We’re Making This Too Complicated (An ‘Indicas and Sativas Are For Dummies’ Response)

In Weirdos # 10, Jimi Devine made a case for Afghani and Equatorial, for #32, Jon proposes other solutions.
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Earlier this year Jimi Devine penned a piece for this column called “Indicas and Sativas are for Dummies.” While I do, for the most part, agree with his sentiment, I don’t believe his proposed solution of “Afghani” & “Equatorial” to be viable. As it’s the end of the year and I’m not sure what traffic’s going to be like on these final Fridays, we’re experimenting a bit over here. We always intended for WEIRDOS to feel like a public discourse, so in that spirit, here’s my response to Jimi’s idea, and some proposals of my own.

Why Afghani & Equatorial Are Doomed

Let’s face it, America isn’t actually the most accepting place in the world. Although we love to dub ourselves as the world’s melting pot, we’re actually far better at drawing lines than finding common ground. Because of this, I don’t think nomenclature like Afghani and Equatorial will ever be commonly accepted because it sounds foreign to most of our citizens. In fact, I’d argue if many people fully understood what they were saying with “Indica” (Latin for “Of India”) they’d probably use that a lot less too – because most of what they’re cultivating isn’t actually from India, it’s from America. Even further, “Sativa” in Latin means “cultivated” – so they’re both Sativa by definition. And by species, but that’s another story.

It’s worth noting that cultivars that formerly had “Afghan” in their name have all seemed to drop it in recent years. I am willing to bet that started post-9/11, but I wouldn’t know. I was 11 at that point. I’ve only heard about the mythical Afghani varietals, but I know a lot of Kush. Maybe I’m looking too far into it, but assuming America to be a racist place seems to be on the nose.

But more than that, what people are TYPICALLY trying to describe with Indica & Sativa – or Afghani & Equatorial, as proposed – is the effect the plant will provide, not the place it was from. While I get there’s correlation there, aren’t we leading consumers down the wrong path with that type of information anyway, since we know most of the effects are driven by terpenes and the other psychoactive chemistry found within the plant? To me this isn’t as black or white as it is a color wheel. That said, if we have to break it into two specific groups…

Stimulating vs. Sedative

What about categorizing them as stimulating or sedating? This way there’s variance, for sure, but to me, that’s what we’re really trying to say with the forbidden bro-science, right? We’re trying to tell you if it will get you lifted, or stoned. If you’ll be energized or couch-locked, so aren’t these more appropriate terms anyway? Eventually I believe this is what terpene science will tell us, and where we’ll really be able to get prescriptive with effects consumers can expect, but for now I believe this encompasses what we have been trying to say in a more accurate way.

That said, determining which of these categories said products will fall into can’t only rely on the information we’ve had in the past. For example, we know short and fat plants can sometimes present a profile that is closer to what we consider historically Sativa, even though the plant looks Indica, as Todd McCormick suggested for your piece, so there is far more research required for this to become a perfect system. And while we’re here, traditional science today says we pretty much only have anecdotal evidence to prove the effectiveness of terpenes, but any regular consumer knows smoking something that smells like gas will cool you down, so we’re in some degree of a holding pattern while the research picks up.

My only worry here is that these are still complicated terms for some. Not to sound like an asshole but some people need it to be super simple to understand, and we need this to be approachable. So I have another proposal, and this one may be more digestible for that lot.

Uppers & Downers

I choose this because it’s familiar terminology for drug users of all types. While there’s admittedly a ton of gray area here, as most of what we’re dealing with is a hybrid anyway, is there a simpler way to dumb it down? People commonly know most alcohol is a downer, but that tequila riles you up. They typically know that a Xanax puts you to sleep while Adderall will keep you up, so why not lean into what’s already understood? What’s actually wrong with likening our vice to other more common, and today socially accepted, ones? 

Looking past it’s usage across other drugispheres, does it get any easier for the layman to understand? We’re already using things like arrows up and down to describe how products will make us feel, so why not take it all the way? I understand this will be complex for hybrid classifications, but there’s someone out there who’s been saying “This is a 70% Sativa, 30% Indica,” so I’m sure that guy would love to decide just how much of an angle each of those are pointing.

Obviously there’s no clear right answer here, but I think it’s important we keep evolving this conversation, especially as the scientific understanding increases. Not only will this help us to be more accurate, but it will actually help people understand what they’re getting if they’re not as well versed as you or I. We’re not doing anyone any favors by continuing to push the misinformation, and we don’t know the unintended consequences this lack of understanding can have down the line. Look at THC percentage, and states that are now taxing products over a certain limit. It really sucks to have to pay for someone else’s stupidity, especially for something that your consumer doesn’t understand and doesn’t actually want – despite what they may think or say. 

