By now almost everybody knows, or at least is aware of, the distinction between sativa and indica cannabis. At the very simplest level, sativa is known for its association with effects on/in the head, and indica for its association with effects on the body. When deciding which to try, one may often find themselves asking, “why is sativa known for those effects?” or “what does sativa do differently than indica?”

Before going into the history of sativa, one should look at the common knowledge of its effects first as a refresher. The most common effects of sativa strains involve stimulation, be it creative, energizing, or focused. In line with that notion, many describe the feeling of sativa as a “cerebral” experience, noting increased brain activity. Many use sativa when coping with depression, reducing anxiety, or just meditating on an overall sense of well-being. 

While many people find sativa great for anxiety reduction, others may feel an increased sense of anxiety due to the energizing effects of the strain type and prefer indica for anxiety management. Though different for every individual, heightened feelings of being energized are the most common in sativa, and many restrict their use of sativa to daytime hours as to not interrupt the sleep cycle. Sativa is therefore more commonly attributed to be a daytime bud. 

Effects aside, the sativa cannabis plants themselves are distinguishable in several unique ways too. Sativa plants tend to grow tall and thin, reaching upwards of twelve feet in some cases, and take longer to mature than most as a result. Typically, sativa also contains lower doses of CBD and higher doses of THC. CBD is most commonly known to relieve the body-related pain associated with indica, becoming legal ahead of THC in many states for its lack of psychoactive effect. 

Within the build of the plant itself, one can surmise that environment must play a factor into the effects therein too. Sativa finds its origins in hot and dry climates, including those of Central American, Africa, and Southeast Asia, as well as parts of Western Asia. Aside from the long, sunny days providing sun and nutrients to bolster the size of sativa, one may even consider the possibility that the nutrients and Vitamin D provided by the prolonged exposure to the sun may very well still be continuing to provide respite in the anxiety-relieving effects of sativa through today. 

For modern science, the legalization of cannabis finally allows the opportunity to study this theory. Released just last month, the article, “Cannabis sativa research trends, challenges, and new-age perspectives,” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8605354/) from the National Institutes of Health – US National Library of Medicine’s online database provides one of the most up to date analyses of cannabis sativa effects and its history.  

The article features a total of five contributors, the lead two being Drs. Tajammul Hussain and Oliver Kayser of Technical University Dortmund in Germany, alongside fellow authors Nikolay Vasilev, Ganga Jeena, and Thanet Pitakbut, chronicling cannabis research going back two centuries all the way up to current, modern-day applications of cannabis medicine.  

“Cannabis sativa L. has been one of the oldest medicinal plants cultivated for 10,000 years for several agricultural and industrial applications,” said Hussain of the peak origins of sativa in the article. “It is a multi-purpose crop plant with diverse agricultural and industrial applications ranging from the production of paper, wood, and fiber, to potential use in the medicinal and pharmaceutical industries…The first-ever report to reveal the prospects of C. sativa L. as a medicinal plant was already published in 1843 and described the use of plant extracts to treat patients suffering from tetanus, hydrophobia, and cholera (O’Shaughnessy, 1843).” 

The work done by O’Shaughnessy (which can be found here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2490264/) shed light on sativa’s unique traits as an anti-inflammatory agent, eventually paving the way for those who discovered a way to turn cannabis into lip balms for chapped lips, lotion for dry hands, and the many other medicinal crème applications now available today. In addition to that discovery, O’Shaughnessy also emphasized the multiplicity of cannabis as a medicinal treatment years ahead of its time.

Given the association to being energized, sativa as an anti-inflammatory agent makes sense for the relief of mental anguish associated with depression and anxiety, as they can often manifest in physical ailments like headaches. Perhaps the most intriguing modern implication of the anti-inflammatory effects of sativa can be applied to the fight against COVID-19, as Hussain’s article goes on to elaborate.

“In addition, we address the new-age application of immuno-suppressive and anti-inflammatory extracts for the treatment of COVID-19 inflammation,” he notes. “C. sativa has been well-known for the anti-inflammatory properties…As lung inflammation is a critical malfunction in case of COVID-19. Respiratory distress from the COVID-19 induced lung inflammation is the leading cause of high mortality rate.”

Hussain goes on to mention, “Phyto-cannabinoids especially CBD have exhibited a remarkable anti-inflammatory effect through CB2 inhibitory activity…Additionally, CBD, CBN, and THC have also been shown to exhibit anti-viral effect against COVID-19 in cell-based assay with the same potency as the standard clinical references…However, the complete antiviral mechanism of cannabinoids against SAR-CoV2 infection is still unknown. Therefore, detailed pharmacological research studies are urgently needed to explore the immunotherapy potential of cannabis against SARS-CoV2 infection.”

As awesome as it would be to say that cannabis has the potential to cure COVID-19, studies still need to be done on that prerogative before one gets ahead of themselves. Just knowing that sativa has the potential for so much as an anti-inflammatory agent should be enough to fund as many research opportunities as possible on the topic. 

In sum, sativa is so much more than the sum of its parts, or its description on one’s go-to cannabis app. Physiology and environment are all that truly makes sativa different from indica, and those differences are indeed few overall. Heightened alertness, euphoria, and uplifted emotions are some of the most sought after effects unique to sativa, giving the sunny strain type its allure. Stress relief is another big one for sativa-lovers, though again, indica may be just as good for one person at that. The only way to know which one prefers, is to try both.

– By Jacob Lesinski

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