Given that the “indica” and “sativa” phenotypic categories you’re probably familiar with were coined hundreds of years ago, it’s due time for an upgrade in our taxonomy, and the way we think about the side effects of cannabis use.
A few years ago, a study of cognitive function among smokers and non-smokers revealed specific variations in effect from person to person, based on correlations with key psychological genetic markers in each individual. For some, cannabis caused a lag in attention or an increase in errors during a test, while others showed an exacerbation of existing depression or poor decision-making skills. All trends pointed back to previously known correlations based on those genetic markers.
There’s more recent evidence for diverse and individualized reactions to cannabis. Due to recent support for research and mandatory testing in recreational markets, science is uncovering far more facts about the components of various strains than were previously known. What they’re finding is that there are some common experiences among users, but that every individual reacts to marijuana in their own unique way.
It’s long been understood among consumers that “indica” means “in da couch” and that a sativa strain will give you a creative streak and the giggles. However, the art of cross-breeding has led to an increase in the number of “hybrids” on the market that have more unpredictable -- and inconsistent -- side effects from person to person.
One person might smoke Blue Dream throughout the day to relieve anxiety, while another might get unbelievably sluggish or sleepy off of the same strain. It’s impossible to tell that person that all sativa strains will have the same effect.
The variance in how cannabis affects different individuals largely lies in genetics -- both plant and human.
Origins of different strains of cannabis are much better traced and classified by landrace genetics, or the geographic area where the strain (or parent strains) originated, than a simple indica-sativa-hybrid specification.
By observing and documenting one’s own experiences with each new strain, and doing a bit of research on the genetics of that plant, one will have a much easier time figuring out how different types of cannabis affect them personally.
For example, one might find that they should avoid Afghan or Kush strains because they become far too sluggish after consuming, and instead go for a South African landrace strain, like Durban Poison, that have a lighter fruity flavor and uplifting psychoactive effect.
There are other internal factors that can influence how a strain hits you, including your built up THC tolerance, or any other drugs you are taking at the time.
Terpene profiles are also a huge factor in how a particular strain of cannabis will smell, taste, and make you feel. Many chemically-sensitive patients will experience sensitivity to particular terpenes as well, causing discomfort or even toxicity.
These factors are minor in comparison to the genetic connection between our bodies and the cannabis plant.
Next time you are educating a friend about different strains of cannabis, keep in mind that their experience might be very distinct and separate from your own. It’s more than probable - quite possible, in fact - that when you consume cannabis plant, its DNA is literally interacting with yours.
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Funny how much of this cannabis universe ends up sounding like details from a science fiction story, but it’s true!