Quirks & Quarks

What's in a pot plant? Exploring the genes of your favourite ganja

Forget indica versus sativa — the genetics doesn’t support the distinction
Lab tests found little genetic difference between the sativa and indica cannabis plants, according to Anandia labs. (Sinisa Jolic)

It can be a dizzying experience to step inside a cannabis store for the first time.

The racks of products with exotic names such as 'purple kush,' or 'lemon haze,' can be mystifying. But there's always someone available to help you pick out the perfect weed for your unique needs.

Different strains of marijuana for sale are displayed at a dispensary in Eugene, Oregon on March 22, 2016. (AFP/Getty Images)

Often times, they will tell you about sativa and indica, which are widely accepted in the cannabis community as two different types of cannabis plants producing vastly different effects.

Sativa is commonly described as an uplifting plant, producing a buzzy kind of high centered in the head area, while indica is said to produce a sedative, relaxing effect on the body.

The products in stores are often represented as pure sativa or pure indica, or a blend of both, with the percentage composition of the two labeled on the product.  

But Jonathan Page is not sure that there is a significant difference between the two plants.

Jonathan Page is the CEO of Anandia labs, a company that does cannabis analysis and genetics research. (Anne Penman)

Page is an adjunct professor in the botany department at the University of British Columbia, and the CEO of Anandia labs, a company that does cannabis analysis and genetics research.

Although the plants may look different — sativa plants are often taller with narrower leaves, while indica plants are shorter and denser, with wider leaves — genetically speaking, he sees very little difference when he tests them in the lab.

"I think there's a disconnect between the physical appearance of the plant and the kind of stereotypical differences, and the subjective effects and the chemistry that produces those effects," said Page.

Centuries of cross breeding between plants likely eroded any genetic differences.  

According to Page, the subjective difference from consuming different types of cannabis likely comes from the different levels of minor cannabinoids in the products.

"Cannabis is a mixture of chemicals. And those chemicals, in combination, produce the the sort of pharmacological outcome —  the effects on the person consuming it."


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