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Cannabis 101

Indica vs Sativa

10.19.21 - 4 min read

Summary

  • People commonly refer to sativa-dominant strains as sativa and to indica-dominant strains as indica
  • Sativa plants offer lower yields than indica
  • Indica leaves are broad, and sativa leaves are thin
  • Indica plants are short, and sativas can reach over 10 feet
  • The effects of cannabis are the result of a combination of factors, including plant compound profile, human body specifics, etc.
  • THC is responsible for what we call the “cannabis high”
  • Terpenes are responsible for the smell and taste of cannabis but also for many of its specific effects on the brain and the body

With no shortage of cannabis varieties to choose from, it’s common to have questions about which strains are right for you.

The good news: with a little strain schooling, a few pro tips from our RISE patient care specialists and some experimentation, you’ll soon be on the path to finding something you love.

When you visit a local dispensary, you’ll probably notice that cannabis strains are typically grouped into three categories:

  • Sativa
  • Indica
  • Hybrid

So, you may be wondering: what are the key differences between indica and sativa? What about a hybrid?  And what does this all mean for you?

Additionally, you might’ve have heard conflicting opinions about the effects of indica versus sativa. In this guide, we’ll distinguish between strain facts and stereotypes. We’ll also navigate the myths and truths when it comes to the effects of sativa vs. indica, and help you discover which strain could be your perfect match.

buy sativa marijuana

What are indica, sativa and hybrid strains?

Let’s start with the basics: what do “sativa,” “indica,” and “hybrid” mean?

Botanists use these terms to describe different plants from the cannabis family. Since the 18th century, science has distinguished two marijuana species: Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Sativa.

Due to widespread crossbreeding over the past 40 years, there are no longer any genetically pure sativa or indica strains. Most of the strains on the market are hybrid.

Today, by “sativa” people often mean sativa-dominant hybrid strains, “indica” mostly refers to indica-dominant strains, and “Hybrids” are strains that have relatively balanced mixtures of both.

What is indica?

Indica plants are shorter and denser than sativa. They have broader leaves, and their colors go from dark green to purple.

In the 18th Century, Europeans only knew sativa. When Jean-Baptiste Lamarck published his description of a “new” species from India, which looked slightly different, he simply baptized it as “Cannabis Indica,” which means cannabis from India.

Indica Effects

Indica’s effects are typically associated with relaxation and a “body high.” However, this stereotype does not necessarily apply to all Indica strains.   

People who use indica often say the most common effects include:

  • Relaxation
  • Reduced sensation of pain
  • Sleep aid
  • Body high

Many people feel that indica-dominant strains can be very relaxing and soothing, and many say they prefer to use indica flower before bedtime. These effects can vary not only from strain to strain but also from person to person. It’s possible that the same strain may have a different effect for different people.

Indica Basics

  • Origin: India, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey. It was called indica simply because the first European botanist to classify it received a plant from India. The original plant is believed to come from Afghanistan. 
  • Plant characteristics: Short and bushy, with broad, dark green leaves.
  • Associated High Type: Body high
indica flower

Popular Indica-dominant Strains

  • Northern Lights
    • Very close to pure Indica
    • Main terpenes: Myrcene, Beta-caryophyllene, Pinene
    • Popularized in the Netherlands in the 1980s
    • Smelly, resin-coated buds
  • Blue Cheese
    • Blue cheese aroma
    • Hybrid made by crossing UK Cheese and Blueberry strains
    • Main terpenes: Beta-caryophyllene
    • Often described as highly relaxing
  • Bubba Kush
    • Tight bush, big leaves
    • Peppery scent, sweet flavor
    • Main terpenes: Delta-limonene, Beta-myrcene, and Beta-caryophyllene
    • Believed to be highly sedative
  • Granddaddy Purple
    • Dense, purple buds
    • Fruity scent
    • Main terpenes: Alpha-pinene, Beta-caryophyllene, Alpha-humulene
    • Can be great for relaxing the whole body
  • Kosher Kush
    • Tall plants
    • Woody aroma
    • Main terpenes: Myrcene, Limonene, Caryophyllene
    • High THC strain described as strong and very relaxing 
  • Hindu Kush
    • Originally from the Hindu Kush mountain range
    • Dense, high-resin buds
    • Main terpenes: Caryophyllene, Caryophyllene oxide, Humulene, Alpha-pinene
    • Sandalwood scent
    • Very calming
  • Afghan Kush
    • Stocky plant, resin-coated buds with red hairs
    • High THC
    • Main terpenes: Caryophyllene, Myrcene, Humulene, Terpineol
    • Hashy scent
    • Reported by users to be relaxing
Indica sativa hybrid

What is Sativa?

