Although cannabis has been cultivated for centuries, it wasn’t until the 1540s that European scholars classified it as “sativa.” Appropriately, botanists chose “sativa” because it relates to the Latin word for “cultivation.”
All was going smoothly for about 200 years until a Frenchman spoiled the sativa party. In 1785, Monsieur Jean-Baptiste Lamarck made his la-mark (couldn’t resist) in marijuana lore when he argued for the inclusion of a second cannabis subspecies: indica.
Why did Lamarck feel this distinction was so crucial? And why did he name the second variant “indica?”
Well, when Lamarck made his observations, he was studying cannabis strains from India (hence the name “indica”). According to the botanist, these plants had many physical traits that didn’t match the standard sativa model. For instance, these newly discovered strains tended to be shorter, darker, and had larger fan leaves.
From that point onward, the sativa vs. indica system was born. Although all cannabis is technically “sativa,” growers still distinguish between sativa and indica using Lamarck’s observations.
As you could see, scientists initially used sativa vs. indica to distinguish physical attributes, not physiological effects. Even today, most cultivators cling to the sativa vs. indica paradigm to predict a strain’s physical characteristics more than its impact on users.