Using your nose as your guide, you can skip the indica vs. sativa politics and be your own personal weed expert within minutes.
Most bud users are satisfied to know that indica will put you down (in da couch) and sativa will lift you up and help you focus. Many budtenders still rely on the old “Here, smell this dank,” and that brand of customer service still seems to still be working for many smokers.
But there's a lot more to figuring out the perfect weed for you, and a little info can go a long way to making that decision. Studies have proven that sativa doesn't always help you focus and that some indicas will get you hyped.
What are Terpenes?
You know them, you love them, you’d recognize them if you smelled them—because terpenes are the parts of a plant that you can smell. They’re organic chemical compounds produced by plants that carry aromatic or flavonoid properties.
Aromatherapists have been preaching the properties of terpenes for hundreds of years, only to fall upon deaf ears (except your alternative aunt who uses lavender oil as deodorant). But no longer shall we ignore you, lovely sage-burning hippies!
While indica and sativa are easy ways to classify weed strains, the terpene profile of a plant will really tell you what will happen to your body when you get high.
When you think of sativas, you imagine a citrusy smell, while indicas are reminiscent of cloves or pine forests. Sometimes weed smells like beer because it’s got myrcene, one of the terpenes found in hops! Remember, 50 percent (or more) myrcene content makes a strain an “indica” because of its sedative properties—just like beer! So if your strain smells hoppy, you’re going to feel warm and sleepy when you smoke it.
The lemony scent from sativa is because of the terpene limonene which is prominent in strains like Super Lemon Haze. It’s like red wine vs white wine; they’re both wine, but all the particles inside and how they smell will tell if you if you’re going to pass out immediately or try to hook up with your ex at a cocktail party.
“Eating a mango (which has myrcene) 30 minutes before smoking weed intensifies your high.”
Steep Hill Labs is the father of the terpene movement right now; its research has produced strain profiles and breakdowns to educate us about the different terpenes and their effects. Steep Hill's judgment is that “a 50 percent limonene content makes it sativa and thus 50 percent myrcene content makes it indica.”
Hybrids are sort of a gray area: typically anything lower than a 70/30 ratio—for example, a 60/40 or 50/50 ratio—is considered a non-dominant or well-balanced hybrid. Rev. Dr. Kymron deCesare, chief research officer at Steep Hill-Halent Laboratory in California says, “The terms sativa and indica are only really valid for describing the physical characteristics of the cannabis strain in a given environment and are not nearly as reliable for making assumptions about energy [the high] vs. couch lock [the stone].”
Terpenes to Remember
Pinene is the most common terpene in all plants, smells like pine needles, helps asthma, and is prominent in Jack Herer and Super Silver Haze. FOCUS.
Linalool smells like spring flowers with a spicy hint, good for anxiety and is also found in lavender! LA Confidential and Haze are full of linalool and in oil form it’s great for burns and acne. RELAXING.
Myrcene is the most prevalent in cannabis, smells like cloves, treats spasms, insomnia, and pain, is found in mango and hops and in strains like White Widow and Pure Kush. SLEEPY.
Limonene is also found in the rinds of citrus fruits, smells like lemon, is found in rosemary and juniper, helps mood and gastrointestinal issues and can be found in OG Kush and Super Lemon Haze. ENERGY.
Beta-caryophyllene is the only terpene that interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system, smells spicy, is good for anti-inflammatory and autoimmune disorders, is found in black pepper cloves and cotton, and is in strains like Trainwreck. BODY BUZZ.
1. Eating a mango (which has myrcene) 30 minutes before smoking weed intensifies your high, while chewing on black pepper (which has beta-caryophyllene) will calm you down if you feel like you’ve gotten too high.
2. Limonene has been shown to destroy breast-cancer cells in lab experiments, and its powerful antimicrobial action can kill pathogenic bacteria. (Lemon Kush to save lives, anyone?)
3. Carophyllene is great for inflammatory conditions and autoimmune disorders because of its ability to bind directly to the peripheral cannabinoid receptor known as CB2; so if you have rheumatoid arthritis or another autoimmune disorder, a high-caropyhyllene strain like Trainwreck would be your jam.
4. If your dispensary doesn’t do terpene profiling, just follow your nose! If you know you need caryophyllene, smell for the pepper. Want a powerful sativa? Get that citrus scent in your nostrils. Want to be knocked the eff out? You want to smell that hoppy beer aroma that you know will make you sleepy. If a strain doesn’t smell good to you, don’t smoke it!
5. In the words of Terpene Daddy deCesare, “Moving forward to a time when the USDA and FDA oversee cannabis-distribution regulations, they will insist on accurate labeling to assure that if a customer purchases an energetic strain—or a couchlock strain—then what they get is what they paid for. And the only reliable way to make this determination is by lab-testing for myrcene content.”
Bet you didn't realize terpenes are already all around us, did you? Take a cue from your pupper friends next time you head to the dispensary and let your nose be your guide.
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Illustrations by Andrew Janik