The indica and sativa labels on cannabis products sold around the world can be wrong and misleading, according to new research.

A team from Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands and Canada’s Dalhousie University analysed hundreds of cannabis samples and found the genetic and chemical composition often did not match the indica or sativa label.

The researchers urged the industry to use a more scientific approach to labelling and provide more transparency on chemical composition.

Associate professor at Dalhousie University and corresponding author of the study Dr Sean Myles said: “Growers across the world label their cannabis varieties quite subjectively with the terms indica and sativa [meaning] retailers and consumers are unable to rely on [them]. 

The terms indica and sativa are often used to classify cannabis, and it is generally assumed that they are each associated with certain aromas and psychoactive effects. But the researchers claim indica and sativa labels are unrelated to the plant’s genetics or the chemistry, making those labels redundant.

Lecturer in Biosystematics at WUR and co-author of the study Robin van Velzen said: “What our study mainly shows is that you can’t rely solely on those labels, you have to look at the specific terpene profile.” 

“For example, cannabis labelled as sativa often contains higher concentrations of some terpenes with tea-like and fruity aromas, while indica samples generally have higher concentrations of terpenes that smell earthy.”

“You can’t rely solely on those labels, you have to look at the specific terpene profile.”

STUDY CO-AUTHOR Robin van Velzen

“It really is these specific individual terpenes that account for the difference. Like genetics, the total chemical profile does not show a clear difference between the labels. In addition, we have only found a small number of regions in the cannabis genome that likely contribute to the earthy aroma associated with the indica label.” 

“Unlike other high-value plant species, the labelling of cannabis is highly unreliable. This is undesirable, particularly for patients who use cannabis as a medicinal product and who benefit from good, consistent quality.”  

Van Velzen concluded: “Producers should display the terpene profiles instead of an unreliable name like indica or sativa. A number of companies fortunately do that already, but there is no standardised measuring and naming convention. Reliable information is essential, particularly for medicinal uses.” 

The results are published in international journal Nature Plants.

Prior to launching Cannabiz, Martin was co-founder and CEO of Asia-Pac’s leading B2B media and marketing information brand Mumbrella, overseeing its sale to Diversified Communications in 2017. A journalist...