Smokescreens: Debunking myths surrounding cannabis

There are many commonly held beliefs about the cannabis plant that have little to no basis in scientific fact. Anything that has been a part of human history, culture and medicinal practices since basically the beginning of time is going to have a long history passed down for many generations, which leaves plenty of time for misinformation to become accepted as common knowledge.

There’s some long-held confusion surrounding two common terms used to describe and classify cannabis. There are four types of cannabis: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, Cannabis ruderalis and Cannabis afganica. It was not long after I began using cannabis that I was informed about the indica-sativa dichotomy. I was told that by using a strain of cannabis that was classified as a sativa or sativa-dominant, I would feel more energized, functional and lucid, but if I overdid it, I might get a racing heart and/or paranoia. If I used a strain classified as indica or indica-dominant, then I would experience a more relaxed, calm and sleepy effect, but overdoing it could result in problematic sedation and lethargy, aka “couch lock.”

During the first few years of my personal cannabis research, I never felt as though I could distinguish between the two if necessary and found that a variety of strains produce an equal variety of effects. Thinking that I would eventually develop a refined enough cannabis palate to be able to differentiate, I never gave it much thought until a few years ago.


It turns out I wasn’t lacking a refined palate. Since accurate research has become more accessible, it is now understood that the indica/sativa label more accurately describes only the physical traits of a strain of cannabis, as opposed to its physiological effects and biochemical make-up. A plant that is sativa-dominant will generally grow taller, have longer, thinner leaves and typically lighter coloring. A plant with indica-dominant qualities will be bushier, with broader leaves and often darker colors. These physically presenting qualities are known as the plant’s phenotype. A plant’s chemotype is what determines the qualities that ultimately produce the effect on its user.

There are countless external factors that determine the exact effect that cannabis will have on an individual, including biological make-up (eg, their blood-type, genetic predispositions, overall health status), their mental state leading up to and during use and their external environment. These are just a few of the elements that make attempting to discern the effects of all cannabis and categorize them into just two groups a painfully futile task.

With technology evolving rapidly and cannabis research expanding, there are exciting developments and breakthroughs happening throughout the industry. But even prominent scientific research occasionally gets funding from sources with a pre-determined goal in mind and in a medical context, incorrect information can be extremely damaging. The misinformation about health spread by profit-driven corporations, knowingly or unknowingly, has damaged the long-term health of our society and our species. Thankfully, in this age of information and technology, we do not have to sit by and let that continue. The best way to protect ourselves and each other from falling prey to silly myths or dangerous misinformation is by using multiple, reputable resources to cross-check any and all important information.