Indica vs Sativa - Everything You Need to Know & More!
When chatting with cannabis connoisseurs they are always talking about indicas and sativas, among other things. The discussion most likely will touch on indica vs. sativa, the ratios between indicas and sativas, their dominance or balance, their opposing, similar and sometimes surprising effects, and hybrids. If you’re new to the club (welcome), you probably want some insight into what these two categories mean so you can contribute to the discussion. You might also be wondering how so many strains can differ when only categorized by three types: indica vs. sativa vs. hybrid. I mean, how many strains are there? Probably millions. It depends on how technical you want to get with justifying breeds, and, technically, breeding can be infinite. If you’re a veteran but still have questions, don’t worry - we all have them! You’ve come to the right place to find out what are indicas and sativas exactly, what are the best sativa strains, the best indica strains, the most popular sativa strains and the most popular indica strains - among growing indica and sativa strains and how to identify marijuana strains. It’s all up next, scroll down.
Sativa vs. Indica comparisons in a nutshell, photo: @four20activist
Glad you asked. Sativa is the feminized Latin word for cultivated seed-grown crops. A man in Europe came to identify hemp plants as Cannabis sativa, and so they continued to be called sativa - even though today we classify hemp as hemp and the cannabis that grows from this certain species in Europe as sativa.
So, what does "sativa" mean?
Ok, so the word just came up to classify Cannabis as a cultivated crop. But how did it remain in the vernacular to rival the so-called indica and become known as the “day time” high? Good question. It seems that the word has digressed and morphed from its original meaning, probably from misinterpretations, mistranslations and misunderstandings - like a lot of English words today.
Sativa has evolved to describe a tall, narrow and thin-leafed psychoactive cannabis plant that typically has uplifting and energizing effects. It was probably a simplified way of discerning two types of cannabis that looked very different: one tree-like sativa, and one bush-like indica weed. This was necessary because originally the sativa we know today was really classified as an indica ssp. indica. This compared to the indicas we know today, originally known as indica ssp. afghanica. You can see how this could cause confusion.
Got it. Then what does "indica" mean?On the other side of the EurAsia continent in India, the Cannabis indica plant was founded and named. Indica is Greek meaning “of India” - so, basically naming this plant Cannabis of India. This phenotype was known for its psychoactive properties, hemp fiber, edible seeds and hashish product.
Indica today is similar to its heritage roots. It is identifiable by its short size producing a lot of leaves where its bud has a sedative effect, or more commonly known as “couch-lock” (which you will hear a lot among indica reviews).
Then a "hybrid" must be mixing indica and sativa?Exactly. Many varieties of cannabis are hybrids because pure strains are hard to come by. It’s kind of like heritage in America. Unless you are full Native American, your heritage is a mix of European, African, Asian, etc, etc. Or, a hybrid of nationalities. Within this category, cannabis strains will fall into three more categories: indica hybrid dominant, sativa hybrid dominant and a well balanced indica to sativa ratio.
We could probably classify cannabis much more accurately with an enhanced classification that breaks down the many cannabis strains by genetics, heritage and effects, for example. This would be more precise than the two primary categories of indica and sativa, and the hybrid category. But, alas, it makes it very convenient for beginners to start off with the classic indica vs. sativa knowledge. Once you have the basics down, you will want to start clarifying your indica, sativa or hybrid strains by cannabinoid profiles, terpenes, and effects.
The main takeaway is that indica and sativa doesn’t really identify effects
The simplified breakdown of a sativa vs. indica high is as follows, but not always accurate:
- Sativa (usually) = uplifting, energetic, invigorative, creative and productive.
- Indica (usually) = sedative, paranoid, clumsy, lazy and sleepy.
Though it is probably a safe bet to say that most indicas are sedative and most sativas are uplifting, it is not always true. This is why it is important to note the misinterpreted sativa name that had evolved in our culture to equate to the tall and sparse cannabis plant.
How can you determine the difference in effects if not by indica or sativa?Now you are asking the right questions. By understanding the basics of some complex cannabis jargon, you can determine which strains will be best for you and your moods or desired high. You will also be able to chat with the big league tokers. Each strain has a lineage, parent strains; a cannabinoid profile, the strength of the psychoactive effect in relation to other components of the plant; and terpenes, the taste, and aromas that have a relation with certain effects.
LineageThe lineage of the bud is its two (sometimes three) parents. Then, of course, those parents have parents, and so on, unless bred by a landrace. The newer strains who have a very long and complicated lineage are usually referred to as dankenstein strains - a tribute to Frankenstein, a mad scientist experiment. Knowing all about the parent strains can help you to understand what might be going on in its baby strain.
The cannabinoid profile is important. However, most people get hung up on the THC content, and sometimes now the CBD content. Though, it is very important to know that there are thousands of other cannabinoids that affect the bud. Many people tend to believe that indica is high in THC and that is what causes couch-lock, however, this is not true. CBN is the cannabinoid that derives from THC and makes you sleepy. So you see, you need to understand your cannabinoid profiles a little better to discern the actual effects. Ask you local bud tender for some help on this one!
TerpenesThese are what make the bud smell and taste good. There are six main terpenes listed here but also check out the terpene wheel photo below.
