International research shows: No genetic distinction between ‘Sativa’ and ‘Indica’ cannabis
The cannabis industry needs to look more critically at its own disclosures. According to researchers at Canada’s Dalhousie University and the Wageningen University & Research, the Indica and Sativa labels on cannabis are often wrong and misleading. Patients and consumers would benefit from a more scientific approach. The researchers analysed hundreds of cannabis samples. The study shows that the genetic and chemical composition of the cannabis tested often does not correspond to the typical cannabis label Indica or Sativa.
Cannabis labels are often wrong and misleading
The results were recently published in the leading international journal Nature Plants. Robin van Velzen, plant expert scientist at Wageningen University and also affiliated with Bedrocan, contributed to the research.
The terms Indica and Sativa are often used to categorise cannabis. These different strains are generally believed to be associated with certain psychoactive effects. Often the effect of a Sativa strain is described as mentally stimulating and energising, while that of an Indica strain is described as relaxing and soothing. In addition, it is often suggested that the labels say something about the genetic background.
However, the research shows that plants with the Sativa label are no more genetically similar than plants with an Indica label. Also, chemically there is mainly overlap between these two labels.
“Growers worldwide label their cannabis strains quite subjectively with the terms ‘Indica’ and ‘Sativa’. There’s nothing scientific about that. Unfortunately, retailers and consumers cannot rely on the labels that are stuck to the jars,” says Dr Sean Myles, Associate Professor at Dalhousie University‘s Faculty of Agriculture and lead author of the study.
“There is now a broad scientific consensus that the current use of the Indica and Sativa labelling is misleading: these labels do not provide reliable information about the genetic or chemical makeup of the plant,” Myles continues.
The research shows that genetically it is impossible to prove whether a cannabis plant is an Indica or Sativa. There is no difference in the genes. “What our study mainly shows is that you should not just rely on those labels, but that you should look at the specific terpene profile,” says Van Velzen. “For example, cannabis labelled as Sativa often contains higher concentrations of single terpenes with tea-like and fruity aromas, while Indica samples generally contain higher concentrations of terpenes with an earthy smell such as myrcene, guaiol, gamma-elemene and gamma-eudesmol.”
But the distinction that the researchers found is not convincing: “It really is about these specific, individual terpenes that make the difference. The overall chemical profile, like the genetics, shows no apparent difference between the labels. We also found only a small number of regions in the cannabis genome that likely contribute to the earthy aroma associated with the Indica label,” said Van Velzen.
It is also striking that different cannabis samples sold under the same name such as ‘Lemon Haze’ or ‘OG Kush’ could be genetically just as different from each other as samples with different names.
Van Velzen: ‘Unlike other valuable plant species, the labeling of cannabis is very unreliable. This is particularly undesirable for patients who use cannabis as a medicinal product”.
Indica variant Bedica
Bedrocan shows the terpene profiles per product on the website and makes a distinction between Indica and Sativa per cannabis product because many patients need this information. The product Bedica is marketed as an Indica variant. Van Velzen: “The typical terpenes such as myrcene and gamma-eudesmol are also found in Bedica. In that respect, the labelling is therefore in line with our findings.”
According to the researchers, the industry should be more open about the chemical composition. “Show the terpene profiles for real instead of an unreliable name like Indica or Sativa. Fortunately, a number of companies already do this, but a standardised measurement and naming convention is still lacking. Reliable information is of great importance; certainly for medicinal applications,” concludes Van Velzen.