Indica vs Sativa: What’s The Difference
Everything you need to know about the uses, effects, and origins of these different strains.
Photo by Thomas Trutschel / Contributor/ via Getty Images
Indica vs Sativa: What’s The Difference Between Cannabis Types?
You’ve probably heard that cannabis is divided into two main categories: indica vs sativa strains. But what is the difference between indica and sativa plants? And how can you distinguish between a sativa vs indica high?
What are Indica and Sativa?
Both indicas and sativas are psychoactive varieties of the cannabis plant. That is, an indica or sativa will get you high. But weed connoisseurs distinguish between the two because sativa vs indica effects can be extremely different. This largely has to do with their origin stories.
Origins of Indica
Indica strains originated in colder, mountainous climates (think Afghanistan and northern India). Indica plants tend to be short, squat, and bushy. The indica vs sativa leaves are plump and the foliage is dense. These are plants adapted to harsh environments like those found in the Hindu Kush mountain range. Indica vs sativa plants are also excellent producers of hash, and that’s no accident. They were undoubtedly bred that way, as hashish is the preferred method of cannabis consumption in much of the area from which they sprang.
Indica vs sativa plants don’t mess around when flowering; they get it done in six to eight weeks. This is almost certainly due to their mountain-born genetic programming; they want to produce the next generation’s genetics before frost hits. Indoor growers love the speediness with which indica vs sativa flowers bloom and flatten.
Origins of Sativa
Sativas, on the other hand, are originated in more sweltering equatorial zones. Sativas tend to be tall and gangly, with skinnier leaves. Originating in the sunny climates of Southeast Asia, Central America, and Mexico, these plants are sun-worshippers. They regularly grow between eight and 12 feet tall, but in optimal conditions outdoors, 18-foot monsters aren’t unheard of.
These equatorial strains take their time when flowering. In contrast to the six-to-eight-week flowering time of indicas, sativa flowering can stretch past 12 weeks, making impatient growers crazy. The difference in lighting cost for indoor growers means that indoor sativas are sometimes more expensive in the shops.
What are Hybrids?
With the rise of modern cannabis breeding and the discovery that genetics are important to marijuana potency, thousands of hybrid strains have also come onto the scene. These hybrids combine the effects of indicas and sativas. And in the modern world, we now distinguish between indica vs sativa vs hybrid strains.
Hybrids can be broken down into three basic groups:
• Sativa-dominant hybrids combine sativa’s cerebral high with indica’s relaxing body effect. Headband, Alien Girl, Juicy Fruit, Sour Diesel, and Purple Trainwreck are a few examples.
• Indica-dominant hybrids provide pain relief with a soothing head high. Afgooey, Girl Scout Cookies, Tahoe OG, Skywalker OG, and Purple Urkle are examples.
• Balanced hybrids combine the best of both worlds into one smoke with 50/50 indica/sativa genetics. Examples include White Widow, Blue Dream, Purple Diesel, and Super Silver Haze.
…And Then There’s Ruderalis
A third major type of cannabis, cannabis ruderalis, is a feral form of hemp native to Russia. It is non-psychoactive, as in the THC level is too low to get you high. It’s widely debated whether it’s a sub-species of Cannabis Sativa, but most people accept it as its own species. It’s not often discussed or used for recreational purposes because it’s non-psychoactive, but it has been used historically to treat depression.
Indica vs Sativa: What is The High Like?
Indicas are known for their physically sedating effect. Some stoners use the mnemonic, “in da couch,” referring to the well-known body high of strong indica strains that make a person want to sink into their couch. Indicas are ideal for relaxing with a movie or music in the evening as a way to unwind after a long day’s work or as a relaxing interlude before bed. Great for kicking back with your Crafty Vaporizer before snoozing.
Medically speaking, the heavy resin and soporific potency of indica vs sativa flowers makes them prized by people with insomnia, anxiety, nausea, and pain.
Common recreational effects of indica vs sativa strains include a happy sleepiness, relaxation, and strong hunger. Pure or nearly pure indica strains include Northern Lights, Hindu Kush, Critical Mass, Purple Kush, L.A. Confidential, and God’s Gift.
Sativas, on the other hand, are known for their invigorating mental effects. The uplifting, cerebral effects of the sativa vs indica high make these strains ideal for social gatherings and creative pursuits like music, art and writing.
