The Terpenes in Cannabis

Some Cannabis users describe the psychoactive effects of C. Indica and Sativa as distinctive, even opposite. Are they really? Beyond reports  by users, is there a clear evidence for  “pharmacologically” different cannabis species?

There are, biochemically,  distinct cannabis strains, but the sativa / indica distinction, as commonly applied in secular literature, is a total absurdity and an exercise in futility.The biochemical content of a given Cannabis plant cannot be guessed based on its morphology:  height, branching or leaf shape. The degree of hybridization is such that only a biochemical test indicates to a potential consumer or scientist what is actually present in the plant. It is essential that future trading allows the availability of complete and accurate profiles of cannabinoids and terpenoids. Sativa is often described as uplifting and energetic, while Indica is described as relaxing and calming.

What could be the basis for these perceived differences? We would all prefer to use nostrils to explain complex systems, but this is futile and even potentially dangerous in the context of a psychoactive drug like cannabis. Once again, it is necessary to quantify the biochemical components of a given Cannabis strain and correlate them with the effects observed in real patients. Beyond the growing number of predominantly CBD strains in recent years, almost all Cannabis varieties on the market come from predominantly THC strains. The differences in the observed effects are therefore due to their terpene content, which is rarely dosed.

The sedation felt by consuming varieties of the so-called indica, are actually falsely attributed to the low content of CBD when, in fact, the CBD proves to be stimulating in low and moderate doses! (if it is considered pure). Rather, sedation, in the more common Cannabis strains, is attributable to their content of myrcene, a monoterpene with a sedative effect, which resembles a narcotic. On the contrary, a high limonene content (common to citrus peel) will improve mood, while the presence of the relatively rare terpene, alpha-pinene, can effectively reduce or eliminate the deterioration of short-term memory, classically induced by THC.

Terpenes are small molecules produced by plants, and mainly contained in their resins, they are organic mixtures that give a particular aroma to each flowering plant. The most common terpenes are: myrcene, limonene, menthol, camphor, geraniol and squalene. In the Cannabis plant, more than 200 terpenes  can be counted and only a scientist can classify them.

So today it no longer makes sense to talk about Indica and Sativa. In fact, this is partly true with regards to the therapeutic effects  experienced by consumers. What we can hypothesize is that the two varieties of Cannabis produce different terpenes and that they differ in their effects thanks to them.In the Cannabis indica the myrcene is prevalent, this is a terpene common to many plants and fruits. It has a pleasant smell and for this reason it is widely used in the perfume industry. This compound is being studied and appears to be associated with relaxation and an increased effect of THC, the result that we get after taking it can be  “narcotic”.In Cannabis sativa limonene is prevalent and this is why it tends to be more energizing.

Having said that, it is good that science is concerned with explaining how this plant interacts with our body, but to say that there is no difference between C. indica and C. sativa is perhaps a bit too much.

The level of hybridization is now such as to confuse the varieties – in the 70s the Hindu Kush was imported into the USA which was bred with the equatorial and Colombian sativa varieties – but today’s hybrids widely  available on the market still have a dominant line, especially regarding the profile of terpenes present in indica plants. Modern hybrids have been thought to bloom in a shorter  time than pure sativa lines. The reason why the Hindu Kush was imported into the United States was precisely to cross it with long flowering sativas, like for example, the Punto Rojo which takes from a minimum of 16 to 20 weeks (sometimes even more) to complete the flowering. The descendants of this cross proved to be faster to flower, and this indicates that probably this character is dominant compared to that of the sativa varieties, but, for the rest, many of their offsprings  presented mostly morphological characteristics of the “indica” parent and organoleptic  characteristics of the “sativa” one.

Consequently, the terpenes mix up to a certain point and in all probability the terpenes of the sativa plants are dominant over those of the indica plants, in fact we do not have documented hybrids that have the same terpenic concentrations of myrcene and limonene. On the contrary, we have, for example, hybrids with high concentrations of limonene and little myircene, with  sativa prevalence although they bloom in a short time, because they are hybridized with an indica, and we have hybrids with high concentrations of myrcene, super narcotics, considered predominantly indica.The effects of these hybrids can be better than those of pure lines, thanks to the mix of terpenes obtained in the new crosses.

In conclusion, the “secular” conception of Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Sativa “is not entirely wrong, let alone the classical taxonomic conception. We can only say that nowadays it is very rare to find a pure line of Cannabis sativa because they have been taken away from their areas of origin to make room for the hybrids that complete their bloom cycle faster.

The chemotaxonomy today is inclined towards the two species of Cannabis, Indica and Sativa, and proposes as a well-founded hypothesis that the two species actually derive from a single species that has differentiated due to the different places of cultivation. It is assumed that Cannabis Sativa, “lay”, the one that takes a long time to complete the flowering cycle, is nothing more than a variety that has become native to the equatorial belt, therefore it has changed its genome in response to the surrounding environment ( 12 hours of light throughout the year).It is for this reason that if crossed with an indica, this immediately loses the characteristic of a long flowering. However you consider it, nose, smell, palate, taste and lungs, for now, they remain the best tools that a patient or a regular consumer can use to understand if a given herb can or cannot do to one’s personal  case …. Have a good one!

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