Thoughts?

For those reading at home, what are you thinking? Do either of these make sense to you? Do you have a better solution? Feel free to respond below or in the comments on social media to join the discussion, and help us crack this. While I don’t think either of us have proposed perfect solutions, I think any are better than where we’re at today – and being better tomorrow than we were today is the best we can hope to do.

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35 comments
  1. “ I am willing to bet that started post-9/11, but I wouldn’t know. I was 11 at that point. I’ve only heard about the mythical Afghani varietals, but I know a lot of Kush. “ 🗑🚮

      1. Please tell us about all the racism you’ve experienced here in the US, since you’re so willing to throw that word around.

        1. Right?
          Its politicians that are, and always have been pushing and stoking the racism BS. Specifically the left, who, historically, have been on the wrong side of real progress. Who were the KKK? Dixiecrats. Who supported Jim Crow? Which party opposed emancipation?? Voter rights for blacks? Democrat.
          Which party was initiated to oppose slavery? GOP.
          Which party always reinvigorates the racism issue. Democrats.
          Anyone pretending the parties switched places on the issue is misinformed.
          Don’t get me wrong though, both parties are corrupt AF.

          But writing an article about the different effects of marijuana, and toting the racism narrative is pure ignorance. Which made me wish I hadn’t read this article at all. The USA is a melting pot of people and marijuana strains, and it is easily in top 5 of least racist nations on the planet.

          1. LOL tell me you’re overly sensitive without telling me – and here i thought dems were the snowflakes!

          2. I couldn’t agree more. Weed is about community and passing the love around. Bring up race was divisive. I have never sat in a circle of friends and looked around and said “nope I’m not smoking with this group because of…” Weed is social like tea, you share it, you have conversations over it, you listen to music. I have enjoyed a good bowl with people from all walks of life and never once did the bullshit of racial issues ever come up.
            Just relax bro and take another toke.

          3. you understand that just because *you* don’t feel a certain way doesn’t mean that most others don’t as well, right? that’s like saying ‘because I’ve never experienced racism it doesn’t exist’ – that’s very good for you but you’re discounting the lived experience of much of this country.

          4. If you honestly think middle eastern people didn’t experience racism post 9/11 you’re either too dumb or too young to remember what the socio-political climate was like during the fallout of September 11th. That being said, the article isn’t condemning cannabis culture as being racist (though the responses in this thread aren’t doing a great job of proving otherwise). Jon is just pointing out the influence of culture and current events on the community’s ever evolving “accepted” vernacular. Language is always changing and no matter how much we try to influence common nomenclature within our insular communities it is the community as a whole that will decide what makes sense and what doesn’t, even if it isn’t always seemingly logical or practical.

          5. Honestly I intentionally lean into the offense because it’s clear they stop reading after they saw something they didn’t like and are willing to forgo the point to be mad. Let them, every time they come back to reply it’s another click on the post. Not everything is going to be for everyone, and I don’t mind enflaming the ones who can’t see past themselves. I appreciate your comment though!

          6. Racism is alive and well and the far right have claimed it. Look for pictures of KKKyle Rittenhouse flashing the same hand gesture as the proud boys. The presidential staff photos between Trump and any other is quite telling. The lack of diversity is painfully obvious. Your focus is conveniently on the WAS, the NOW is more horrifying. The riots were all pushed by white supremacists. Police arrest records are proof.

        2. Sparky: what we learned from the Rittenhouse incident is you can’t shoot 3 liberals without hitting 2 pedophiles.
          I’m betting you are part of the 2/3 ratio of liberals.
          You should get a Hi-Point pistol (because you are a poor piece of shit and can’t afford anything more expensive), a box of rounds, load one round, chamber it, put the barrel (that’s that hole the projectile will come out) in your mouth, and pull the trigger.
          You will improve the genetics of the human race if you do.

  2. Uppers and Downers i uderstand considering how complex the terms used by the people selling me these Gelatos. Thanks for the history class.

  3. “stimulating vs sedative”, and “uppers vs downers” is basically the same descriptive terms that most people would use to describe a sativa or indica strain in the first place. this is just splitting hairs with a dash of stoner condescension.

      1. Removing them requires replacement. Provide alternatives to supplant the misnomers. I’m thinking we actually need multiple axes(axis-es) to describe the actual effect profile of given strains, and have borrowed some econ terminology by talking about the “directionality” of a given strain. If we treat each strain like a multi-variate/variable function or equation, it’s got an overall directionality, and differing sub-directionality depending on the specific variable we’re looking at.

