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Article: Sativa vs Indica Edibles: What Does the Research Say?

Sativa vs Indica Edibles: What Does the Research Say?

Sativa vs Indica Edibles: What Does the Research Say?

“Sativas make me too paranoid.” “Indicas make me too sleepy.” As cannabis has risen in popularity, statements like these have also been on the rise, with cannabis consumers generally lumping the effects of cannabis into two vague categories.

Is there anything to the indica-sativa debate, though, or is it all just the placebo effect? Or, conversely, could a subtle synergy be at play that might not comport itself into the dualistic categorization of “indica” or “sativa?”

Especially when it comes to edibles, knowing how your weed will hit you is of tantamount importance. Some users are convinced that sativas give them panic attacks, after all, while others avoid indica edibles due to uncontrollable narcolepsy.

Is it enough to simply avoid one type of edible in favor of another, or might further inquiry be required to choose the right edible? Find out in this scientific guide.

Sativa vs. indica edibles: Overview

  • Edibles generally come in “indica” and “sativa” varieties
  • Indica edibles are relaxing and calming while sativas provide more of a head-trip
  • Edibles labeled as sativa can have indica effects, though, and vice versa
  • Recently, the role terpenes play in the effects of cannabis has come to the fore
  • Pseudoscientific categorizations like “indica” and “sativa” are being dropped in favor of investigating individual terpene profiles
  • To truly understand how an edible will affect you, it is necessary to study its terpenes

What are edibles?

An “edible” is an orally ingested cannabis product, named for being an “edible dose” of weed. Edibles come in all shapes and sizes with brownies, cookies, and gummies being the most popular options.

Depending on how they are manufactured, edibles can have widely varying effects. Overseas, for instance, and in some medical markets, edibles can contain nearly 1 gram of THC per dose, around 100 times the potency of an average adult-use edible in American markets.

The terpenes included in edibles also impact their effects — as well as the methods used to extract and preserve these terpenes. In addition, terpenes affect the flavor of edibles, which can be an immensely positive thing as long as proper consideration of flavor profiles is taken during product formulation.

Do indica and sativa matter for edibles?

While edibles can certainly have different effects depending on the terpenes they contain, the limiting categories of “indica” and “sativa” do little to helpfully explain the effects a strain will offer. For instance, almost every strain of cannabis contains caryophyllene, and many indicas and sativas share the terpenes limonene, myrcene, and pinene.

When you smoke weed or take an edible and it makes you feel uplifted or energetic, that’s because of a particular terpene or a synergistic interaction between multiple terpenes. It’s not because cannabis plants are sorted into sativa and indica “genders” at birth like chickens in a factory farm.

The same is true for an edible that makes you feel profoundly relaxed — the terpenes in that edible combined with THC and minor cannabinoids to impart a relaxing feeling, a feeling commonly known as “indica.” There is no such thing as indica, however — it’s just a placeholder term used to describe an interplay of terpenes too complex to express in simple words.

Even if the difference between indica and sativa is ultimately baseless, it’s a fact that the effects of edibles can roughly be categorized into two groups. As long as you don’t confuse the loosely defined group for the effects of the individual terpenes at play, it’s fine to use terms like “indica” and “sativa” as shorthand when describing the general effects of edibles.

Effects of indica edibles

If an edible is labeled as “indica,” it is more likely to give you the symptom known as “couch lock” or make you fall asleep. Some psychonauts can consider indicas to be too boring, but the types of cannabis users who like to just hang out and have fun enjoy indica edibles more than the sativa equivalent.

Effects of sativa edibles

As opposed to indica edibles, sativa edibles are much more likely to impart a “trippy” high. If you once took edibles when your THC tolerance was still low and you thought your brownies had been laced with shrooms, it’s probably because a heady sativa strain was used. Low-tolerance users shy away from sativa edibles, but experienced cannabis connoisseurs sometimes seek them out for their near-psychedelic effects.

Indica vs. sativa edible research

To our knowledge, no studies into the indica-sativa divide have focused explicitly on edibles. Research pertaining to indica and sativa in general, however, will also apply to the edibles side of the debate.

One of the first pieces of scientific literature tackling this problem is an interview with Dr. Ethan Russo published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research in 2016. Russo, widely respected as one of the world’s foremost cannabis scientists, takes his first shot at the debate by admitting that, while there are certainly “biochemically distinct strains of Cannabis,” the indica-sativa distinction “as commonly applied in the lay literature is total nonsense and an exercise in futility.”