Sativa plants are lanky and tall, with thin, light green leaves. They originate from regions close to the equator like Central and South Americas and Southeast Asia. Many people tend to consume sativa flower when they want to be alert and clear-headed.

Sativa Effects

Sativa strains are often associated with stimulating and mood-improving effects. Sometimes described as energizing and uplifting, sativa-dominant cannabis strains may boost focus and concentration.

People who use sativa say the most common effects include:

  • Energizing
  • Boosting creativity
  • Euphoria
  • Boosting productivity
  • Cerebral high
sativa weed

Sativa Basics

  • Origin: South and Central America, Africa, Southeast Asia 
  • Plant characteristics: Tall and slim with thin leaves.
  • High: Cerebral High

Sativa-dominant Strains

  • Jack Herer
    • Spicy, black pepper, and pine scents
    • Main terpenes: Terpinolene, Caryophyllene, Pinene
    • Described as energizing in the morning
    • Considered ideal for creatives
  • Durban Poison
    • Of South African origin
    • Sweet scents
    • Main terpenes: Alpha, Beta Pinene 
    • Depending on how much you take, some report it can make you euphoric (small dose) or lethargic (large dose) 
  • Green Crack 
    • Green and orange colors
    • Citrusy flavor
    • Main terpenes: Myrcene, Beta caryophyllene, Alpha Pinene, Humulene
    • Can have a very energizing high
  • Super Silver Haze
    • Citrusy scent
    • Main terpenes: Myrcene, Beta Caryophyllene, Limonene, Humulene
    • Great to boost your morning
    • Reported euphoric effect
  • Strawberry Cough
    • Berry scents
    • Main terpenes: Limonene, Caryophyllene, Linalool 
    • Created by crossing Haze and Strawberry Fields strains
    • May help focus and creativity
    • A morning favorite
  • Tangie
    • Orange scents
    • Main terpenes: Myrcene, Beta Caryophyllene
    • May boost focus and energy
  • Sour Diesel
    • 90 percent Sativa hybrid
    • Citrus scents
    • Main terpenes: Caryophyllene, Limonene, Myrcene
    • Potent high
  • Lemon Haze
    • Lemon scent
    • Green and yellow buds
    • Main terpenes: Beta Caryophyllene, Terpinolene, Humulene, Myrcene
    • Associated with heightened perception, mood boost
indica-dominant_vs_sativa-dominant

Indica vs. Sativa

As we mentioned, indica is often associated with calming effects, while sativa is typically considered uplifting.  

Yet, a clear-cut distinction between sativa as an energetic head high and indica as an inducer of sleepiness and relaxation is more stereotypical than realistic.

Sativa strains with stereotypically “indica-like” effects abound and vice versa. The perceived effects of marijuana on the brain and the body are given by the delicate interplay between marijuana compounds like terpenes and cannabinoids.

The method of consumption, setting, an individual’s body and cannabis habits also play an important role. This includes dosage, regularity of usage, personal tolerance, metabolism and many other factors.

SATIVA OVERVIEW

  • PLANT: Slim, thin, light green leaves, tall, suitable for warm climates
  • FLOWERING TIME: 10 to 12 weeks
  • ASSOCIATED HIGH: Cerebral high.

INDICA OVERVIEW

  • PLANT: Stocky, dense, short, broad, dark green leaves, suitable for colder climates
  • FLOWERING TIME: 6 to 8 weeks
  • ASSOCIATED HIGH: Body high.

Summary of Misleading stereotypes about Indica vs Sativa

  • Sativa is always uplifting
  • All indica strains are sedative and relaxing
  • A strains effect is solely determined by it being either indica or sativa
  • All strains that are called “sativa” are genetically pure sativa cannabis
  • All strains that are called “indica” are genetically pure Indica cannabis
  • THC and CBD are the only compounds that are in marijuana
  • Indica contains only CBD and Sativa THC
  • Sativa strains make you laugh
  • Indica will make you sleepy
Indica vs sativa vs hybrid
Shop Indica vs sativa vs hybrid

What is hybrid cannabis?

