I have been a student of cannabis since the first time I smoked a joint in 1979 while battling cancer and undergoing both chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The gracious herb was in many ways my savior and it caused me to become dedicated to learning as much as I could about it. One of my favorite teachers is Robert Clarke who wrote the books, The Botany and Ecology of Cannabis in 1977, Marijuana Botany in 1981, HASHISH! in 1998 and Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany released in 2013. We’ve been close friends since 1994, and in the 1990s Robert was teaching us that Indica and sativa were basically incorrect terminology, and that Afghan cannabis should be considered within its own classification.
In 2004 and after five long years, I got out of federal prison for growing cannabis after the passing of the 1996 California medical marijuana law. I picked up Rob for the first time in a long time to go smoke a joint, and he asked me if I remembered what he taught me about Indica, sativa and Afghan. I told him that I did remember, and he smiled and said to forget it because that’s not what researchers believe anymore.
Our understanding of the planet is changing daily, as science reveals more of life’s secrets, it causes us to look at the way we understand things differently.
Initially, we used Indica and sativa different ways, depending on if you were a grower or a consumer.
To a cultivator, Indica meant a short broad leaflet plant that grew tight and stocky, yielded well and finished flowering quickly. Sativa, meant the plant was tropical/equatorial with narrow leaflets and took next to forever to finish flowering.
To a consumer, Indica meant something that was a heavy high that was deep, relaxing and often not so energetic. On the other hand, sativa was translated to mean that it would be more energetics, almost like drinking coffee, in the way that it wakes you up and motivates you, and more psychedelic, with a buzz that leaves you daydreaming about the universe.
To science, it meant something else entirely.
When the cannabis taxonomy was first being written in 1753, Carl Linnaeus was essentially aware of only one type of cannabis: the European hemp variety of Cannabis that he added the suffix “sativa”, which at the time simply meant to grow or to sow. This type of cannabis was used industrially for ropes, cloth, paper, paints and varnishes, but surprisingly, not for the drug content.
Robert Clarke often jokes that scientifically speaking, nobody smokes “sativa” because all drug varieties are “Indica”.
In 1785, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck published a description of a second species of Cannabis from India which was used for it’s drug content and he named it “Cannabis Indica”.
Cannabis that was coming from India and many other items that originated from India used the term “Indica”. But what becomes more confusing to our modern use of the term is that there are all types of cannabis growing in India and leaf morphology does not tell the whole story.
In Northern India along the Hindu Kush mountains, you will find broadleaf drug cannabis and as you travel south to Goa, you will find very narrow leaflet drug plants that are all 100% Indica.
You can also find non-drug industrial hemp/cannabis varieties growing all over the world that have both narrow leaflets and broad leaflets. The flowers look amazing and make copious quantities of trichomes, but they will not get you high.
In 2013, Robert Clarke launched a new taxonomy in the world of cannabis, the problem is, it’s a bit complex. Robert breaks down the varieties as follows:
Broad Leaflet Drug = BLD
Narrow Leaflet Drug = NLD
Broad Leaf Hemp = BLH
Narrow Leaf Hemp = NLH
Robert also has another category for ancestors, as there are varieties of cannabis growing around the world that have escaped human cultivation and have become feral once again. For this he uses “PA” for punitive ancestor.
Robert’s 21st century cannabis taxonomy has been around for 10 years now and while it makes a lot of sense, it’s not catching on. I think this is mostly because it’s too complex for people to grasp easily, but that is to be expected considering Robert is a scientist and if you read any of his books, you will see that they are very detailed and well referenced.
The modern cannabis market is made up of hybrids which are incredibly hard to classify as Northern or tropical, Indica, or sativa, because they have attributes of both.
The effects we feel when we smoke or vaporize are controlled by the cannabinoids and terpenes which modulate the effects of the cannabinoids. The analogy I would use is that getting high is like getting on an airplane, the cannabinoids bring you up to altitude and the terpenes are the rudders that control the whole flight.
The terpenes are so important that the entire experience from the bud can be ruined if the bud is over dried, because when it is over dried, the terpenes evaporate and the bud does not taste or smell anywhere near as good as it did when it was fresh.
The Emerald Cup, which is one of the largest cannabis competitions in the world, recently started dividing the entries into six different terpene categories, which they call the love language of cannabis:
Myrcene: this is the most common terpene found in cannabis, varieties that have it are Skunk #1, Northern Lights, Blue Dream, and OG Kush
a Pinene: is found in pine needles and is responsible for the piney scent in Northern Lights #5
Limonene: is found in lemons and other citrus-based fruit and gives a wonderfully uplifting energy that can also be quite medicinal with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Varieties that smell like a lemon dessert usually have high amounts of limonene, such as Wedding Cake, and Mac.
β Caryophyllene: is found in black pepper and cloves and adds a spicy, herbal note to the cannabis. Varieties that have it are Cookies, Sherbet and UK Cheese.
Terpinolene: is one of my favorites. It is the dominant terpene responsible for the spicy smell in Haze. It is energetic and motivating and I’ve been smoking it as I write this. You will find it in Original Haze, Trainwreck, Jack Herer and Super Lemon Haze
Ocimene: is one of the exotics, it is often found in cannabis, but in lower quantities and is more of a complimentary rather than a dominant terpene. Varieties that have it are; Pineapple, Dream Queen, and Pink Lemonade.
As a grower, breeder and heavy user who has been selling seeds for years through my company Authentic Genetics, I recommend to all of the cultivators who grow my seeds that they stop selecting plants based upon high THC levels, fast flowering times, and heavy yield.
Unfortunately, for the past 30+ years, cannabis varieties have been selected and hybridized for the convenience of the grower and not for the overall quality of the end-user.
What I recommend is that we all start growing and selecting plants based on olfactory qualities such as flavor and scent. If food does not taste or smell good, no matter how nutritious it is, you’re probably not going to want to eat it and the same is true for cannabis. Too many varieties of cannabis in the commercial market look great, but don’t do the trick for many of my friends who smoke it.
As for effect, there is a cultivation technique that I’ve been teaching people, which is that you can dial the high of a cannabis variety by simply harvesting it at different times. Varieties that are harvested early will have a lighter and more psychedelic high, compared to the same variety harvested later into maturity, which will have a more sedated and relaxing high.
I think that we should ditch the old terminology and instead get a better understanding of what it is that we are consuming and what elements of cannabis make us feel the way we want to feel when we smoke, vape or eat our favorite flowers.
For more information on the subject, please visit my website: Authentic Genetics at AGSeedCo.com