- Limonene - citrusy, lemon or orange
- Humulene - forest wood, wet wood, earthy, shroomy
- Pinene - pine, sharp pungent but sweet, diesel
- Linalool - floral, herbaceous, lavender
- Caryophyllene - pepper, dry wood, curry spices
- Myrcene - baking spices, musk, mango
The Terpene Wheel spins ‘round and ‘round! Photo: @green_botanics
Cannabis slaps - gotta collect ‘em all! Photo: @peace_love_for_earth
Effects: sativa vs indica vs hybridAs mentioned earlier, sativa and indica are shallow terms to loosely categorize strains into “daytime” and “nighttime” highs. Before cannabis breeding and cultivating became so sophisticated, this was an accurate way of determining and selling product, and especially to newer users. Typically, a sativa is known for its uplifting, awakening, and energetic effects combined with a relaxed feeling. Indicas were deemed the darker of the two, known for its paranoia and anxiety effects. But indicas are also categorized as more medicinal, inducing sleep, relaxation and relieving pain.
SativaAs you know now, sativa was originally the name to describe hemp plants, or, as it is more commonly known, CBD. High CBD sativa plants are gaining more and more popularity, especially in the medical community but also professionally. More and more business professionals find that high CBD sativa gives them the calm and relaxation to take on the day (and even creativity) but not the psychoactive properties of sativa THC. In the industry, however, sativa strains are known as uplifting and energetic. Sometimes known as a sativa high or daytime strain, sativas are usually identifiable by their distinct sativa leaf - thin, narrow - looking like creepy green fingers.
Sativa highs and best sativa strainsThe best sativa strains continue to be the most popular -- the oldies but goodies. These sativas are true to their industry sativa high stereotype: uplifting, happy and chilled. The difference between a sativa vs indica high within industry terms is essential that indicas are usually meant to put you to sleep and have paranoia effects whereas sativas can be enjoyed lightly throughout the day. This is probably a general concept in order to guide newbies in the right direction based on these simple definitions.
Some of the best sativa strains are these 5 - enjoy:
- Golden Goat
- Blue Dream
- Durban Poison
- Sour Diesel
- Super Silver Haze
IndicaAs you now know from history, indica was the name to describe the cannabis plants coming from India. These original landrace strains had all the stereotypical indica traits: trance-like, sedative, couch-lock and slight paranoia. Many in India still use cannabis as a religious experience, especially on the Holi Festival to connect with their God, Shiva. It has euphoric and even creative aspects that uplift the praisers of this sexual God. It is used to practice Kama Sutra and to be better relaxed and focused while practicing meditation too.
More indica effects
The best pure indica is used for insomnia while sativa or indica for parkinson’s is quite useful. Mostly, tokers rely on pure indica strains like Grand Daddy Purple or Afghani Kush as the best strains for relief of pain and anxiety. Some indicas, however, are purely euphoric, articulate, help induce creative thinking, and focus your mind. You can go to your local dispensary and ask your budtender for one of these to try.
HybridsHybrids nowadays are many. Especially with a huge surge in crossbreeding, most strains you smoke are going to be a hybrid. You can identify the hybrids as more sativa-like or more indica-like but in general you should just try them! Many tokers enjoy an equal balance of sativa and indica because, they say, you get the best of both worlds.
Be aware that you might hear people throw around the term “mid weed strain” which is not to be confused with hybrids. Mid weed strains have come to be known as middle grade weed - not bad, but not the best.
How to identify marijuana strainsYou can really only identify the strains by their plant shape and leaves. Some experts claim to be able to tell the difference between the buds, by their shape and smell. There are definitely some distinct characteristics that can help, like density and terpenes, but it doesn’t always work.
Whether you're growing a sativa or indica plant you'll find the process to be similar. What you'll need advice on are the particular strains and their needs: some are more difficult than others. There are a lot of strong and hardy strains that yield high for beginner growers. Two would be Purple Dream or Superglue.
How to crossbreed weed
Crossbreeding sounds difficult, but it isn’t anything more than a careful craft. You might want to learn from an expert or watch a video on crossbreeding. Essentially, you need to cross the two different strains’ seeds to come up with a new breed. Practice, practice, practice.
Flowering TimesOne difference that might help make your mind up about growing between sativa and indica are flowering times. Sativa flowering times are much longer than indicas. This makes indicas faster to grow and you could potentially get a higher yield.
Indicas can flower typically anytime between 45-60 days.Sativas flower typically anywhere between 60-90 days.
In SummaryThe takeaway here is that cannabis strains and varieties are complex and technically should be broken out into more categories than simply sativa vs. indica vs. hybrid. The terms of sativa and indica were originally used as botanical names that were then construed to be understood today as a shallow description of the plant type and a generalized label to determine between a “daytime” or “nighttime” high, which is also not entirely accurate. Today’s usage of indica and sativa is mainly used for marketing product and if you really want to understand a strain, its high effects, and chemical components, you have to start studying lineage, cannabinoid profiles, and terpenes.
Have thoughts or questions you want to share with us? Drop them into the comments below!
Written by Megan Medeiros (BA)
Megan Medeiros has a bachelor’s degree in English and is currently working on a master’s in English at James Madison University. She's the owner and operator of Medeiros Writing, and has been working as a cannabis writer for the past three years, mostly following the legal climate of marijuana, especially in areas like California, Colorado, Oregon, Canada, and other legal areas.
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