There’s More to Choosing Cannabis Products Than Just Sativa or Indica

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If you ask a budtender to recommend a product, they'll probably start with one basic question: sativa or indica?

When explaining the difference between the two categories, people tend to speak in absolutes: Indica gives you a body high; sativa gives a head high. (As if your head wasn't part of your body.)

This division makes it easy to suggest certain strains for certain activities. Want to do your best creative work? Choose a sativa, like Blue Dream. Want to promote relaxation? Try an indica strain, like Purple Kush.

As far as basic advice goes, these guidelines are solid. But if you're looking for a specific experience, you'll want to be armed with more information about cannabis products – and what they actually contain.

The Sativa-Indica Breakdown is Just the Beginning

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New to cannabis? This is a great way to start learning more about products.

"Cannabis sativa" is the scientific Latin name for marijuana. The species is actually broader than just pot: Cannabis sativa includes hemp as well.

But marijuana can be further divided into three more sub-species: Sativa, Indica, and Ruderalis. You won't find any Ruderalis at your local dispensary. It's not ideal for smoking because it has a very low concentration of THC. But it's been found growing wild, and it doesn't fit neatly into either sativa or indica categories.

So that leaves you with three choices when visiting the dispensary: indicas, sativas, and hybrids. Most strains are hybrids. Pure sativa strains and pure indica strains are less common. Even many strains commonly referred to as "sativas" can be more accurately described as "sativa-dominant hybrids." For example, a sativa-dominant strain would usually be around 60 or 70 percent sativa, 40 to 30 percent indica. (Some classic examples are Island Sweet Skunk and Jack Herer.)

If a strain is 70 percent sativa or more, many non-sticklers will simply refer to it as a sativa. For example, Sour Diesel, one of the most iconic "sativas," is actually only 70 percent sativa and 30 percent indica.

So, you'll normally be getting some indica characteristics mixed with some sativa characteristics. One exception you can commonly find at a dispensary is Purple Kush, which is a pure indica.

But even if you choose only the purest indica or sativa strains, you probably won't be able to restrict their effects to just your head or body. And even if you smoke a stimulating sativa, that doesn't necessarily mean you'll have the focus and energy to organize your closet, or write the next great American novel.

Likewise, smoking a pure indica like Purple Kush doesn't necessarily guarantee that you'll have the best sleep of your life. You are, however, more likely to fall asleep than if you smoke a heady sativa.

Except even that isn't always true, according to some industry experts. Some people believe that a hybrid may work better than a pure indica to treat insomnia. The reasoning is that you may need some sativa qualities to reduce focus and help turn down the volume on the brain chatter that's keeping you awake.

When I worked as a budtender, some medical consumers told me sativa helped them sleep, while indica helped them function during the day. This isn't common, but it goes to show that some people respond differently to different indica-sativa ratios. You may need to experiment to figure out what ratio works best for you.

Cannabinoids and Terpenes: The Next Level

bud close up in ceramic bowl

Now that you've sorted out questions like "what kind of high is indica?" and "what kind of high does sativa give me?," you're ready for the next layer of cannabis consumer science.

Lab testing is the only way to find out the cannabinoid content and terpene profile of a given cannabis crop. While most Blue Dream cultivars will contain the same proportion of indica and sativa genetics, for example, each grower's crop could contain wildly different THC levels and terpene ratios.

This lab testing is legally required in most states with legal cannabis. The labs measure for things like heavy metals, residual solvents, and microbial impurities.

The testing requirements may vary according to state and local regulations. But most dispensaries list cannabinoid content numbers for all cannabis flower, concentrates, and infused products on their shelves.

Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that bind to specific receptors in our bodies and brains. They include THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid, and CBD, the ingredient taking the wellness community by storm, among others.

Many consumers, faced with these test results, tend to focus on the THC content. For smokable products (flower and concentrates), this is usually listed as a percentage. Today, most flower sold in dispensaries today scores around 20 percent THC or higher, thanks to advanced breeding and growing techniques. Some grows and dispensaries even boast strains that reach 30 percent THC.

For edible products, the THC is usually listed in milligrams. In Colorado, for example, a recreational serving is legally defined as 10 milligrams. (Each serving is clearly demarcated and labeled.)

But maybe you're not that interested in THC content. Maybe you're not looking for the product that will get you the most "stoned." If you're more inclined to use cannabis for wellness, and you'd like to limit the psychoactive effects, you might be looking for something with a higher CBD content, and lower THC.

