Sativa and Indica are outdated! Here’s why Terpene Profile is the Real Truth Behind Cannabis

Key Takeaways:

  • Evolution of Cannabis Classification: Traditional distinctions between sativa and indica strains are becoming outdated due to extensive crossbreeding, making terpene profiles and THC-to-CBD ratios more relevant for understanding effects.
  • Terpenes’ Importance: Terpenes, natural aromatic compounds found in plants, significantly influence the scent, flavor, and therapeutic properties of cannabis, highlighting the need for understanding and considering terpene profiles in consumption.
  • Modern Classification: The industry trend of classifying cannabis cultivars by chemotypes based on THC-to-CBD ratios overlooks the importance of terpenes in determining overall effects, suggesting a need for a more comprehensive approach.
  • Personalization and Exploration: Personal preferences and individual endocannabinoid systems play crucial roles in determining the optimal cannabis experience, emphasizing the importance of exploring different terpene profiles to find what works best.
  • Holistic Optimization: Terpene knowledge extends beyond cannabis, offering insights into holistic wellness and a deeper connection with nature, encouraging consumers to consider terpenes in their wellness journey for optimal health benefits.


The cannabis plant has had an amazing story of growth and development through natural and human made causes over thousands of years. The original cultivars, the more accurate word for strains, are what we now call landraces. They do tend to follow the commonly understood idea that sativa cultivars are more uplifting and indicas relax you more, but they now occupy a small minority of total cannabis production. 

The vast amount of cross breeding in recent years has led to mixing qualities of the plants so that the original two sided scale is not really valid anymore and almost all plants are hybrids. The effects of cultivars now depend more on the terpene profile and THC to CBD ratio than it does on the biotype. Therefore, these biotypes now mainly define more of the look and growing style of the plant. 

This article will look over the story of cannabis from ancient to modern times exploring the genetic changes taking place and how we can use this knowledge to optimise our cannabis consumption and continue the normalisation process of this ancient medicine.

History of Human Use

As most people know by now, cannabis has been used by people for thousands of years for a wide array of reasons. The European variety known as hemp is used to create fibres used in textiles, construction, insulation, bio plastics and more. There is much discussion that suggests hemp fibre use at least 10,000 years ago, in China, Western Asia and Europe. Hemp seeds and oils were likely used for cosmetic and culinary purposes but the earliest evidence of medical cannabis is 4800 years ago in China when Emperor Shen Nung introduced formalised medicine to the region. 

Cannabis was used continuously across the planet mostly undisturbed as a traditional and medicinal substance until the 20th century. The American war on drugs stifled our collective health and knowledge. Despite this, we have a growing, up to date and robust knowledge and product base.

Origins of Biotypes

It is thought that the sativa, indica and lesser known ruderalis biotypes of cannabis evolved during or near the later stages of the last ice-age which ended around 12,000 years ago. Exactly when humans started to utilise the special properties these developments brought is still up for debate.

The sativa biotype is said to have come from the warmer climates of East Asia and evolved to be tall and skinny with a longer flowering time, and less yield than its indica counterpart. These adaptations allowed sativa plants to grow well in hot climates which helped it spread to tropical and savanna parts of the world. 

Indica is thought to have originated in northern India and Pakistan in the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains. Indica is well suited to cooler climates as it is highly seasonal with a short flowing time. These adaptations made indica cannabis shorter and fatter and generally a larger yield and higher THC compared to its sativa counterpart.

The lesser known and third biotype of cannabis is called cannabis ruderalis, and is said to have evolved in Northern Asia in particularly harsh conditions. This means that ruderalis plants are generally quite small in stature and produce far less THC than their more famous counterparts, but do contain some CBD. Ruderalis is actually more similar to the hop and hemp plants native to Europe that are still used to produce beer and textiles. 

Landrace and Hybrid Cultivars

Ref: Thai Budtender Academy

Landraces are the plants that humans cultivated that haven’t had their genetics altered by cross breeding. These very special genetics are so rare that now they only occupy about 5% of the total cannabis now grown in the world. 

