Cannabis sativa: Making sense of it all

The multi-billion dollar cannabis industry in Canada has brought with it a new set of terminology that can be difficult to understand. Terms such as marijuana and pot are commonplace, but how savvy is the rest of your cannabis lingo? Let's breakdown this modern nomenclature and dispel some misconceptions about cannabis and its by-products.

Marijuana, cannabis or hemp?

What is the difference between marijuana and cannabis? The terms are often used interchangeably which can be misleading. All marijuana is cannabis but not all cannabis is marijuana. Confusing? Kinda. Cannabis is a genus which includes three species: cannabis sativa, cannabis indica and their lesser known relative, cannabis ruderalis. Marijuana (considered by some to be a slang term), is any cannabis plant containing more than 0.3% THC (dry weight), the compound responsible for cannabis' psychotropic effects. Conversely, hemp is the cannabis species which contains less than 0.3% THC (dry weight) and is not hallucinogenic. 

Both hemp and marijuana contain CBD or cannabidiol, the other main cannabinoid. In Canada, both products fall under the Cannabis Act, however hemp is also regulated under the Industrial Hemp Regulation (IHR) program, which allows farmers to grow hemp under controlled circumstances. 


THC (tetrahydrocannabinoll) and CBD (cannabidiol) are the two main cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. As we mentioned earlier, THC is responsible for the psychotropic effect or "high" someone experiences when cannabis is ingested or inhaled. Cannabis plants can have anywhere from 0.3%-30% THC. Hemp on the other hand, is the classification of the species of cannabis containing less than 0.3% THC, but relatively high levels of CBD. Our bodies have an endocannabinoid system that controls brain function and mood, among other things. CBD invigorates our endocannabinoid system receptors. The result? Reduced pain and inflammation. This is because CBD, whether taken orally or used topically, has proven to be an effective analgesic and anti-inflammatory.


So we’ve covered THC and CBD, which most people have some familiarity with. Now we need to tackle the newest jargon making headlines, terpenes. Simply put, terpenes are the chemicals that give an organism it's smell. That means you and I have them too. And since we know that scent can dramatically impact mood (think of the invigorating effect of peppermint, or the relaxing effect of lavender), terpenes are proving to be crucial in understanding the healing properties of cannabis. Cannabis has over 100 terpenes that work in a symbiotic relationship with THC and CBD to regulate how cannabis interacts with your brain and body.   

Sativa and Indica

Cannabis growers make a distinction between different types of plants by labelling them as sativa or indica. Sativa plants are tall with narrow leaves and tend to suit a warmer climate with a longer growing season. Indica plants are comparatively shorter and bushier with wider leaves and suit a cooler climate with a condensed growing season. 

In the late 18th century, Jean Baptiste Lamarck, a French naturalist and biologist, proposed the theory that in addition to their distinct physical characteristics, cannabis sativa and cannabis indica had different effects on the body when ingested. This theory is still widely persistent today, with the most common properties being attributed to each plant charted below:

Sativa-Like High & Effects

Indica-Like High & Effects





Good for social settings

Good for stress and pain relief



What researchers are now discovering however, is that this categorization is mostly incorrect. Some strains of cannabis indica can make a person excited and energized just as some cannabis sativa strains can produce a calming, euphoric feeling. In recognition of this new finding, many cannabis stores label their products as "indica-like" or "sativa-like" to guide consumers toward the item that will give them their desired effect. 

So if the cannabis plant strain – sativa or indica – is not necessarily responsible for the experience a consumer will have, what is? The answer is not straightforward, because in truth there are many factors that influence someone’s experience using cannabis, including each body's unique biological make-up, individual tolerance levels and dosage. What’s more is the chemical properties of the plant itself. Think percentage of THC, CBD as well as the composition and types of terpenes. Like we said, no simple answer here. For this reason, cannabis growers often experiment with different plants, creating hybrids and other unique offerings.

A new era of legalized cannabis is here. And with it, comes a big batch of new terminology! It can feel daunting or confusing, but empyri is here to help. As more research is conducted, we’ll stay on top of it to ensure our products have the benefits that cannabis has to offer. Oh, and we’ll help you sort out the vernacular along the way!

Because you are loved.




Jennifer Grant with Hemp Roots


Author Bio: Jennifer is the president and founder of empyri.  Jennifer’s passion for formulation and product development was set ablaze in 2019, when she incorporated the healing power of cannabis roots into her long-standing three-step skin care system. Armed with scientific evidence on the actives in cannabis roots and seeds, a clean and conscious brand was born. Using her masters degree in bio-chemical engineering, Jennifer is forging a path to ...READ FULL BIO