Hybrid cannabis is the result of many years of crossing sativa and indica to find the perfect mix of relaxing/uplifting effects. There are thousands of hybrid strains and cultivars, each with its own unique characteristics, often the result of cross breeding several cannabis cultivars and phenotypes.

Hybrid Effects

As Hybrids are balanced strains with both sativa and indica in them, their effects can vary. To determine what effect a specific strain can have it is best to look at its “parent” strains.

Popular Hybrid Strains

  • OG Kush
    • Made in California, OG Kush has a high THC content which can cause euphoria and cheerful relaxation.
    • Main terpenes are Caryophyllene, Limonene, and Myrcene.
  • Original Glue
    • Once known as Gorilla Glue #4, this strain provides a couch-lock effect that can last for hours according to some.
    • Main terpenes are Myrcene, Caryophyllene and Limonene.
  • Skunk #1
    • As smelly as its name suggests, Skunk has been described as uplifting and relaxing.
    • Main terpenes are Myrcene, Pinene and Limonene.
  • Chemdog
    • It may have been described as tasting like gasoline, but this strain offers a mighty high. Enthusiasts say you don’t need to smoke much to experience the relaxation.
    • Main terpenes are Caryophyllene and Limonene.
  • White Widow
    • It has been known to provide a long-lasting, relaxed, social high.
    • Main terpenes are Limonene, Myrcene, Caryophyllene and Trans-nerolidol.
  • GSC (formerly Girl Scout Cookies)
    • Originating in the Bay Area, GSC has a very high THC percentage. It can provide very long-lasting effects.
    • Main terpenes are Caryophyllene, Limonene and Linalool. 
indica_vs_sativa

Terpenes and Cannabinoids: Understanding Strain Effects

Though stereotypes abound about indica effects vs. sativa effects, this distinction is not nearly enough to predict how a particular strain may affect you.

There are a variety of factors that can influence the effect of a specific strain of marijuana on your body, including (but not limited to) the dose and concentration of the cannabis, its cannabinoid and terpene profile, their ratio and interaction with each other, your tolerance to marijuana, metabolism, body fat, and even the food and drinks you had that day. (Phew.)

According to PHYTECS’s MD Ethan Russo, a board-certified neurologist and psychopharmacology researcher, a better understanding of marijuana strain effects comes from understanding each strain’s cannabinoid and terpene profile.

Terpenes

Cannabis plants owe their potent aroma to terpenes, the aromatic oils responsible for the smell and flavor of plants. Originally developed to fend off predators, the strong smell of marijuana hints at the importance of terpenes in its biology.

Terpenes are secreted in the same glands as THC and CBD. Research suggests that some terpenes may have a relaxing effect, while others improve focus and concentration.

In 2011, a study found that terpenes offered “complementary pharmacological activities.” In other words, though the main function of terpenes relates to flavor and fragrance, they also play an important role in determining the effects of cannabis.

Scientists have discovered more than 100 different terpenes in cannabis. Myrcene, the most common one, is found in the Granddaddy Purple strain. Other common terpenes are limonene, linalool, caryophyllene, alpha- and beta-pinene, alpha-bisabolol, and eucalyptol.

Terpineol, which produces a flowery, citrusy scent, may be partially responsible for the “couch-lock” effect, when relaxing into your seat feels just right. 

Interestingly, the effects of terpenes vary depending on what other terpenes are present around them. That’s one reason why it takes experimentation to find what particular strains tend to work best for you.

Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids play a key role in a strain’s effect on the human body because our endocannabinoid system (ECS) has special receptors for them. Our ECS is involved in regulating sleep, memory, mood and appetite. The most widely known cannabinoids in marijuana are CBD (Cannabidiol) and THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol). Nevertheless, there are over 100 cannabinoids identified by now with a different set of effects and benefits.

There are two types of natural cannabinoids: phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids. CBD and THC are phytocannabinoids that become activated after cannabis plants are dried. THC may help with pain and insomnia, and it is associated with the “cannabis high.” Meanwhile, CBD can help address anxiety.

Some lesser-known cannabinoids are:

  • CBG (cannabigerol) – This is a non-stimulating cannabinoid that is thought to have potential medical uses.
  • THCV (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabivarin) – This compound is becoming the object of more and more research. Some hope that it will be able to aid efforts to aid diabetes and obesity.
  • Δ8-THC – Potentially attractive for medical use, as it is reported to have the same health benefits of cannabis and induce much less of a high than THC.