Dr. Russo is clearly not one to mince words. He goes on to say that the “degree of interbreeding… is such that only a biochemical assay tells a potential consumer or scientist what is really in the plant.” Essentially, the world’s foremost cannabis expert is saying that the only way to know how a cannabis product will affect you is to read the lab report.

Further research has only confirmed Dr. Russo’s position. In 2021, a study was published showing that genetic testing of cannabis discovered no connection between indica and sativa labeling and actual genetic variances in cannabis products. No studies have been published countering these claims, which simply follow common sense.

It’s the complex mix of terpenes, determined by, as Dr. Russo pointed out, an incredible “degree of interbreeding” that has occurred over the last 5-6 decades, that ultimately decides how a cannabis product will affect you. Learn the effects of each terpene, and check lab reports to find out how edibles will hit you. There’s no other scientific way.

Summary: Should I choose sativa or indica edibles?

Ultimately, there does not appear to be any scientific basis for choosing between edible cannabis products simply based on whether they are labeled as “indica” or “sativa.” One way the indica-sativa misconception has been fed is with quasi-scientific jargon like “60/40 sativa” or “80/20 indica,” which promotes the idea that “indica” and “sativa” are measurable quantities that can be rendered in percentages.

In reality, these are just assessments based on how the breeders and their friends felt like a strain affected them — combined with an often-rudimentary understanding of the cultivar’s genetics. Over time, rigor in delineating between sativa and indica has decreased, not increased, with it now being common for budtenders to refer to products as indica if they’re relaxing and sativa if they’re uplifting regardless of the genetic profile of the strain the product contains.

Instead of choosing edibles on the basis of whether they’re indica or sativa, start paying attention to how different terpenes and terpene synergies affect you. One way to begin is by noting the terpenes present in the products you already use. After using and comparing a handful of products, it should start to become clear which terpenes make you feel certain ways.

The strain is what matters

You may have heard the word “landrace” coming from the mouths of experienced cannabis connoisseurs who are dismissive of over-crossed, modern hybrids. A landrace is a phenotype of cannabis that has not knowingly been altered by human hands in modern memory. In essence, “wild weed.”

If you really want to know how an edible will affect you, it will be necessary to tease apart every single event of breeding that took place between every single landrace that came together to produce the extract included in the edible. Falling short of that, you’ll need to examine each individual terpene, understand how they interact with each other, and through that recognition of individual synergy, gradually understand the effects your edible’s terpenes provide.

Most cannabis experts simply select strains as close to landraces as possible and otherwise learn a strain’s effects through experience. Trying to categorize cannabis strains into “sativa” or “indica” is just as futile as categorizing human beings as “female” or “male.” Whether cannabis or human, we are all natural beings, and it's our uniqueness that should stand out, not our categories.

Indica vs. sativa edibles FAQ

While it might now be outdated in some ways, the indica-sativa debate continues to unfold as the history of cannabis evolves before our eyes. Here are some answers to related questions that might have been on your mind:

Are indica edibles better than sativa for pain?

Yes, some users consider indica edibles to be better for pain for two reasons — indicas are largely known to be more relaxing, which is often helpful with pain. Also, indica edibles are unlikely to offer distracting mental effects, which can get in the way of the simple goal of reducing chronic pain. As we’ve covered in this article, though, simple descriptors like “indica” and “sativa” hardly ever tell the full story.

Are sativa or indica edibles better for anxiety?

If you suffer from anxiety that can be worsened by cannabis, it is suggested that you stay away from edibles labeled “sativa” since they are more likely to have paranoia-inducing or anxiety-worsening effects. Simply labeling an edible as an indica doesn’t ensure that it will have calming or relaxing effects, though.

Are indica or sativa edibles better for sleep?

Most users would say that indica edibles are better for sleep, but some strains labeled as “indica” might keep you up all night. Instead of relying on dualistic labels like sativa-indica, research individual terpenes like linalool that are believed to help with sleep. Then, find cannabis edibles that are specifically labeled as containing linalool.

What are the benefits of sativa edibles?

Edibles labeled as “sativa” are more likely to provide uplifting, mind-altering effects that can be fun especially when shared with friends. Choose sativa edibles when you’re planning a trip outside or you already have a considerable cannabis tolerance. For those who haven’t amassed a tolerance to THC, sativa edibles can be almost overwhelmingly psychoactive.

Is a 10mg edible too much for a beginner?

No, a 10mg edible shouldn’t be too high of a dose for a beginner to THC. If you’re concerned about the edible affecting you too strongly, only take half of it at first, and take the other half at least 45 minutes later, giving you proper time to gauge the effects.

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