Cannabis Sativa Vs Indica: Is There a Difference?
The world of cannabis and marijuana has a lot more going on than you might think. Before you consume cannabis, you’ll have to make a few decisions. Do you want to smoke it or vape it? Eat it or dab it? What kind of strain do you want to try? What terpene blend works best for you?
Luckily, there are many categories of cannabis and cannabis products that can help you narrow your choices down. When shopping for dry flower, you will most likely come across two categories: sativa and indica.
Is there a difference between these two types of marijuana? Yes. Should this have an impact on what type of marijuana you try to smoke, vape, or dab? Yes and no. Learn more about the differences between cannabis indica and cannabis sativa and how they influence your cannabis experience.
Sativa and Indica: Two Species of Cannabis
Before you learn what sativas and indicas are, you should know the difference between cannabis and marijuana. Cannabis is a genus – which means it’s a category of plant that contains multiple species.
Under the umbrella are two species: cannabis indica and cannabis sativa. Like the two species of Puma (panthers and cougars,) the two species of cannabis have some different qualities but have more similarities between them.
Cannabis Vs. Marijuana
Where do the terms “marijuana” and “weed” play into the classification of cannabis?
Marijuana is a type of cannabis that contains at least .3% THC. (THC is the stuff that gets you high.) Hemp is also a form of cannabis, but contains less than .3% THC. Hemp, however, is still classified as cannabis sativa or cannabis indica.
The Third Species of Cannabis
There is another species of cannabis, but it’s not very popular. Cannabis ruderalis is a third species of cannabis that produces a low amount of THC. The leaves of cannabis ruderalis look almost like a combination of cannabis sativa and cannabis indica, but it is it’s own species.
There is little demand for cannabis ruderalis on the market due to its low THC content, so not many marijuana enthusiasts grow or smoke this species.
What About Hybrids?
When shopping for cannabis, you might come across a third category of strains: hybrids. These aren’t cannabis ruderalis. They are a mix of cannabis indica and cannabis sativa plants.
Throughout the years, growers have experimented with mixing the genes of different strains of cannabis. Maybe they wanted to create a strain with a more citrusy flavour. Or produce a strain with a higher THC content. The result is usually a hybrid that contains the genes and characteristics of both sativas and indicas.
Depending on the strain, a hybrid may produce effects that more closely resemble a sativa or indica. (More on those effects later.) Blue Dream, OG Kush, Gorilla Glue #4, and a long list of other popular marijuana strains are all hybrids.
Physical Appearance of Sativa and Indica Plants
So what is it that distinguishes cannabis sativa from cannabis indica?
These two species of plant grew in different parts of the world. During that time, they adapted their appearance so they would thrive more successfully in their climates.
Even though most marijuana growers control the conditions of their grow rooms or cannabis farms, these characteristics are still the easiest way to tell the difference between cannabis indica and cannabis sativa.
Cannabis sativa is native to eastern Asia, Mexico, and Colombia. They adapted to grow in an equatorial climate’s long, sunny days and hot climates. The stems of the cannabis sativa plant continued to grow taller and taller – some plants can reach 12 feet high! (Some provinces in Canada have restrictions on how high you can grow cannabis plants on private property.)
The leaves on cannabis sativa plants are generally very long and skinny. This allows for more air to move through the plant, which is especially important in humid conditions. The flowers are more spread apart and grow throughout the entire stem of the plant, rather than just straight out of the nodes.
Sativa leaves also tend to be a lighter green than the cannabis indica plants.
While cannabis sativa was growing in eastern Asia and Latin America, cannabis indica made its home in the Middle East. The dry climate provided little sunlight. As a result, cannabis indica grew lower to the ground and in thick, sturdy bushes.
You won’t see a cannabis indica plant grow taller than about six feet. That’s half the height of a sativa plant – but that doesn’t mean it produces less weed. Cannabis indica plants tend to be more dense than cannabis sativa plants, and they often have darker leaves.
Physical and Mental Effects
The physical look of different cannabis plants is often more important to growers than to the casual consumer. When medical patients or smokers hit up their dispensary for a sativa or indica, they are looking for a specific effect.
Effects of Sativas
Physically, sativas are more likely to affect the mind before the body. This “head high” keeps you moving at work or pursuing different creative projects. Many people opt for a sativa if they want to “wake and bake” or take a few puffs throughout the day to lift their spirits.
Sativas are also well-known for their ability to bring on “the munchies.” You know, the munchies. After a few puffs you’ll be chilling out watching TV – only to realize that you ate an entire family-sized bag of chips.
Once you realize that you ate the whole bag of chips, you’ll probably just burst out into a giggle fit. Sativas make you feel pretty nice.
For this reason, sativas are great for people who want an appetite stimulant or a greater degree of focus during the day. Patients with depression or PTSD also tend to reach for sativas when they do their strain shopping.
