I’ve gotten a few questions about the differences between Sativa vs. Indica, and THC vs. CBD.
Sativa and Indica refer to the two different types of marijuana. Marijuana comes in two varieties; sativa or indica, and the plants even look different (see below). Leaf Science has a great article called Indica vs. Sativa: Understanding the Differences, that goes into the history of the plant and the roots of their names. Sativa is on the left, and Indica is on the right.
THC and CBD stand for tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol, referring to the two most well-known of the group of chemicals that are found in cannabis that make up its medicinal properties.
So, Sativa and Indica are the two types of marijuana. THC and CBD are two of the chemicals that make up both types of marijuana. All marijuana has some THC and CBD.
THC is arousing, will make your heart rate speed up, is what gives you the munchies, and is what will make you high. It’s a psychoactive chemical that is responsible for the typical “stoner” behavior most people associate with pot use.
CBD is calming, and has no psychoactive qualities. In fact, it can counteract the effect of THC.
Should I care more about whether something is Sativa or Indica, or the ratio of THC to CBD?
My answer? I care more about the ratio of THC to CBD. I want a very high CBD variety. Whether it’s Sativa or Indica isn’t important.
When I began exploring medical marijuana, I was starting with very limited experience. I’d had two smoking experiences, (one in 1994 and one in 2000), and the latter was a very bad trip. I thought weed made you high, made you euphoric and giddy and silly, and made you want to eat your weight in Twinkies.
After that one bad trip fifteen years ago (the last time I’d smoked up until very recently), I was told, “THC just does that to some people”. During that trip, I had terrible anxiety, and a very elevated heart rate (started at 165 or so, came down to 145 and stayed there for 2-3 hours).
A few weeks ago, when I began walking into dispensaries asking for advice, I was told, “If you get anxious, you want Indicas. Indicas are more relaxing and will make you mellow, whereas the Sativas can be more stimulating.” (It’s worth noting that while you’ll hear this everywhere, some say there is no scientific basis for it).
What I’ve found, through experimenting, is that whether a strain is Sativa or Indica doesn’t matter at all to my body. They both feel about the same. It’s the ratio of THC to CBD is what determines whether I’ll have less pain, and more or less anxiety.
A high-CBD strain, that is relatively low in THC, is perfect for me. My favorite strain for this is called Sour Tsunami. It’s actually a hybrid of Sativa and Indica – you’ll notice at most dispensaries that hybrids are flourishing. The ratio of CBD to THC is 15-1 or 16-1, depending on where I get it. It dulls about a third of my fibro pain, and has such an extremely small psychoactive effect, that I hesitate to say it has any psychoactive effect at all. There is no euphoria. If my mind is jumping all over the place, Sour Tsunami will give me a mild feeling of calm, but there isn’t a “high”, in any way. Often I feel nothing at all, except the relief of pain.
The Mary’s Medicinals patches I’m using are pure CBD. Those have no psychoactive effect whatsoever.
And speaking of getting high, my first big Indica trip was….not my favorite thing.
A couple weeks ago, I went to the dispensary and met a new employee, a young woman. I was still asking a lot of questions of everyone I met at the dispensary, and when I told her about my anxiety issues, she suggested Master Kush, saying it was an Indica, “so it will be great for sleeping”. She said people used it all the time for anxiety and insomnia.
I took her word for it, and didn’t look the strain up, like I should have. I mistakenly thought, “Well, it’s Indica, that means it has low THC.” Nope – Master Kush, as several people since then have told me (usually while smiling knowingly), is “pretty potent stuff”. It has a THC to CBD ratio of about 16-1. It might be an Indica, but it’s chock full of THC.
I accidentally took too much – my vape pen didn’t seem like it was working so I kept smoking. I think I got about 4 good-sized hits, and I ended up having an incredible panic attack. Heart rate (as measured by a monitor) was 165 for 5-6 minutes, and then went down to the 140’s and stayed there for another 20 minutes or so. It finally settled down around 110-120, and stayed there for an hour.
I laid in bed (I’d tried this experiment late at night, another mistake), and was paranoid as hell until I fell asleep. I had to pee, but wouldn’t go to the bathroom because I was afraid I’d see other faces in the mirror standing behind me (???). At one point I was sure I was having a heart attack, so I began taking my blood pressure with our monitor (it’s worth noting that my blood pressure is very healthy and low normally – 100/60 or 110/70 – and only went up a few points during this trip), but while doing this, began giggling uncontrollably, practically spasming with laughter. I remember struggling to get the BP cuff on while I was laughing so hard. I told my husband that I don’t know why the idea of unicorns with pigtails was so funny, but it just was.
When you start, take it slow and easy, and ask for high-CBD strains if you’re nervous about trying this
This is why careful, slow experimentation is so important for all of you out there like me, who are delicate little flowers. And I don’t mean delicate – I’m a plus-sized person myself. I mean, if you are prone to anxiety and depression, if your nervous system is already raw from chronic pain or other issues, then go slowly. Take one hit of something, then be done for awhile. Go get a glass of water, get comfortable, sketch in a notebook or put on a movie (with positive, upbeat themes). See how you feel before you start taking 2-3 hits of something at a time.
And in general, for folks reading this who also might have fibro and/or anxiety issues, I’d suggest starting with a high-CBD strain. Ask your dispensary employees for strains that have a high CBD to THC ratio. It doesn’t have to be as high as 16:1. My other favorite, Harlequin, which I have to be a little careful with but still love, is 6:4.
If someone says, “Well this is an Indica, so it will mellow you out and help you sleep,” ask them what the CBD/THC ratio is, and if they don’t know (not all strains have been tested, this doesn’t mean the dispensary is bad), then hold off until you can find a strain that has been tested. Well over half the strains I find have known ratios or chemical profiles, and if you aren’t sure about one, you can look it up on Leafly or THC Finder or any number of other sites.
Good luck! Let me know how it goes.