Contextualizing the Sativa Indica Dichotomy

The evolution of modern Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica is a bit more intricate than what you think. The taxonomical classification of C. sativa originated in 1753, the year the cure to scurvy was found! Carolus Linnaeus dubbed "The Father of Modern Taxonomy" developed a binomial nomenclature system that gave plants a unique two part name that can be used worldwide. Latin, a dead language, was preferred for this system giving no preference to any current language or culture. The species name Cannabis sativa is composed of Cannabis, a genus of flowering plants in the family Cannabaceae and sativa, the specific epithet, is a Latin botanical feminine adjective meaning cultivated. The tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content on the 1753 C. sativa species was relative low given that, these plants was selected for fibrous and nutritional properties. 30 years later Cannabis indica surfaced. In 1785 French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck described a second species of Cannabis from specimens collected in India, hence the epithet indica. Lamarck used the basis of varying characteristics in stem, bark, shape of leaves and flowers to justify the new species. However, some skepticism for the decision to accept C. indica as a new species was voiced by Ernest Small Principal Research Scientist of the Canadian Biosystematics Research Institute. Small suggests the conclusion of C. indica being a new species may have been done prematurely and with little research. Similarly, Cannabis ruderalis, a third potential species, originated from cannabis plants found growing in Central and Eastern Europe and Russia. C. ruderalis was first described as a new species of cannabis based on its unique traits, by D. E. Janischewsky. Nevertheless, Janischewsky was reluctant to classify C. ruderalis as a new species. To date, this reluctance is still shared among scholars. So, the history of the distinction between C. sativa and C. indica is a bit hazy but should it all go up in smoke? Not entirely, at least not yet. Cannabis can vary wildly in its characteristics. It is for this reason that the generic classification of indica or sativa serves a purpose. The use of the word "sativa" is not just another word for "planted" to cannabis growers and connoisseurs. It typically indicates a plant that would express longer flowering times, low yields, tall with thin leaves and buds that produce a cerebral uplifting high. Whereas the word "indica" is not a translation for ”cannabis from India but an indication of higher yields, shorter flowering time, short with broad leaves and a high that is relaxing and sedating. Because of the variation across cannabis plants they can be further classified with strains. A strain is a designated group of offspring that are either descended from a modified plant through conventional breeding or genetic mutations. Some popular cannabis strains are O.G Kush, Sour Diesel and U.K Cheese. Most of cannabis strains produced today are hybrids meaning that they do not express pure sativa or pure indica traits. Hybrids allow for growers to use genetics and cross-breed for specific traits in their plants, whether it is the denser buds of an indica plant or the cerebral high of a sativa counterpart. Although traits vary from strain to strain (and even plant to plant) it is important to classify some characteristics to serve as a baseline for growers and users choosing their strain.

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Shawn Zarkovich is a Canadian wildland firefighter and freelancer. He promotes legal recreational cannabis use through his social media pages and freelance design. Shawn's passion for cannabis is rooted in its counterculture and recreational benefits. His future projects are that of cannabis edibles and growing cannabis. 

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