Indica vs Sativa: What's The Difference?

Indica vs Sativa strains, which form of marijuana is best suited for you? What about Hybrid strains? We cover it all in this article.

We note that the subject contained in this article represents illegal activity in certain jurisdictions. Whilst we do not condone any acts which are contrary to any such laws, we understand that readers in those jurisdictions which have decriminalized cannabis may find this article of interest.

If you're new to cannabis, it's likely that you'll find yourself asking this question at some point: Indica vs Sativa – which is best?

To complicate things even further, if you do a little bit more research you may find yourself asking, Indica vs Sativa vs Hybrid, which is best?

For every cannabis consumer, it's important to know the basics of the plant, so that you can better navigate your way through the increasing range of cannabis products and find something that best suits your needs.

There's THC, CBD, terpenes, cannabinoids, the strain, and of course, whether the plant is an Indica, a Sativa, or a hybrid. There's a lot to learn when it comes to cannabis, so let's start by learning about the differences between Indica and Sativa.

Indica vs Sativa Chart

Indica vs Sativa

The easiest way to distinguish between Indica and Sativa plants is that Indica plants are often shorter, and broader than their tall, slender Sativa counterparts. Though of course, size isn't everything. Most people want cannabis for the experience – not the aesthetic – and will choose their product based on how they want to feel after consuming it.

According to the unofficial torchbearer for all things cannabis, Snoop Dogg, he suggested beginners should "try Sativa, because its a little lighter and it's more introductory."

In layman's terms, the differences between Indica and Sativa are often explained as follows:

Indica plants are said to be heavier, more "down" and often more relaxing. People associate Indica plants with "couch-lock" or a "body high," and often recommend this cannabis species as a nightcap.

Sativa, on the other hand, is described as being lighter, more "up" and provides users with more energy. People associate Sativa plants with enhanced creativity and say that this type of cannabis provides users with a "head high."

The origins of the schism between Indica and Sativa are said to have arisen in 1753, when a Swedish botanist named Carl Linnaeus first identified cannabis and named it Cannabis Sativa.

These findings were built upon 30 years later in 1785 by a French biologist named Jean-Baptiste Lamarck who observed a different cannabis plant that was darker with wider leaves than Cannabis Sativa. Lamarck named this new plant Cannabis Indica, and thus the two species were discovered.

Many of the differences among the plants are said to be due to different growing conditions says SensiSeeds, a cannabis information website, who explains that "most Indica varieties come from central Asia and the Indian subcontinent – Afghanistan, Pakistan, northern India, Tibet, and Nepal."

Meanwhile, "Sativas generally originate in the equatorial regions – Thailand, southern India, Jamaica, Mexico, and so forth."

Though some experts argue that the distinction between Indica and Sativa plants is much murkier than budtenders make it out to be, and may not be a distinction worth paying attention to at all.

Sativa Strains

If you're looking for a marijuana strain that won't knock you out for several hours, you might be better off looking for a Sativa strain. Sativa strains are reported to be more uplifting, euphoric and cerebral, aiding with creative projects and thinking in unique ways.

Here's a list of some prominent Sativa strains to get you going.

Candyland: Candyland (aka Kandyland) is a sativa-dominant hybrid strain created by the Bay Area breeder known as Ken Estes. This particular breeder was part of the team that bred the original Grandaddy Purple strain, which has since been cross-bred with the Bay Platinum Cookies strain to create Candyland.

Tangie: Tangie is a sativa-dominant hybrid strain created by DNA Genetics. It is a cross between California Orange and an unknown Skunk hybrid strain. Tangie is inspired by Tangerine Dream, a popular Dutch strain in the '90s, and is considered a remake.

Bruce Banner: Bruce Banner is a sativa-leaning hybrid strain bred by Dark Horse Genetics. It is a cross between two popular hybrid strains in Strawberry Diesel and OG Kush. Named after the alter ego of the Incredible Hulk, this strain has more in common with the superhero than just green colouring.

Indica Strains

Indica strains are reported to be more sedative and relaxing, which is perfect after a night out, or after a workout. But of course, it's important to know which marijuana strains to look out for so that you can achieve the desired result.

As such, here is a list of some of the top Indica strains for users looking to mellow out, wind down and watch a movie.

Zkittlez: Zkittlez is an indica-dominant hybrid strain created by 3rd Gen Family and Terp Hogz. It is a cross between two fruity strains in Grape Ape and Grapefruit, with these genetics contributing heavily to Zkittlez aroma and flavour. 