The stimulating effects of sativas make them ideal for a motivational “wake and bake” session, akin to a cup of coffee. Pure or nearly pure sativa strains include Durban Poison, Thai, Ghost Train Haze, Panama Red, Strawberry Cough, Chernobyl, Trinity, and Amnesia Haze.
Indica vs Sativa: Cannabinoids and Terpenes
If you’ve ever wondered what gives a sativa and indica strain its particular flavor, aroma, and effects, then you need to familiarize yourself with cannabinoids and terpenes. Believe it or not, the smell of a bud and its cannabinoid content can be a key indicator as to what strain you’re dealing with.
Cannabinoids are the chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. They are what give the herb its unique range of effects. Two of the most popular cannabinoids that you likely know and love are THC and CBD. THC, aka Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol, is psychoactive and is what causes the high, whereas CBD, or cannabidiol, is non-psychoactive, meaning it doesn’t get you high.
Besides a high or lack thereof, both THC and CBD boast therapeutic potential as well. THC is known for alleviating nausea and pain, plus much more. As for CBD, CBD is shown to reduce inflammation, pain, and anxiety, along with other ailments. But these are just two cannabinoids. There are over 100 different cannabinoids in cannabis, all of which deliver their own effects.
Knowing what cannabinoids are in a specific strain and how much makes it easy for medical users to shop for their ideal strain. Same goes for recreational users. Strictly going off the sativa/indica label isn’t always reliable as each strain is one-of-a-kind and contains a variety of cannabinoids. There is no rule as to which cannabinoids are found where, either. Sativas and indicas can have the same cannabinoids. One strain type might just have more or less than the other.
Terpenes are the aromatic compounds found in cannabis, and other plants and fruits too. When you take a whiff of your bud and note a pine, berry, or skunky smell, that’s the terps you’re smelling.
In like manner of aromatherapy, terpenes have the ability to stimulate and sedate you. The effect you get from each depends entirely on the terpene. Here are a few of the most famous terps, what they smell like, and what they do:
- Limonene- Citrusy, euphoric, stress-relieving.
- Pinene- Piney, raises alertness, improves memory retention.
- Myrcene- Earthy, sedative, numbing.
- Linalool- Floral, reduces anxiety, anesthetic.
- Caryophyllene- Spicy, or woody, anti-inflammatory, eases depression and anxiety.
Like cannabinoids, there are hundreds of terpenes in cannabis. You can find them on sativa and indica flowers inside the trichomes, they do not discriminate, although some are found more consistently in certain strains than others. For example, any type of lemon strain, such as Super Lemon Haze, almost always contain the terpene limonene. But again, any strain, whether it be indica or sativa, can host any terpene.
Are Sativas and Indicas Really That Different?
Some stoners are skeptical about whether there really is a big difference between the sativa vs indica high. “It all just gets me stoned, man,” is something you might have heard in response to the indica vs sativa debate. This view has probably arisen because of all the hybrids currently available.
A majority of strains currently on the market are hybrids of various kinds, even if they’re branded according to indica vs sativa categories. Additionally, oftentimes in illegal states, people think they’re smoking an indica or sativa when they’re not so they have misconceptions about what works for them. Many people even claim that cannabis doesn’t work for them at all. And while this may be true (cannabis isn’t for everyone), it could also be because they simply have yet to go to a dispensary with a knowledgeable budtender who can direct them towards the right indica vs sativa, or something in-between. And these days, it’s rare to find a pure sativa or pure indica strain, most strains have some of each.
What Strain is Best For You?
Finding the best strain for you is more straightforward once you’ve developed a better understanding of terpenes and cannabinoids. All you have to do is decide the effect you want and go from there. If you want the perfect bedtime strain, for instance, then a high CBD strain with the terpene mycrene would be ideal. Or, if you want a buzzy, energetic strain to keep you going throughout the day, then you’d want to go for a high-THC strain with limonene.
If you need help finding the best strain for you, then try conducting an indica vs. sativa test. Get a few examples of the pure indicas still available. Go for strains like L.A. Confidential, The Hog, and Afghan Kush. While you’re at it, get a few examples of pure sativas. Strains like Durban Poison, Trainwreck, Jack Herer, and Green Crack should do. You can also check out Herb’s strain database for more suggestions. Stick to a couple of the indicas for one session. Have a separate, all-sativa session on an entirely different day. Draw your own conclusions about the difference between the indica vs. sativa high.