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Understanding Medicinal Cannabis: Are All Cannabis Plants Hybrids?

As cannabis enters the mainstream and the level of consumer education rises, we find the questions we receive from patients and curious citizens probe increasingly deeper into how cannabis works with the body. One of the most fascinating questions centers around how we classify and select the different cannabis plants we use to formulate our safe, effective, and best-in-class cannabis medicines.

Many of us are aware that historically, cannabis plants have been defined as being from one of two major subtypes: indica and sativa. Thanks to the rigorous cross-pollination of plants, the great majority of cannabis plants are actually hybrids of these two groups. (Botanists disagree over whether indica and sativa are separate species, or merely subspecies of a single cannabis species.)

cannabis plants 1

Because hybridization—another word for cross-pollination—is so common, it raises a question: Are all cannabis plants hybrids?

The short answer is “No,” they’re not. However, because hybridization allows plant breeders to combine many desirable qualities from different plants, you’re much more likely to encounter hybrid cannabis than a pure indica or sativa. Let’s dive a bit deeper into the types of cannabis plants and why one or the other might be more desirable for a given outcome.

Indica vs. Sativa: The Basics

Even though the cannabis plant is a single species (or subspecies, depending on your botanical point of view), plants from the two major types will have vastly different effects on our bodies. When the cannabis plant was first categorized by European botanists in the 18th century, “indica” described the psychoactive plants grown in India and Central Asia, and “sativa” described hemp plants grown in Europe and Eurasia primarily for their fiber and seeds.

Broadly speaking, pure indica plants or indica-dominant hybrids tend to elicit a sedative, body-centered psychoactivity, or high. Some describe their effects as “stress-relieving,” “numbing,” or “sleep-inducing.” By comparison, pure sativa or sativa-dominant hybrids tend to produce a cerebral or brain-centric experience. Some describe the sensation as “energizing,” “buzzy” or “stimulating.”

These characterizations are helpful, up to a point. But to an extent, labels such as “indica” or “sativa” are subjective. A far more useful way to describe a particular cannabis plant is by examining its chemical properties, such as its cannabinoid and terpene content. That’s one reason Vireo Health products are color-coded based on their cannabinoid ratio rather than “indica” or “sativa.”

cannabis plant and oil

Why Hybridize Cannabis Plants?

Because these different types of cannabis plants have such different qualities, it’s natural that we’d want to maximize some of them through selective breeding while at the same time minimizing others. For some of us, the stress-relieving, full-body relaxation associated with indica plants is distracting. Others find that the cerebral effects of sativa cannabis disturb their sleep, or make them more prone to anxiety.

For these and other reasons, it’s more medically useful to create hybrid strains that concentrate some of a plant’s essential qualities while breeding out others. The idea is to produce cannabis medicines that offer consistent, reliable and effective results, each and every time.

Landrace: A Return to the Cannabis Plant’s Roots?

There are pure indica and sativa plants. When a cannabis strain is described as a “landrace,” it means that it has not been hybridized with another strain. What’s more, it’s a strain that has been grown consistently in the same geographic area, which means that it hasn’t been forced to adapt to a new climate or growing environment. Think of it as an heirloom strain.

researcher in front of cannabis plants

Because of the prevalence of hybridization, it’s comparatively rare to find genuine landrace strains. And while they’re fascinating from a botanical and genetic perspective, that doesn’t mean they’re more medically useful. When consistency and effectiveness are the priority—as they are at Vireo Health—it’s generally better practice to utilize cannabis hybrids bred for specific, replicable, and lab-verified results.

If you have any questions about the cannabis plant and how it’s used to make safe and gentle medications, don’t hesitate to contact us.