Is there actually a difference between indica vs sativa? And what’s a hybrid? Learn the most important things to look at when choosing weed, and what role indica vs sativa plays. Getting to know the differences can help make choosing your next strain a little easier.
Is this indica or sativa? It’s a question we’ve all heard or asked when smoking weed with friends. So what’s the deal? Is there actually a difference between indica vs sativa? And what’s a hybrid? All good questions we will break down for you below.
The more we learn about cannabis, the more we understand its possible effects. While everyone responds to each strain a bit differently, getting to know the differences can help make choosing your next strain a little easier.
In this article, you’ll learn the most important things to look at when choosing weed, and what role indica vs sativa plays. We’ll separate the facts from fiction so you’ll have all the details you need to find the high you’re going for.
Indica, sativa, and ruderalis are all subspecies of the same plant species, Cannabis sativa L. These terms describe the plant itself – not the effects. Consider that myth debunked.
When you were first getting into weed, you may have been told that indica strains relax you and sativa strains energize you. Some helpful ways to remember this are: “indica puts you in-da-couch” or “viva sativa”. Hybrids, a mix of the two strains, were thought to have elements of both.
While this isn’t entirely wrong, it’s definitely not right. These generalizations may have been somewhat helpful, but more recent studies are finding that the type of high you experience has far more to do with the cannabinoid and terpene profiles than anything else.
So where did these beliefs come from? It could be that some strains of sativa tend to have higher amounts of THC than CBD, while some indica strains tend to be more balanced. There are always exceptions to this over generalization. That’s why it’s much more accurate to look at CBD, THC, and terpene profile than the plant itself.
Sativa plants are taller and thinner with narrower pointed leaves that have minimal markings or patterns. They can stand over six metres in height.
They grow in warmer tropical climates with longer flowering cycles. Sativa plants enjoy humidity and can endure long periods of intense sunlight. Growing sativas takes serious skill and advanced greenhouses, especially if grown in northern climates.
Sativa plants were said to provide more of an uplifting or cerebral high, but this likely has more to do with the higher THC content in popular sativa strains than it does with the plant species itself.
Indica plants tend to be shorter, denser, and stockier with broader leaves that have a slightly marbled pattern.
They grow in cooler climates and have a shorter flowering cycle. When grown correctly, indica plants resemble a small Christmas tree with larger leaves at the bottom and narrower top.
Recreational growers are wise to start with indica plants. They have a shorter flowering period, which means that in controlled environments (indoor grow rooms) you can harvest multiple times throughout the year. Watch out for humidity though. They can get mouldy if you’re not careful.
Indica plants were said to be more physically sedating, which is why a lot of consumers would choose them before bed. We now know this has more to do with CBD, THC, and terpene levels than just the species type.
Cannabis is an extremely diverse plant. After centuries of crossbreeding, there are literally thousands of different strains, dozens of categories, and several species.
All modern cannabis plants are a hybrid in some form, either sativa or indica leaning. Hybrid plants fall somewhere in between their indica and sativa parent strains and exhibit features from both subspecies.
Most strains today are crossbred hybrids of four origins: Skunk, Kush, Diesel and Haze
If you haven’t heard about ruderalis, you’re not alone. Some researchers don’t even consider it a separate subspecies. Since we’re talking about plants, it is worth mentioning.
Ruderalis falls somewhere between sativa and indica. They don’t grow very tall, only up to four feet at their max. These tough plants thrive in poor and hostile environments. They tend to have few branches and fibrous stems. You’d find them in central and eastern Europe and Asia.
The biggest difference between sativa and indica is how ruderalis flowers. Most cannabis plants flower with the change of seasons, but since there’s not as much sun in Europe, this magician has developed an automated internal timer for flowering.
Because of this, ruderalis strains are sometimes crossbred with indica or sativa strains to improve yields.
The most obvious differences between indica vs sativa is in their physical structure and growing conditions.
* We now know their effects have more to do with THC, CBD, and terpene effects than plant-type alone.
Shopping for weed can feel overwhelming. When you walk into a dispensary and see all the different strains, choosing one can feel a little bit like rolling the dice.
At Dimes, we curate our weed choosing Canadian-grown craft whenever possible, then organize it by intent. Our goal is to make it easier to find and enjoy good weed. We also want to help educate you so you feel more in control of your cannabis experience.
