The terms indica and sativa are both widely used and hotly contested. Whether you’re new to weed or a long-time cannabis consumer, it’s highly likely you’ve heard about the supposed “body high” of an indica, the “cerebral rush” of a sativa, or the varied effects of a hybrid.
Cannabis is a species of flowering herb that is split into three subspecies: Indica, sativa, and ruderalis. Ruderalis plants are small and yield relatively little medicine; what they do provide lacks potency and is generally not appealing to patients. Because of this, ruderalis strains are typically avoided by breeders and cultivators; the focus of the medical cannabis community is on indica and sativa strains.
The Cannabis indica plant is cultivated for many purposes; for example, the plant fibers can be converted into cloth. Cannabis indica produces large amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The higher concentrations of THC provide euphoric effects making it popular for use both as a recreational, alternative medicine, and a clinical research drug.
While cannabis is grown all over the world now, original strains of indica and sativa came from different climates, which affected their DNA and gave them very different traits. Indica developed in less temperate climates and as a result evolved a thicker coating of resin to protect itself from harsh winters. That extra resin means more powerful effects. Conversely, sativa is a more equatorial plant by nature. It grows more slowly, and needs less resin to protect itself from the climate, so the produced high is more subtle and cerebral.
Indica and sativa plants differ not only in their physiological effects, but also in their appearance. Indica plants tend to grow short with thick stems and broad, deep-green leaves. They also have short flowering cycles and grow sufficiently in cold, short-season climates. Sativa plants have longer flowering cycles, fare better in warm climates with long seasons, and usually grow taller with light-green, narrow leaves. Generally, classifying a particular cultivar or strain as indica or sativa usually means that it tilts to one side or the other of the indica-sativa spectrum. Sativas are often described as cerebral, heady, uplifting, and energizing while indicas are described as relaxing, sedating, full-bodied, and stoney.
Knowing the difference between indica-like or sativa-like effects is a great starting point. But when it comes to choosing a cannabis product, you’ll be able to make much more educated decisions once you start paying attention to the cannabinoid and terpene content of each product.
- Sativa is often described as being uplifting and energetic, whereas indica as being relaxing and calming.
- When it comes to aroma, indica strains tend to emit musty, earthy, and skunky odors, while sativas smell sweet, fruity, or spicy.
- Indica plants are short and stocky, featuring leaves that are broad and “chunky.” Sativa plants tend to be taller and skinnier and may even be lanky in appearance, with leaves that are thin and pointed.
- Indicas provide what has been called a “body high,” while sativas deliver more of a “mind high.”
- Sativa plants have longer flowering cycles, fare better in warm climates with long seasons. Indica plants have short flowering cycles and grow sufficiently in cold, short-season climates.
- Indicas tend to decrease energy and are better for consumption in the evening or at night, after the conclusion of the day’s work and activities.
- Sativa takes 10 to 15 weeks to mature whereas Indica takes six to eight weeks to mature — a shorter time than sativa — and typically has a greater yield.
- In terms of particular ailments, sativa strains tend to be better for psychological disorders like depression, PTSD, and anxiety. Indicas are often the best for pain and inflammation and, thus, are beneficial for patients with arthritis, fibromyalgia, and cancer.
THC And CBD (cannabinoids)
THC and CBD are both cannabinoids, two of the hundred-plus known chemical compounds in cannabis. They act on the cannabinoid receptors in our bodies, which are found mostly in the brain and throughout our nervous and immune systems.
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the cannabinoid that takes up the most volume in a given strain of marijuana. It’s the stuff that makes us feel high; it’s the chemical compound that has the primary psychoactive effect on the human body. For us to feel the effects of THC, it must go through a process called decarboxylation, which most often is accomplished through the application of heat — via smoking or vaping or, in the kitchen, through cooking the cannabis.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that accounts for the second-highest volume in cannabis (after THC). It doesn’t make us feel high and instead works to alleviate things such as anxiety, inflammation, and pain perception.
Depending on the type of high you’re looking for, you can opt for strains of marijuana with higher or lower levels of THC or CBD — or, if you’re looking for a high-less experience, you can opt for any number of CBD-only products on the market.