Of course, it gets more complicated, when you start looking at terpene profiles. Terpenes are molecules found in cannabis and other plants (like citrus fruits), which are responsible for scent and flavor. While not yet well understood, they are believed to affect our moods.

Flower, Concentrates, and Edibles: What's Right for Me?

karing kind cartridges

There's another way choosing the right products can impact your experience: your ingestion method. Are you smoking, dabbing, vaping, or eating?

In the early days of medical marijuana, some of us were told that edibles would impart only a "body high" – and would leave your brain functioning at normal capacity.  (Decades ago, edibles weren't labeled. Or lab-tested. Or limited to 10 milligrams of THC.)

With edibles, if you overdo it, you can really overdo it. If this happens, there's no use in asking, "what kind of high is indica?" or "what kind of high does sativa give me?" You'll probably find yourself disoriented, regardless of whether the edible was made with sativa or indica plant matter. And the effects last longer than smoking or vaping, so you're in it for the long haul if you consume too much. This is why it's best to experiment with edibles at home, so if you eat too many, you can just get in bed.

Vaping or dabbing concentrates can similarly induce stronger effects than smoking flower. (However, the effects won't last as long as edible THC.)

But if you're a longtime cannabis user – or a medical consumer who needs large doses – taking dabs might be perfect. (Because smoking several joints can be time-consuming.)

Concentrates: Are You Getting the Purest Product?

karing kind vape pen

Concentrates – including wax, shatter, live resin, and oil – are made by extracting the cannabinoids and essential oils from marijuana. This condensed product delivers more of the THC (or CBD) with each puff.

Many users also find concentrates more convenient than flower. You don't have to pack any bowls; you don't have to roll any joints; and there won't be any lingering scent. Purchasing pre-filled cartridges is about the most convenient way to get your daily dose of cannabis. Just attach the cartridge to a vaporizer pen battery, and you're good to go.

But some consumers don't trust pre-filled cartridges. What's in them, really? It's a liquid, usually amber or blonde. But for consumers, the process used to make them is usually more opaque than the liquid itself.

Oil is commonly made with butane or ethanol. The solvent strips the cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant material. Then it's not always clear how much of the solvent is burned off before the final product is sold to the consumer.

Luckily, if you live in Colorado, there's an easy way to avoid this problem. You can buy your concentrates and cartridges from Karing Kind Labs. Karing Kind Labs produces concentrates using carbon dioxide (CO2) as their solvent. (This obviates the need for any harsh chemicals.) This is the "cleanest" way to extract cannabinoids and terpenes from cannabis, and it guarantees there are no additives left behind in your concentrates or cartridges.

But there's another reason you should buy Karing Kind Labs products.

Their concentrates never contain any pesticides. Karing Kind sources almost all of their flower from their own organic grow. When they do buy wholesale flower or trim from another grow – because word has spread, and their cartridges are flying off the shelves – they rigorously demand a list from the grow whose product they're considering. Every. Single. Time.

I only know this, because I've sold wholesale product to Karing Kind Labs while working in the industry here in Colorado. Not very often – because they always demanded a list of pesticides and fertilizers. (Every. Goddamn. Time.) If they saw something that wasn't up to their standards – anything they deemed "inorganic" – they would refuse to buy it. They would refuse to use it in their cartridges.

This commitment to clean products and attention to detail isn't common practice among cannabis companies.

Cannabis Concentrates Are Still Relatively New

dabbing cannabis conentrates

We don't know how dangerous it is to consume concentrates with pesticides or additives. We don't know how it affects our lungs, our brains, our bodies. We certainly don't know how it affects our high.

But if you've studied up on your strains – and their cannabinoid content and terpene profiles – you're far beyond asking questions like "What kind of high is indica?" or "What kind of high does sativa give you?"

Instead, you're looking into how each cannabis product can deliver a different experience. You want the cleanest, purest products possible. That's one more reason to do all your research – and to avoid chemical additives or pesticides in your cannabis concentrates.

Karing Kind Labs is a proud partner of Leafbuyer


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Cecelia May Thorn
Cecelia has been working in the cannabis industry since 2009. She's also an award-winning journalist. In 2012, her small business became Colorado's first state-approved wholesale marijuana brokerage. She's pretty sure that made her the first official weed broker in America. Follow Cecelia on Instagram: @ceceliamayusetoomanywords