The other 95% of cannabis are hybrids, they can be indica or sativa dominant, but this does not define the effects it will have on a consumer. For example, a strain can have mostly indica genetics to make it bushy, short, higher yield and THC. The same plant can have partial sativa genetics responsible for terpenes that are more energising meaning it will be uplifting and indica dominant. There are essentially infinite combinations as cross breeding continues on, highlighting the importance of up to date education for best and safest consumption.

Landraces are often named after their place of origin, Hindu Kush and Afghani are both heavy indica landrace cultivars. The flowers that grew in these areas had rich and earthy flavour and produced a lot of resin, which led to the development of hashish. These cultivars are what brought the calming and relaxing association to the indica family; they were heavier and sleepier than sativas of the time. The rest of the Kush and Afghani family are mostly hybrids but share a similar earthy spicy flavour profile.

Sativa land races like Thai Stick also share a name with its place of origin – Thailand. The tolerance for heat allowed sativa to thrive in tropical climates informing local traditions and religious practices of the area. Sativa landraces had more of a clear head high than indica and had more of a fresh citrus fruit and mango flavour profiles. 

Acapulco Gold is a sativa landrace from the Pacific coast of Acapulco in Mexico. This landrace was popularised in the 1960’s and was highly revered for its elevating qualities. Notably, landrace strains were not as potent or delicious when grown away from their native habitat. Acapulco Gold is the parent of the hybrid Skunk No1 which is considered integral to modern cannabis breeding, giving it high status in the cannabis world.


Terpenes are natural aromatic compounds produced by a great deal of plants and some animals. They are responsible for the pigment, scent and therapeutic properties of the plant. 

There is a vast array of terpenes that are present in plants found all over the world. For example pepper and cloves taste spicy because of the Caryophylene within them. Pine and rosemary needles contain pinene, giving them the distinctive woody oil scent. Lemons, limes and citrus fruits contain limonene, responsible for the smell of a freshly squeezed lemon.

These plants have their own therapeutic qualities due to their terpene content. Lemons can energise you, rosemary tea can help you focus, black pepper can support your immune system. All of these health giving compounds are now latent in the human engineered genetic spread of the cannabis plant. 

Terpenes were bred across biotypes which led to indica and sativa being outdated terms, but this paved the way for a far richer connection with the plant and ourselves. The more we know about cannabis terpenes and how they optimise our health, the more we can implement terpenes elsewhere in our diet or lifestyle for true holistic optimisation.

Modern Classification of Chemotypes

Nowadays, as people get a bit more scientific with their cannabis use, the most up to date industry classification of cultivars is by chemotype. A strains chemotype is simply a description of the ratio between THC and CBD in the flower. So without even considering the terpene profile, we already know something fundamental about the product. 

Chemotype I is when there is more THC and CBD so you will likely feel “high” and should check the terpenes to find out the manner of this high. Most cannabis on the market is type I.

Chemotype II is when there are close to equal measures of THC and CBD. This means that the holistic therapy of CBD will be apparent in the experience and there will be a significant relaxing element complimenting the terpenes. 

Chemotype III cultivars have more CBD in them than THC. These cultivars are great for beginners or people who are very nervous about the effects of THC. The terpene profile of type III is important to check as they can be more effective than THC in low doses.


For thousands of years classifying cannabis into the two categories of sativa and indica didn’t pose too much of a problem. Now that we have changed and adapted the cannabis plant from landraces to a plentiful spread of hybrids we have to catch up with ourselves and re-examine how we talk about the plant. 

Understanding terpene’s is very beneficial in anyone’s wellness journey. It allows us to understand more about how the natural world works and how the cannabis you consume is connected to your holistic optimisation journey. 

Cannabis scientists and some retailers now use chemotypes, or the interplay between THC and CBD as a solid basis for defining potency. This is a stable position but does not account for terpenes. 

We all have different endocannabinoid systems and we all have different tastes. Therefore, whichever terpenes make you feel the best is the truest information you could receive. Get tasting!

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