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Cannabis lingo 101: What does sativa, indica, terpenes and cannabinoids mean?

Posted by Maggie Tamo on

Cannabis is now legal in Canada, and upon visiting your legal retailer online or in person, such as the Ontario Cannabis Store, you may have been struck by foreign terms, such as indica, sativa and terpenes.

It may be a whole new world, but these terms are not too difficult to become familiar with, and may one day be as commonplace as an India Pale Ale or Pilsner.

Indica vs. sativa

The labels indica and sativa are used to help consumers understand the type of effect the cannabis will have.

Indica cannabis generally gives a sedative effect, often relaxing, sleepy and can induce an appetite.

Indicas have been prescribed to tackle anxiety and insomnia. One easy way to remember the effects of indica is to remember “in da couch,” as that will likely be the result of consuming it.

Sativas, on the other hand, generally produce a more uplifting, energetic high, and can be good for creative activities or social situations, says Leafly.

There are also “hybrid” strains, which are a mix of indica and sativa strains, but usually lean more towards one type of high over another. For example, a sativa-dominant hybrid might make you energized at first with a sedative after-effect.

Whether cannabis is an indica or sativa depends on its levels of cannabinoids and terpenes


Cannabinoids are chemicals that bind to receptors in your body and are the main driver of what makes you high from consuming cannabis, according to CITIVA, a cannabis research centre.

Leafly says cannabis contains over 100 different types of cannabinoids, but the two most common cannabinoids are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).

THC is the chemical that binds to receptors in your brain and produces the “high” effect. It will often make you feel hungry, euphoric, sleepy or relaxed.

CBD is a non-intoxicating chemical that counteracts the THC, and can alleviate anxiety, pain or inflammation. More strains are being created that are high in CBD as its medical effects are being discovered.

A CBD-dominant strain won’t produce the same head-high as a THC strain, but you will be more clear-headed and may feel relaxing effects more in your body.

What are terpenes?

Terpenes are aromatic oils that give cannabis its signature smell and can also influence whether it will sedate or energize, according to the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS).

Over 100 different terpenes have been identified, says OCS, but there are a number of common ones you may start hearing more of, such as pinene, limonene, myrcene, linalool, humulene and ocimene.

The terpene will determine the notes of the cannabis’ smell and flavour, such as a citrus note, from limonene, which gives an elevated mood, a floral scent, from linalool, which can be sedative, or an earthy smell from humulene, which can be anti-inflammatory.

A terpene’s effect can be influenced by the other compounds in the cannabis, so one can’t definitely say if a strain has a specific terpene, what the strain’s effect will be, according to OCS, but can make a good educated guess.