Super Glue: Super Glue is an Indica-leaning hybrid strain created by Seedism Seeds. It is created by a combination of the Northern Lights strain and the Afghani landrace strain. This powerful genetic combination means that Super Glue has inherited strong Indica effects that provide deep relaxation.

Northern Lights: Northern Lights is a legendary Indica strain that descends from indigenous Afghani and Thai landrace strains. While the exact origins of this strain remain a mystery, it is believed that it first propagated in Seattle, Washington before being cultivated and sold from the Netherlands in 1985 at what is now known as Sensi Seeds.

Indica vs Sativa

Indica vs Sativa vs Hybrid

While it's a very common question for cannabis consumers to ask whether they should purchase an Indica or a Sativa strain, the distinction doesn't need to be as cut-and-dry. In fact, that's precisely why the rise of hybrid strains has occurred.

As the name suggests, a hybrid strain refers to a combination of an Indica strain with a Sativa strain, which elicits a mixture of both Sativa's and Indica's effects. The effects of a hybrid are determined by the genetics it has inherited from its parent strains in a process called cross-breeding. These hybrids are bred to either enhance a specific effect or to provide a more balanced combination of effects.

These strains originally started cropping up on the West Coast of the USA, as breeders attempted to increase the quality of their plants by hybridizing them with other varieties. Not just combined for their effects, cannabis breeders also create hybrids to purify and strengthen strains, or to enhance certain features like yield percentage, aroma, and potency. 

Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid: Is it Important?

Despite the popularity of Sativa and Indica strains and the growing prevalence of Hybrid strains, some critics argue that the distinction between these categories is actually rather meaningless.

In an interview with Leafly, Ethan Russo, neurologist, psychopharmacology researcher, and former Senior Medical Advisor to GW Pharmaceuticals stated that "the way that the Sativa and Indica labels are utilized in commerce is nonsense."

Russo went on to say that "the clinical effects of the cannabis chemovar have nothing to do with whether the plant is tall and sparse vs. short and bushy, or whether the leaflets are narrow or broad."

In fact, a study published in 2015 looked into this very subject and used 81 samples of weed from various distributors, each labeled either Indica and Sativa. The goal was to see what the concrete differences were between the plants, however, the study revealed that the labels Indica and Sativa didn't correspond with meaningful genetic differences.

As such, users may be better off simply considering every strain to be a form of hybrid strain.

Instead, what many people argue is that plants should instead be categorized based on their THC content, CBD levels, and the various terpenes within them.

The Real Stem of Difference

While you might seem like a cannabis veteran by knowing the commonly perceived differences between Indica and Sativa, many argue that a better metric for consumers would be to look at the different cannabinoid and terpene compositions within the plant, as these factors will give users far greater insight into the effects of that particular plant.

If you're new to cannabis, I know what you're thinking. Great, I've got to learn a whole new lexicon of cannabis terminology. Well…pretty much.

However, it's important for cannabis users, especially those that are newer to consuming the plant, to know what effects their consumed product will provide.

So let's run through what are important factors to look at when choosing a cannabis product.

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the active compound in cannabis that gets users high. The more THC, the higher you get.

Typically, you can expect your average cannabis plant to contain anywhere between 15-30%. According to Jonathan Page from the University of British Columbia, the average amount of THC in Colorado weed is 18.7%. If you're new to the plant, or anxiety-prone, don't look for Indica or Sativa, go for a low THC strain.

You've then got CBD (Cannabidiol.) CBD can be derived from hemp plants and doesn't cause users to get high upon consumption.

CBD is often used in medicines, for this reason, allowing users to treat their epilepsy, chronic pain, or inflammation using pure CBD without the intoxication of THC.

Typical marijuana plants will only have 1-4% CBD, though many users look for higher CBD amounts to maximize the entourage effect of the plant, which is said to induce a fuller experience.

Lastly, there's Terpenes. Estimates suggest that there are over 100 terpenes to be found in the cannabis plant. Terpenes are what give cannabis its unique smell, and each terpene is said to induce a unique experience in users.

Some terpenes enhance your mood, others boost your energy. From OG Kush to Pineapple Express, most veteran consumers of cannabis have a strain close to their heart – and a lot of this favoritism is owed to terpenes.

You've got the terpene Linalool, which helps with reducing anxiety, or there's Pinene, which helps with inflammation and memory loss.

And this isn't even going into THCA or CBN or any of the other cannabis compounds which add together to provide the unique experiences we know and love about cannabis.

So next time your budtender asks you if you want Indica or Sativa, know that these aren't the only two factors to consider when choosing your cannabis, and in fact, may not be much of a factor at all.

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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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