Effects of Indicas
You’ll feel pretty nice after a few puffs of cannabis indica, but it’s a different kind of nice. If you prefer to roll up a joint before bed, consider trying an indica first.
Indicas produce more of a “body high” than a head high. Sure, you’ll still feel calmer than you did before you smoked a joint, but you’ll be more likely to notice how heavy your body feels. Indicas feel like a weighted blanket. You won’t want to move anywhere after a few puffs.
If you’ve ever heard of someone getting “couch-lock” from weed, they were probably smoking an indica.
While sativas get you “high,” indicas will get you “stoned.” They send you off into dreamland – which is why many insomniacs swear by their favourite indica strain. Patients with chronic pain are also likely to reach for an indica. Whether the pain comes from inflammation, side effects of treatment for cancer, or migraines, indicas will help to provide pain relief and make the body feel at ease.
What about hybrids? Well, it will depend on the genetic make-up of the strain. Descriptions of individual hybrid strains are likely to tell you whether a strain is 80/20 indica/sativa, 50/50, 60/40, etc. Talk to your local budtender or use a cannabis wheel to learn more about each individual strain on the market.
Which Has More THC: Sativas or Indicas?
For years, cannabis consumers have been told that indicas are more likely to be high in THC. (THC is the stuff that gets you high.) That is not always the case.
The levels of THC in your joint will depend primarily on the strain itself and the grower behind it. Some strains are bred to be extra high in THC. Others are bred to have high CBD levels and low THC levels. The actual amount of THC in your weed may vary from dispensary to dispensary.
Want to know how much THC is in each joint? Check the labels you receive with your purchase. Different growers produce strains with different levels of THC. It’s not uncommon to see an indica that has between 14-20% THC or sativas that reach up to 25% THC. Read labels and reviews carefully before making a purchase. If you’re not sure how much THC is in your weed, take it easy.
The Science May Prove Different
THC levels are not the only old wives tale that exist about marijuana. Some scientists are suggesting that the categorization of sativas, indicas, and hybrids aren’t as accurate as they seem.
Or at least, the differences between the effects of an indica vs. sativa aren’t so drastic. A few studies have been done comparing the two types of marijuana, and the results have shown that not everyone feels perky from every single sativa or gets heavy couch-lock just because they’re smoking an indica.
The studies done on sativas vs. indicas have been small, and the researchers acknowledge that classifying strains based on being a sativa or indica is the best that we’ve got. But just know that as more research goes into the chemical make-up of different strains, you could see different ways to organise and sell weed.
Most Popular Sativas and Indicas
Narrowing down your choices to sativas and indicas doesn’t leave you with a small list of options. There are dozens of sativas and indicas to choose from! If you’re feeling overwhelmed, here is where to start:
Most Popular Sativas
This isn’t just a classic sativa – it’s a classic strain of marijuana that purists love to keep nearby. Acapulco Gold originates from Acapulco, Mexico. It has a sweet and slightly spicy taste that is great for any time of day. Patients with chronic pain and consumers who want a creative boost alike love this strain.
This strain gets its name from its smell. Luckily, the diesel, pungent scent won’t make you feel sour. A few puffs of this will have you walking on air. Sour Diesel is a great strain for times of high stress or for patients with depression.
You know when you unpeel a citrus fruit and immediately feel better? You’ll get the same effect from this tropical sativa. Maui Wowie is a sweet and tasty strain that will give you the giggles. Pack this into your bowl and you’ll feel better than you did on your last tropical vacation.
Most Popular Indicas
Northern Lights is a great first indica. It won’t knock you on your butt, but it will help drift you into sleep and relieve many types of chronic pain. This is a great strain that will still put a smile on your face but won’t give you a boost of energy or creativity. We love putting Northern Lights in tea – the earthy, minty flavours go well with many herbal teas.
Any time you see the word “Kush” in a strain name, you can assume it’s cannabis indica or a hybrid that contains cannabis indica genes. Whether you like a cup of coffee or a sweet dessert after your dinner, Bubba Kush will complement your evening treat. Just don’t keep too much chocolate nearby – this indica tends to stimulate an appetite. Once you’ve had your fill, Bubba Kush will send you right off to bed.
Prefer a fruitier kush? Grab the popular PK. Within a few puffs, your anxiety will disappear. Giggle yourself to sleep with this earthy and berry-flavoured strain. It’s cosy, comforting, and will help you get to sleep at night. What more could you want from an indica?
Experiment and Play with Different Strains
The best way to know what strains are best for you is to keep an open mind and play around with your options. Don’t limit yourself to just sativas or indicas. A few puffs of one strain may give you major food cravings – but not affect your best friend. Certain hybrids may boost your mood – until you’ve had too much.
Try sativas, indicas, and hybrids. Mix and match your options. Use the differences between sativas and indicas as guidelines, but don’t be afraid to “break the rules” if it works better for you.