The concept of consuming cannabis to give you a boost of energy may seem foreign to some people — particularly those who stereotype all cannabis users as slackers living in the basement of their mom’s house! But, of course, for those with a basic knowledge of cannabis science know cannabis is a complex plant containing hundreds of cannabinoids, terpenoids and terpenes, and the effects of a particular strain depend on its chemical composition (which can vary significantly from strain to strain).
Before we break down the science, let’s clear up some common misconceptions. Most people characterize cannabis strains as either Sativa or Indica — or, a hybrid — and, ascribe properties accordingly: Sativas produce energetic highs; Indicas produce sedative highs. (Sidenote: many botanists claim Ruderalis — and quite possibly, Kush — are also distinct ancestral lines.) However, in practice, due to years of underground crossbreeding — save for a couple dozen purebred landraces — nearly every strain is a hybrid. Ergo, it’s more accurate to describe strains as Indica-dominant or Sativa-dominant, rather than Indica or Sativa. As author Phillip Smith explains in AlterNet, “For growers, even if they want that trademark stimulating sativa high, they don't want to spend extra weeks waiting for it to mature, so they use hybrid strains with varying amounts of indica that will ripen faster than a pure sativa.”
Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a “pick-me-up,” you’ll want to steer clear of Indica-dominant strains. Indica-dominant strains are high in a terpene called myrcene, which as genomic science researcher, Scot Waring, Ph.D., explains, “helps THC cross the blood-brain barrier more effectively,” releasing more sedative properties.
The two most prominent cannabinoids in cannabis are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (commonly known as THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is responsible for producing cannabis’s psychoactive effects, while CBD the most abundant non-psychoactive ingredient. At least a dozen other cannabinoids such as THC-V and CBN are also known to provide health benefits.
While cannabinoids are unique to the cannabis plant and the body’s cannabinoid system (the endocannabinoid system), botanical terpenes and terpenoids are diverse classes of organic, naturally occurring chemicals that give plants their aromatic properties and play a major role in herbal and homeopathic remedies. (Note: the terms “terpenes” and “terpenoids” are increasingly used interchangeably, although there are subtle differences.)
Every strain contains different amounts and ratios of cannabinoids, terpenes and terpenoids, which is why different strains are known for producing varying effects. Working together these compounds produce what Israeli scientists S. Ben-Shabat, with Raphael Mechoulam characterized as an “entourage effect.” Many scientists believe the compounds in cannabis work better together — synergistically — than in isolation.
When it comes to finding strains likely to produce effects like relieving anxiety, alleviating pain, or promoting sleep, it’s much more straightforward than determining what chemical composition is best for producing energizing effects. As previously noted, botanists largely credit myrcene for unlocking the sedative and couch-lock inducing properties of Indica-dominant strains. However, other cannabinoids and terpenes are also known to produce sedative effects — such as terpinolene, linalool, pulegone, and nerolidol. We know what to avoid if we want an uplifting, cerebral high (e.g. myrcene). Sativa-dominant strains generally contain less than .4%-.5% myrcene, while Indica-dominant strains generally exceed .5% myrcene and are more likely to produce sedative effects. OG Kush, known as a potent couch lock flower, contains on average 1.25% myrcene. Some Indica-dominant strains exceed 3% myrcene content.
What’s less well understood — although plenty of writers will offer their opinion as fact — is what specifically to look for if you’re looking for an uplifting high. We know Sativa-dominant strains are more likely to produce a cerebral, uplifting high than Indica-dominant strains. Many, but not all Sativa-dominant strains, contain notable amounts of terpenes such as alpha-pinene, beta-pinene, limonene, which may increase alertness and elevate one’s energy level. No doubt, the chemical composition of Sativa-dominant strains accounts for why many are uplifting, but the precise mechanisms and chemical synergies are not fully understood.
While there are literally an infinite number of permutations and variables that can influence how cannabis affects users, one interesting cannabinoid that may elicit uplifting effects is THC-V. Unlike delta-9-THC, this cannabinoid isn’t psychoactive, and like CBD, seems to temper some of THC’s potent psychoactive effects.
Researchers from King's College London conducted a study where they provided participants 10mg pure THCV (or placebo) daily for five days, followed by 1 mg intravenous THC on the fifth day. Participants didn’t report any psychotropic effects when only taking THC-V. And, in fact, THC-V seems to share certain effects with CBD — such as exerting neuroprotective actions and mitigating cognitive impairment (e.g. short-term memory). Researchers concluded, “THC-V inhibited some of the well-known effects of THC, while potentiating others.”
Anna Wilcox over at Herb.co suggests THC-V “may energize you by boosting your memory and clearing out some of the cobwebs caused by THC.” I’m not sure I’m totally sold on the the rationale, but it is quite possible THC-V contributes to the energetic high that some strains are known for. Durban Poison, which often has THC content that eclipses 20%, is known for producing a potent energetic and cerebral high that some describe being like the “espresso of cannabis”. One enthusiast commented, “[Durban Poison is] the raciest Sativa I know of...it's a stimulating and clear headed high with no trace of numbing or ‘stoning.’ It wakes you up, cuts through the bleary fog and leaves you clearheaded and bright, gives you energy to go and seize the day.”
Notably, Durban Poison is rich in THC-V (1% to 1.5%), which is 5 to 10 times higher than most strains, suggesting THC-V may contribute to Durban’s signature effect. However, as one of the few unadulterated purebred landrace strains that’s widely available, Durban Poison is also a strain rich in other cannabinoids, which also may be a contributing factor. (Tragically, many breeders have virtually bred the most awesome phytocannabinoids out of some of the most popular cannabis strains.)
Science has yet to fully elucidate why some strains produce notoriously energizing effects. However, it does seem that strains rich in cannabinoids like high-CBD Harlequin (known for producing minimal psychoactive effects and a “weightless sensation”) and those highly coveted, yet rare, purebred landrace strains — such as Durban Poison, Panama Red, Thai Sativa — consistently elicit uplifting effects. Likewise, strains notably rich in THC-V — like Pineapple Purps, Willie Nelson and Doug's Varin — also seem to pack a nice kick. Then, of course, there are the outliers. Here’s looking at you, Green Crack! With its nominal amount of THC-V and virtually non-existent CBD, aside from its relatively low myrcene and linalool content (and being a Sativa-dominant strain), one wonders: what gives (the perplexingly named) Green Crack, its signature, energetic high?
What’s your favorite high-energy strain? Or, do you have a hypothesis you’d like to share? Post your recommendations or perspectives in the comments section below!