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Indica Strains Make You Sleepy: True or False?

  • Cannabis indica strains are known for their sedative effects.
  • Today’s marijuana strains have undergone generations of breeding, blurring the line between indica and sativa.
  • Indica strains have been bred to provide specific cannabinoid and terpene profiles and effects.

Marijuana strains are typically lumped into three baskets — indica, sativa, and hybrid. Before modern-day breeders got their hands on marijuana, strains that originated in India — appropriately called “indica” — offered potent sedative effects. On the other side of the world, species that evolved in the Americas — “sativa” strains — offered more energetic effects. At least, so it was.

With so many strains being cross-bred, classifications like “indica” and “sativa” become more and more muddled. However, the general public, and even some industry pros, still identify sativa strains as being more energizing, while indica strains are said to be sedative.

You don’t have to be a medical marijuana patient to care about the effects that a particular marijuana strain will have. It goes without saying that you don’t want to lie awake pondering the mysteries of the universe when you’re trying to sleep. And you don’t want to experience couch lock while working or studying or playing sports or doing any of the things that perfectly healthy people do while they are awake. 

Smoking some strains of marijuana is like mixing sleep aids, pain killers, antihistamines, and cough suppressants in one medicine. Nyquil is a good example of just such a medicine. It will quell a cough and runny nose and ease pain, but it will also knock you out cold. 

If you don’t want to be knocked out cold, then Nyquil is not an option. And likewise, some marijuana strains are not an option if you need to remain alert. But which ones? Many people will tell you that indicas should be avoided if you don’t want to experience the phenomenon called “couch lock.”  

Is it true? Do indica strains make users lethargic? 

Herbs affect each person differently

When you walk into a drug store, the over-the-counter products are grouped by their effects — sleep aids, pain killers, antihistamines, digestive aids, and so forth. However, you’ll notice those sections generally don’t display herbal remedies. 

Therein lies the problem. Marijuana is an herbal remedy. And as such, the effects will vary from person to person. Every marijuana strain contains a different set of active herbal compounds — cannabinoids and terpenesand, each has a different effect on the persons who consumes them. 

Before we had this endless array of hybrids that we have today, it was, indeed, true that most people experienced couch lock when smoking heirloom indica strains. However, even before breeding began in earnest, not everyone had the same experience with indicas. That’s because everyone is unique and each of us has a unique endocannabinoid system (ECS)

The ECS is the bodily system with which cannabinoids such as THC, CBD, and CBG interact. It consists of endocannabinoids produced by the brain and receptors on the surface of cells with which they interact to relay instructions on how to behave. And, again, everyone’s ECS is different. We each produce higher or lower levels of individual endocannabinoids — such as anandamide — and have more or fewer receptors. 

What’s in a strain?

This is a good point to talk about the entourage effect. An entourage is essentially a group of people who travel and work together to achieve a particular goal. The effect they have depends entirely on the strengths and weaknesses of the people involved. It’s the same with cannabis. The effect of a marijuana strain can vary greatly with a slight change in chemical makeup. 

In addition to cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, marijuana produces another set of active compounds with powerful medicinal effects. The essential oils that give marijuana its distinctive aromas and flavors are called terpenes

Terpenes are so powerful that the mere whiff of certain terpenes can change your mood or your energy level or have a host of other effects. Terpenes have been used for centuries in a healing modality known as aromatherapy. 

Some terpenes — myrcene, for instance — increase the ability of cannabinoids to pass the so-called blood-brain barrier. And some cannabinoids — for instance, CBD and CBG — are known to reduce the intoxicating effects of THC. It’s these interactions between cannabinoids and terpenes that give a strain its particular superpowers.

Marijuana produces dozens of different terpenes. However, each marijuana strain features just a handful of prominent terpenes. Five of the terpenes that are most common in indica strains are myrcene, beta-caryophyllene, linalool, limonene, and humulene.

When it comes to indica and couch lock, the prevailing theory is that indica strains are higher in CBD and those terpenes mentioned, and thus indicas are prone to induce lethargy. 

However, here’s the thing. First, as we mentioned, we each have a unique makeup that responds differently to these compounds. No two people respond to cannabinoids and terpenes in exactly the same ways. A small difference in terpene and cannabinoid content can make a big difference in effects for any particular partaker. 