        The one part of your article I think we can all agree on is that more data points and research are necessary. We’re at the very front end of our scientific understanding of cannabis due to the current gradual repeal of its prohibition and as more comes out, we’ll be better able to describe traits in play, some of which we may even have to develop *entirely* new terminology for.

  4. Personally I don’t think they can be split into just 2 categories. In my case, a lot of the time those that are labeled sativa’s cause me to be couch locked and pass out, and vice versa with indica’s. I’m sure there are others out there that has same experience.

    1. i don’t disagree, but as stated above I think we’re a ways off from a fully fleshed out index of traits, so we’re trying to propose solutions with the science we have available today. that said, once lab tests are dialed in to detect other psychoactive chems it’ll be a whole new ballgame!

  5. You can look up the genetic lineage of strains and see a massive family tree with a variety of strains considered Indica or Sativa and all the other varient strains related to that specific strain.

    Look up the genetic tree of a strain if you can, I will annihilate you conclusions, thought and this gig article. Educate yourself before you write a $100 gig writer piece. Rookie.

    1. LOL ‘i will annihilate your conclusions’ just makes it seem like you haven’t done any research – bc if you had you’d have actual responses to the points!

      1. I responded, but you haven’t acknowledged me….You’re missing quite a bit of information my friend and some not entirely correct. Things with cannabis are far from black and white. You seem more interested in fighting with trolls than having a proper discussion. There is much more scientific knowledge available about what makes a strain behave the way it does than what you have mentioned here.

        Not to mention “drug users” aren’t the ones who are having the problems understanding the primary properties of Indica vs Sativa..It’s the general population of new patients and recreational users so….Your points are kind of moot. This article seems very rushed.

        1. lol sorry I didn’t reply fast enough to your comment on Christmas. I can only break away for so long lol

          If you read the piece I clearly said this isn’t a black and white system, but a color wheel – but we’re trying to replace something that has been described as black and white thus far, which is why replacements are needed.

          Indica / Sativa was confusing for everyone, even experienced cultivators. We pretend we understand so we don’t seem stupid, but this is all propped up bro-science we’ve been pushing bc we were trappers and didn’t really know. There still hasn’t been the breadth of studies undertaken to fully understand this plant, so it’s far from moot, but thanks for reading! Frankly this comment felt a bit rushed compared to your last one lol

  6. Personally, I think it’s better to move away from drugular slang. These types of categorizations will scare off individuals and lawmakers who want to try cannabis but are put off by the terms “uppers” or “downers”.

    I much prefer the terms “uplifting” and “sedating”. These are neutral terms that connote a safer description rather than drug slang. If the U.S. is going to legalize cannabis for both medical and recreational use, it’s necessary to legitimize cannabis by moving its association to illicit drugs.

    1. this is a nice theory that’s been pushed by publicists to try and ‘fight the stigma’ but the truth is the feds don’t care about legalization for medical purposes – they care about money. big pharma pays them a lot – why wouldn’t they like that verbiage? the public is a different story but i think the fed angle is a stretch.

      1. Pot has no real legitimate medicinal value, so stop pretending it does. That is the biggest problem with doing anything on the legal level.
        Pot doesn’t mitigate anything, other than making you forget about some of problems you have while you are high.
        I’m not physically any healthier after ingesting it through various means.
        My joints are still fucked up. My level of pain is still at the same place it was before I ingest pot.
        My eyesight hasn’t improved.
        My hair is still going grey.
        I still suffer bouts of depression.
        Drop the ‘medicinal’ garbage and just admit it’s an intoxicant, like beer, wine, liquor; and apply the same restrictions on its possession and use as alcohol.

  7. While location did play some role in it (some areas naturally have more sativa vs indica cultivar), the terms Indica and Sativa were actually initially identifiers between different cultivars of hemp. These identifiers were actually growth patterns. Sativas grew tall and lanky; Indicas short and bushy. Fast forward a few centuries and we started using them to describe effects. Sativas being more energizing and Indicas being more sedating. However, what you are missing is terpenes and phenotypical expressions in this equation. There are many genetically sativa cultivar that actually have sedating effects. As well as some typically heavily energizing strains that a particular plant will actually present more sedating effects as well. This comes down to phenotypical expression/terpenes and unless you are growing from clones, this plays an enormous roll in the outcome of the end experience. So to put it simply, not all “blue dream” plants are the same and is also why you sometimes don’t notice the same effects the next time you visit your local dispensary.

    I don’t think changing the terminology will have any end game effect in all honesty. Simple education and proper patient care or customer service will be the true key.

    Also to note, many breeders are currently working with a lot of land races to bring back some of the original qualities to the cultivars.