How to tell the difference between indica and sativa plants

In the never-ending game of sativa vs. indica, appearances vary as much as effects. Different strains of marijuana can produce plants that behave and look very different.

The tallest sativa plants, for example, can reach 20 feet, while indicas tend to be short and stocky. They also mature at different rates and prefer different climates.

Sativa Plant Characteristics

Originally from warm climates, sativas thrive in regions where the summer is long and the winter is mild. They have thin, finger-like, light green leaves. They thrive in the outdoors, where there is sufficient humidity and room to grow. They can typically reach 10 feet. Their height increases by 200-300% during the flowering period.

Indica Plant Characteristics

Indica plants are shorter (2-4 feet) with dense clusters of dark leaves and heavy buds. They mature faster and offer higher yields than sativas. They are suitable for indoor cultivation. Because indica plants are denser than sativas, they weigh more after drying.

Difference Between Sativa and Indica

How to choose the right strain for you

When you visit your local marijuana dispensary, it’s normal to have questions about the wide variety strains you’ll find. The good news is your patient care specialist can advise you about what different strains can do and the right amount of cannabis to begin experimenting with.

Ask your friendly RISE Patient Care Specialist!

Indica vs. Sativa FAQs:

Can you feel the difference between indica and sativa?

There can be some overlap of effects, but generally, indica is reported to have calming effects, and sativa can make you feel active.

Is indica or sativa better for the first time?

A few hits of a low-THC sativa or a mild indica are both good starting points for your cannabis journey.

What strain makes you laugh the most?

It can vary from person to person, but the hybrid White Widow and the sativas Durban Poison and Super Lemon Haze might be a good place to start. Broadly speaking, people don’t usually look to indica for laughter (but don’t hesitate to ask a patient care specialist in your local dispensary for a specific recommendation).

 Is there really a difference between sativa and indica?

Pure indica and pure sativa do have differences, but you’re not likely to find pure strains in the market. Science supports the notion that the two plants are different, especially in terms of cultivation needs, shape and other characteristics.

Consumers report that sativa-dominant strains are uplifting, while indica-dominant strains are relaxing, but these effects can greatly vary depending on each strain’s characteristics, the amount taken, and other factors. 

How does indica make you feel?

People have often reported that indica makes them feel relaxed and eases tension and muscle pain. Some say it helps them sleep.

Which is more relaxing, indica or sativa?

There can be overlap between the effects of indica-dominant and sativa-dominant cannabis strains. While effects may vary depending on the strain, the form of consumption and the user, people have generally reported that indicas tend to be more calming and relaxing, and physicians often prescribe them as a muscle relaxant or a sleep aid.

Will sativa keep me awake?

According to numerous consumer reports, sativa can help with focus and concentration. Some users claim certain sativa-dominant strains help them stay more alert, and many report using it to study overnight. If you’re looking to stay alert through the night, you can experiment with Jack Herer, Durban Poison or Super Lemon Haze. Our bodies react differently to specific cannabis strains, and you won’t know how it may impact you until you try it out yourself.

Does sativa make you sleepy or hyper?

Sativa is popularly associated with focus and alertness. People have often reported it makes them hyper rather than sleepy—but take this information with a grain of salt. The complex interaction between several compounds present in sativa contributes to its effects on the brain, and this biological makeup can greatly vary from one strain to another.

Does sativa help you focus?

Many users have reported that sativa helps them focus. Studies have found that frequent consumers who stop taking sativa become slower at information processing, one of the key aspects of focus and concentration.

What are the benefits of sativa?

Humanity has been using sativa as a medicinal plant for thousands of years. Research studies have shown sativa may provide a host of benefits for our health, while some users report it helps them stay focused, reduces anxiety and improves their overall mood.

While more research is needed to make any definitive claims, these promising suggest there’s still plenty to learn about the benefits of the cannabis plant.

Do you have more questions about indica vs. sativa vs. hybrids? Or choosing the right strain for you? Visit a RISE Dispensary and speak to one of our knowledgeable patient care specialists or cannabis pharmacists today.

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Sources:

Medical marijuana is intended for use by authorized patients only. Marijuana has not been analyzed or approved by FDA and there is limited information on side effects. There may be health risks associated with using marijuana. Scientific research has not yet established the safety of the use of marijuana by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Keep marijuana away from children. When under the influence of marijuana, driving is prohibited by law and machinery should not be operated. Registered qualifying patients may not distribute marijuana to any other individual.

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