Towards a clearer classification of medicinal cannabis varieties

Detailed chemical analysis shows clear differences between Sativa and Indica types of cannabis.

The terms Sativa and Indica have been used for centuries by cannabis cultivators and end users to identify certain types of cannabis. Patients have learned to use these terms to navigate their search for their favorite variety, but it was unclear how this reflected actual differences in chemical composition and medicinal effects.


A recently completed study, commissioned by Bedrocan, shows that certain terpenes are the chemical markers that distinguish Sativa from Indica type cannabis. The use of biochemical markers is a useful addition to the commonly used classification system based on popularized vernacular or ‘cultivar’ classification names such as Amnesia Haze or Purple Kush. A more advanced scientific approach makes it easier to discover varieties with chemical composition (‘chemovars’) that better match patients’ pharmacological needs.

From cultivar to chemovar

In his study, titled ‘From cultivar to chemovar II’, Dr Arno Hazekamp analysed the largest collection of cannabis samples (460) reported in scientific literature. Samples were chemically mapped and divided into clusters with similar composition. The study showed that Sativa and Indica samples were clearly different on a chemical level, with certain terpenes as the main markers. Hydroxylated terpenes (also known as terpenoids) were significantly more prevalent in Indica type samples. Opposite to common belief, Sativa and Indica types did not differ in their average content of THC or CBD.

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