    1. So the effect debate is really what I’m talking about here, but as Todd McCormick points out that can have less to do with the plants specific traits and more to do with when things are harvested. There’s admittedly a lot more science required for this to be a perfect system – and as you suggest it’s why Jimi wanted to call them Afghani / Equatorial – tied to where they were originally found. The complexities grow when you consider that almost everything market viable is a hybrid nowadays. That’s why I suggested once we have better lab testing we can narrow this in more, but for now people are using indica/sativa as catchalls, where it usually doesn’t apply. To me the cultivator is the most important thing tied to the strain, as you suggest not all blue dreams are alike – but coming from the same cultivator will usually be the same thing.

      The new terminology is specifically to make this more approachable to laymen who don’t know all this minutia. Simple education that is misleading and incorrect doesn’t actually help the community.

      I have seen many of the landraces people are trying to get going again, and I hope they work out. Perhaps then we can use these terms without being completely off base.

  8. Unfortunately I don’t reside in an adult cannabis legal state. However I do recall enough of the stoned feelings of my long past youth. By the time I finished reading your article I realized a big part of smoking cannabis was the exciting unknown expectation of how it would make me feel. All I could go by as a predictor was the smell and appearance. Any story that accompanied the score was welcomed as part of its entertainment value. Trying to categorize cannabis for consumer expectations seems worthy but I generally remember an expansion of consciousness as the attraction for me. Maybe consider extro (extrovert) and intro (introvert) as possible terms to help guide the consumer.

  9. I have written weed reviews for over 200 strains. I believe that you need about 8 variables to properly classify the effects of weed across the spectrum. That classification is important to make certain effects profiles highly discoverable. You’ll reference a previous experience to match the same variable that you associate with pleasure, pain relief, etc. For now, we must use Sativa/Indica/Hybrid, which is widely understood.

    I agree, we are just scratching the surface as far as cannabis science. If there is a discovery that identifies labels that can clearly associate terpene traits to effects, then we should do it. But until then, use what people know and can easily repeat and share with others.

    I personally don’t care what the labels are, I am familiar with what weed can do to me and how to describe it. So for those who want to jump into the cannabis world and are curious, I believe we have to alleviate their FEARS before going deep into strain classification.

    I’m in NYC people are super uptight towards public consumption of cannabis. It’s new and uncertain to people. So I would advise staying away from any association to hard drugs. I feel “uppers and downers” will propel curiosity, giving an easy escape for the skeptics vs. drawing people deeper, to the healing powers and community.

    I think comparing weed to booze is a good analogy or more specifically wine. Wine has different flavors and chemical content that is appropriate for different settings, food pairings or for cooking. But in general, people just call it wine. There is good wine, cheap wine, expensive wine and shitty wine. What makes wine good or bad? Most people couldn’t tell you. I think the same thing will happen with weed. People will just call it weed. A small percentage of us will care about the labels of the different varieties.

    1. I don’t disagree that there will need to be more categories, but I think those will also be dictated past just terpene understanding, which is where most of us think these keys to unlock are right now. We know phenols can magnify effects. We know flavonoids can have effects. We’re just scratching the surface.

      I think comparing to alcohol is just as bad as drugs, tbh. So if we’re down for one, why not the other?

  10. What about ruderalis?? I dont think the problem is necessarily the name of the strain/bloodline, lineage.. its the fact most people dont know what they want,, there was a era of breeders and growers just getting crazy with the cross pollination and just everyone trying to make there mark,, it really makes things more messy with so many hybrids on the market,, this is what holds back legislation and regulations. Its why scientists have to keep making new categories to explain what we’re ingesting and makes it harder to pursue federal regulations.. but it would be wrong to try to simplify cannabis research to a “upper” and “downer” category,, thats like taking a bunch of wine and saying, “ these are peppery and these are fruity.”
    No connoisseur will ever accept this as true definition of what cannabis truly is,, in my opinion the mistake was all the hybrid growing,, because to each his own and i know right now if i could have a pure afgani strain i would definitely jump on it,, but it was definitely the diesels, kush, hashplants, hazes etc that started the wave and now its a tsunami of uncontrollable breeding and growing doing there own science that is prolonging legislation on a federal level and its just plain confusing to the regular consumer who just wants simple answers,, but now there will never be a simple scientific solution.

    1. so you’re not wrong about the cross pollination, and everyone is still trying to make something new because it seems that’s the real kingmaker in the space right now, but I disagree that this is holding back regulations. There are numerous things doing that, and us not coming to a consensus on how we should classify our weed is not one of them. that said, as I said in the piece we are definitely still *early* in our understanding of the plants full chemistry, so this is simply trying to replace the bro-science proliferating the space today. Respectfully, people are already accepting this, they just think bc they’re using indica & sativa (incorrectly) they’re smart bc science words lol

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