While the terms “sativa” and “indica” are slowly becoming more muddled as cannabis strains are cross-bred, these terms are still widely used to differentiate between more energizing strains and more sedative strains. 

However, as with most debates, it turns out this is not a black and white issue. Times have changed and so has marijuana. Today we have indica strains that offer a gradient of effects.


“Indica” no longer means what you think it means

Before breeders got their hands on marijuana, there were only a handful of cannabis varieties — indica, sativa, and the lesser-known ruderalis. Back then, most indicas shared common cannabinoid and terpene profiles. However, that’s no longer a good rule of thumb.

For starters, breeders have been crossing indica and sativa strains for decades now. And they’ve cross-bred these hybrids to produce even more hybrids each with specific cannabinoids and profiles.

And hybrids aside, even pure indica strains can be bred to produce higher levels of any particular terpene. This is done simply by continually using seeds from plants that are higher in that terpene. Same strain, different terpene profile. 

Of course, this evolution takes time. But we’ve had plenty of time to breed pure indica strains that blur the line between indica-like effects and sativa-like effects. 

What about concentrates?

As cannabis science advances in leaps and bounds, not only do we have uncountable different strains and hybrids, we also have a wide array of cannabis products to choose from. Gone are the days when our only options were “weed” or “hash” or “pot brownies.”

Today we have industrial processes that can extract the cannabinoid- and terpene-rich oils from marijuana buds. And through a series of filtration and distillation processes we can turn the extract into tinctures, oils, concentrates, oral syringes, waxes, pills, and capsules, powders, beverages, isolates, patches. We also have raw products such as kief and rosin. 

However, each time the cannabis extract goes through another stage of filtration or distillation the cannabinoid and terpenes profiles change somewhat. Products like kief and rosin will have very similar effects as the original strain but still have noticeable differences. The difference in effects with products like concentrates and waxes will be even more pronounced. 

Marijuana dispensaries often label their kiefs, hashes, rosins, and concentrates with the strain from which they were extracted. However, keep in mind that the effects won’t be identical to the original flower. Moreover, cannabinoids and terpenes can have completely different effects when consumed in the form of edibles.

For a dramatic example, if you eat raw marijuana or a product that contains a cold extract it won’t get you high at all. That’s because raw flower contains the acidic form of THC (THCA) which is non-intoxicating. However, if you smoke or vape or cook weed, the THCA converts to delta-9-THC which will get you high. It’s the same strain with a completely different effect.  

We also have the option of buying products made only with purified cannabinoid isolates that contain zero terpenes. Furthermore, we can add specific terpenes to these products to encourage specific medicinal effects. 

Which products are available for purchase also depends on where you live. Florida dispensaries offer a full array of cannabis products including dried flower. TX dispensaries, on the other hand, offer a more limited menu and flower is verboten. Furthermore, THC and CBD levels are regulated in Texas. 

How to choose a marijuana strain

So what’s the bottom line here? If you can’t rely on terms like “indica” and “sativa” to help differentiate the effects of a marijuana strain, and you can’t rely on various types of cannabis products to be consistent with the strain from which they were made, then what can you do to make sure you get the weed you need?

For centuries, people didn’t have much of a choice. They had to take what they could get. If you lived in or around India you had indica. And if you lived in American you had mostly Mexican sativa. 

If you’re shopping at a modern-day marijuana dispensary that’s no longer the case. You’ll find a strain for every occasion. Many cannabis aficionados (who can afford to) will keep a variety of strains on hand for use depending on the time of day and the activity. 

So here’s how to find the strains that will suit your moods.

First of all, because cannabinoids and terpenes affect us all in different ways, and because different products also have varied effects, there’s no getting around the fact that some experimentation is going to be required to find the ideal strains, formulas, and delivery method for your needs.

The second best piece of advice we can give readers is to talk to people who are after the same effects that you’re seeking. Find out which strains and products are working for them and give those a try. 

Third, marijuana dispensaries are staffed by “budtenders” who are usually quite knowledgeable in the effects of various strains and products on most people. But keep in mind a strain that makes most people sleepy might not make you sleepy. We’re back to experimentation. 

And finally, if you want to take a deep dive into this topic you can learn all about the various terpenes found in marijuana strains and their effects. Then you can shop specifically for marijuana strains and cannabis-infused products that contain the terpenes that you’re hoping will do the trick.

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