In the spirit of education, let’s talk history. Cannabis is believed to have originated in Central Asia. Once travellers caught onto cannabis’ amazing qualities, the plant started making its way around the world and into new climates.
Over the years, the plants acclimatized to their new homes, evolving their physical and chemical structures. These plants became known as landrace strains.
As more time passed, people started experimenting with cross-breeding male and female plants (yes, these clever plants have genders) to create new strains. All these varieties are what we call strains today.
Because crossbreeding has happened over hundreds of years, all modern strains are hybrids. They’re either indica-dominant, sativa-dominant, or more balanced hybrids.
So how do you pick the right strain? Every strain has a unique cannabinoid and terpene profile. They’re the best indicators and what we’ll look at next.
Cannabinoids are naturally occurring compounds found in the cannabis plant. Of over 140 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, the most notorious are THC and CBD.
Cannabinoids can essentially “plug in” to your body’s endocannabinoid system, a system that regulates mood, memory, appetite, immunity, and so much more.
Studies show that THC is responsible for the more cerebral high users experience. CBD is more therapeutic. It won’t give you a head high on its own, but it does influence how your body reacts to THC.
In simple terms, the higher the THC content, the higher you’ll get. If CBD is present, it will lessen the effects of the THC. You can read “THC vs CBD – What’s The DIfference?” to learn more.
Budtender’s Tip: If you think you’ve had too much THC, you may be able to lessen its impact by using a high CBD strain.
Open your stash and take note. Do you smell citrus? Pine? Pepper? What you’re smelling are terpenes. Terpenes are aromatic hydrocarbons produced in the same glands of the cannabis plant that make cannabinoids.
Terpene research is still very green, however, we do know more than we did yesterday and the amount of research is only growing.
Think of terpenes as the flavour profile. Like aromatherapy, they can have their own therapeutic effects. Terpenes work in conjunction with cannabinoids to influence your uptake.
Because we all have unique biology, we’ll also have unique responses to cannabinoids and terpenes. That’s why two people can respond very differently to the same strain.
Here’s a fun fact. You know how some perfume smells different on different people? It’s the same with terps. Everyone responds a little differently, so while it’s helpful to take note of the terpene profile, you’ll also want to take note to your unique response.
Learn More in Cannabis 101
The “Entourage Effect” is when one chemical compound, used in combination with another, enhances the effects of the second. In other words, when used in combination, THC, CBD, and terpenes like limonene, myrcene, or linalool can enhance and alter the effects of each other.
Every cannabis strain contains a mix of different cannabinoids and terpenes that lead to the diverse experiences. With research picking up, we’re excited see how these findings will elevate recreational and medical cannabis use.
We’ll end by separating the facts from the fiction, so the next time someone asks you if you prefer indica or sativa, you can set the record straight.
FICTION: Indicas are sedative. Sativas are stimulating.
FACT: The terms indica and sativa actually refer to the plant biology, not the effects.
FICTION: There are pure indica, pure sativa, and pure hybrid strains.
FACT: Due to years of cross breeding, all modern strains are hybrids. They can be indica-dominant or sativa-dominant. Hybrids are more balanced.
FICTION: All sativa strains are high in THC.
FACT: While you can find sativas high in THC, you can also find sativas low in THC and high in CBD. Thanks to years of crossbreeding, every strain is truly unique.
FICTION: All indica strains are high in CBD.
FACT: While you can find indicas high in CBD, you can also find indicas low in CBD and high in THC. Every strain will have different effects. That’s why we look at cannabinoids and terps.
FICTION: Indica strains have more therapeutic properties.
FACT: Indica, sativa, and hybrid strains all have therapeutic properties. The plant biology doesn’t determine these qualities. This has more to do with terpene profile and CBD and THC content.
So what did we learn? We learned that indica and sativa refer to plant types, not the effects you’ll experience. We learned that it’s actually more helpful to look at the THC and CBD ratios and terpene profiles when shopping for bud.
We learned that THC, CBD, and terpenes when taken together result in “the entourage effect”. Each chemical compound impacts the other – and this influences the type of high you’ll experience.
We also learned that because our biology is unique, we can each respond a little differently to certain strains. While we categorize our weed by intent and the common effects, it’s a good idea to make note of your experiences. To do that, we love Gold Leaf’s journals, especially the Cannabis Taster.
Have more questions about Sativa vs Indica?
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