terpenes and terpenergic interactions being discovered and studied each day. Take the time to appreciate your cannabis’ scent and taste, because without the pungent oils inside those buds, your cannabis experience would never be the same.