what kind of marijuana should I buy?
Odds are, if someone asked you if you wanted some ice cream, you’d ask them “What flavor?” before answering. You should think of medical marijuana similarly. Cannabis contains approximately 500 compound from 18 different chemical classes, including terpenoids, flavinoids, phytosterols, and over 100 different cannabinoids. Understanding that different combinations of these different chemicals affect humans in very different ways is what makes it possible to use medical marijuana well for a variety of conditions. If all marijuana was the same, then it would be as simple as telling people to ingest some marijuana and expect it to work. But like ice cream, we all have flavors that work for us and flavors that don’t.
It’s easiest to start with the things that are NOT true. There is common misperception that the various strain names have some meaning. In general they do not. You hear recreational marijuana and medical marijuana strains advertised by name frequently; northern lights, sour diesel, hindu kush, baboon frenzy, etc. Occasionally these names are correlated to specific strains and can be reliable in a given growing region, but for the most part, there is no correlation between the name of a strain and its composition.
Medical marijuana is often classified according to sativa vs indica dominance and while there are some broad generalizations that can be made based on these distinctions, there can be wide variations in the composition and effects amongst both types. The terms “sativa” and “indica” refer to two landraces of marijuana. There is a third landrace, “ruderalis”, that originates in Russia, but is better at producing CBD than THC and it is infrequently found. Sativas originate from equatorial regions and can grow to heights of 15 feet. Because of their size and low density of flowers, they are typically grown outdoors. Indica refers to the landrace that originates from central Asia. They are typically smaller and have denser collections of flowers. Because indicas are more efficiently grown indoors, they are the basis of many common varieties.
The important thing to recognize is that “sativa” and “indica” refer to the shape and growth patterns of the plant, not to it’s chemical composition or medical effects. Most marijuana is a hybrid of the two and most recreational marijuana is and indica/sativa with very little CBD content.
Modern research show that the effects of medical marijuana are related to its CBD content and terpene profile. I have previously discussed CBD ratios here. Terpenes are the aromatic components of plants. When you smell pine needles, lavender, or lemon, you are smelling terpenes. The groupings of the terpenes are largely what contribute to the different smell, flavor, and effects of marijuana. When sativas and indicas have been studied, there are generalizations about their terpene content that can be made.
Indicas, which are typically considered relaxing, sedating, and analgesic often contain the terpenes linalool, bisabool, and guaiol. Sativas, generally considered to be more uplifting and energizing, usually contain the terpenes pinene, ocimene, and limonene. However when strains that are advertised as “sativa” or “indica” are analyzed, they are found to have widely varying compositions and quantities of various terpenes.
As medical marijuana continues to be recognized as a solution to many of the problems that dangerous pharmaceuticals have failed to solve, it is likely that we will move toward terpene specific testing and labeling. Until then, do not assume that recreational marijuana is accurately described by strain name and understand that not all indicas or sativas behave the same way. use your nose to identify smells that are associated with the effects that you are seeking and you will likely start to find that specific terpenes are helping drive your preferences.