The nomenclature of cannabis can be completely confusing. Which makes finding the right strain difficult. There are some rules of the road, though, even if the most widely known might be completely untrue.
"Sativas and indicas have nothing to do with effects whatsoever," says Justin Hutcherson, general manager at Cinder North.
There's a pervasive urban legend that sativas are energizing and indicas are relaxing — commonly remembered as "in da couch" for indica. Really, though, sativa and indica describe the physical appearance of the plant rather than the effects they produce. The main things that do impact the effect of specific strains are the terpene and cannabinoid profiles of the plant.
THC and CBD, the two most widely known chemicals in cannabis, are both cannabinoids. THC is the one that gets you high, while CBD is the one you can buy in the alternative medicine section of your local grocery store. There are over 100 other known cannabinoids in the plant, though, and they're all in play.
Terpenes are the other category of chemicals in cannabis that affect your experience. Unlike cannabinoids, terpenes aren't exclusive to cannabis. They're major components of essential oils extracted from plants. Lavender essential oil, for example, is widely used for its calming properties, which come from the presence of the terpene linalool.
Linalool isn't one of the more prevalent terpenes across strains, but you'll notice strains that have a higher concentration of linalool often produce more relaxing effects. Take Scooby Snacks, a strain high in linalool. It's a hybrid, which means it's not pure indica or pure sativa, but is overwhelmingly on the "calming" side of the website Leafly's calming-to-energizing spectrum.
As is the case with cannabinoids, there are over 100 known terpenes in cannabis. One alone doesn't dictate how a strain will make you feel.
It's a lot and it's confusing. Thankfully, there are people whose job is to know and understand all this stuff. They're called budtenders and you can find them at every dispensary around. They can guide you to the right strain even if you don't know what you're looking for.