The lore of indica is that it is supposed to be ideal for night-time use. Indica is sold as having similar effects to a sedative, good for relaxation or trying to sleep. Part of this lore is that indica is said to have higher concentrations of CBD and lower concentrations of THC. That effect on the body can also be of great help for pain relief, and the relaxation element means it is often recommended for anxiety, important parts of the medical marijuana push. It is also said to be an appetite stimulant for some. Thus, indica strains are known for giving users more of a body high than a head high.
Whereas indica’s reputation is one of a sedative that gives you a body high, sativa is said to cause more cerebral effects, perfect for the day time. These effects are far more invigorating, helping one to feel more alert and uplifting to tackle a physical activity or creative endeavor.
Medically, these sativa effects are said to help not only with pain but anxiety, depression, and attention disorders. One explanation for a “sativa” strain causing these effects and potential medical benefits are cannabinoids like THC and CBD – specifically, that sativa strains are said to have higher concentrations of THC. Another are the terpenes. Cannabis terpenes that could possibly produce these effects include limonene, which has shown potential for anti-depression benefits, and pinene, which has anti-inflammatory properties.
Cannabis Sativa vs Cannabis Indica In Tabular Form
|BASIS OF COMPARISON||CANNABIS SATIVA||CANNABIS INDICA|
|Nature||Sativas are often described as cerebral, heady, uplifting, and energizing.||Indicas are described as relaxing, sedating, full-bodied, and stoney.|
|Aroma||Sativas smell sweet, fruity, or spicy.||indica strains tend to emit musty, earthy, and skunky odors.|
|Plants||Sativa plants tend to be taller and skinnier and may even be lanky in appearance, with leaves that are thin and pointed.||Indica plants are short and stocky, featuring leaves that are broad and “chunky.”|
|Flowering||Sativa plants have longer flowering cycles, fare better in warm climates with long seasons.||Indica plants have short flowering cycles and grow sufficiently in cold, short-season climates.|
|Maturity||Sativa takes 10 to 15 weeks to mature.||Indica takes six to eight weeks to mature — a shorter time than sativa — and typically has a greater yield.|
|Application||Sativa strains tend to be better for psychological disorders like depression, PTSD, and anxiety.||Indicas are often the best for pain and inflammation and, thus, are beneficial for patients with arthritis, fibromyalgia, and cancer.|
|Consumption||Indicas tend to increase energy and are better for consumption during daytime.||Indicas tend to decrease energy and are better for consumption in the evening or at night.|
|THC Content||High ratio to cannabidiol.||Low ratio to cannabidiol.|
A hybrid is a cross between two different species of cannabis, usually sativa and indica. This allows for two or more particular traits to be selected and bred for, and it accounts for much of the diversity of options at a dispensary.
Many popular strains of cannabis are hybrids of indica and sativa; even ones considered an indica or sativa are likely to be a hybrid of some sort. Hybrids can have various combinations of terpenes and effects, but because indica and sativa are no longer the definitive terms they used to be for strains, the hybrid term is more accurately used with regards to how it is cultivated and grown. How a hybrid grows, how much it can yield, and what the plant will look like will vary based on which plants you are crossbreeding.
Some hybrids are named based on the strain that is more dominant within it, should it not be a balanced strain. Indica-dominant or indica-dom, as you can likely guess, is a hybrid strain that leans more toward indica. Sativa-dominant, or sativa-dom, is of course the opposite situation.
When deciding between sativa, indica or a hybrid, it’s worth talking to an expert about the kind of high you’re looking for; things like dosage, tolerance, consumption method, and the specific plant’s chemical profile can have more of an effect on your experience.
- Sativa varieties of cannabis are usually thought to produce an uplifting, creative, and mentally focused kind of experience that’s good for depression and some kinds of pain and anxiety. For the best anxiety relief, seek a strain with a high CBD content too.
- Indica varieties of cannabis are associated with certain kinds of anxiety relief, deep relaxation, pain relief, appetite stimulation, and insomnia relief.
- In reality, the differences between the sativa and indica categories aren’t as defined most people believe — finding your perfect strain has more to do with total THC and CBD content, the bud’s terpene profile, and your individual needs.
Almost immediately upon their inception, the terms indica and sativa are used to identify cannabis plants based on the shape and size of their main leaves and the amount of fiber they produced. Today’s cultivators use them for roughly the same purpose: separating plants into indica and sativa according to their growth traits and physical makeup.