Misunderstood terminology still dominates the marketplace
Anyone that’s come into contact with the world of cannabis and hemp has likely come across the terms indica and sativa, but what do they mean? And which one will be better for you?
You might be surprised to learn that the terms indica and sativa originally described where a particular species of cannabis came from. More recently, however, they’ve been adopted to indicate whether a particular flower will impart a relaxing, sedating high (indica) or a more energizing and creative high (sativa).
In this article we’re going to explain the main differences between indica and sativa weed, tackling both how these terms are most commonly used in today’s market, as well as what they mean in history and cultivation.
First up, let’s take a look at how most of us use the terms indica, sativa, and hybrid, these days…
Indica vs sativa: Commonly used to describe effects
When you buy cannabis flower, whether it’s from the dispensary or an online hemp flower vendor, you’ll notice that you usually have a choice between three main types of weed; indica, sativa, and hybrid.
In fact, quite often, the only information you’ll be given about a particular strain is the price, the weight, the cannabinoid content (%THC or %CBD), and the type (indica, sativa, or hybrid).
So, it’s pretty important to know what these words mean as they’re used to communicate what effects you might expect from a strain.
What is indica weed?
Indica strains of cannabis are best known for their relaxing, sedative effects on the body and mind. They are often used for medicinal purposes, particularly for their ability to help with pain relief, insomnia, and anxiety.
Popular indica strains include Granddaddy Purple, Cali Gold, Northern Lights, and Bubba Kush.
What is sativa weed?
Sativa strains of cannabis are known for their energizing and uplifting effects on the body and mind, inspiring creativity and focus. Sativa strains are also used for medicinal purposes, particularly for their ability to help with depression, fatigue, and mood disorders.
Popular sativa strains include Sour Diesel, Hawaiian Haze, Jack Herer, Green Crack, and Pink Panther.
What is hybrid weed?
Hybrid weed is exactly what you’d expect it to be, a cannabis strain that is created by crossbreeding two or more different strains of cannabis, typically indica and sativa strains.
The goal of hybridization is to create a new strain that combines desirable traits of both parent strains, such as the uplifting effects of sativa and the relaxation and pain relief of indica.
Hybrid strains can vary widely in their effects, depending on the specific genetics of the parent strains. Some hybrid strains may be sativa-dominant, with a more energetic and cerebral high, while others may be indica-dominant, with a more relaxing and sedative effect. Some hybrid strains are perfectly balanced, offering a combination of both sativa and indica effects.
Hybrid strains are also often used for medicinal purposes, and can be particularly helpful for patients seeking a specific combination of effects to address their symptoms.
Popular hybrid strains include Blue Dream, Girl Scout Cookies, and OG Kush.
Sativa vs indica chart (cheat sheet)
What dictates the effects of weed?
A plant’s unique flavor and psychoactive intricacy is attributed to the numerous chemicals it contains, which includes well over 100 cannabinoids (THC, CBD, CBG, etc), as well as the compounds that are responsible for its aroma. These fragrant compounds are collectively referred to as terpenes and flavonoids.
Terpenes and flavonoids are present in both sativa and indica plants, as well throughout nature in the essential oils of plants, fruits, and vegetables.
For example, a 2011 study showed that:
- Indica weed is more likely to contain very high concentrations of β-myrcene (also found in hops), with limonene or a-pinene often coming in as the second most abundant terpene present.
- Weed that is described as sativa will usually contain a more complex combination of terpenes. Sativa samples were found to feature dominant terpenoids such as a-terpinolene or a-pinene (both are known to elicit more energizing effects than myrcene).
- There were also some sativa strains that featured β-myrcene as their most abundant terpene (but not in such large amounts as found in indica strains) with secondary terpenoids such as a-terpinolene or trans-β-ocimene.
You can learn more about the 13 primary terpenes found in cannabis and hemp here.
By looking at the unique cannabinoid and terpene profile of a particular plant, you can understand a lot more about how it might affect you. This is why our favorite hemp flower vendors pay extra to have a terpene analysis carried out on each strain they sell, on top of a potency test which verifies the plant’s cannabinoid profile.
For the best CBD hemp flower with detailed terpene analyses on each strain, check out Green Unicorn Farms.
For the best THCa flower, and lab reports that verify potent cannabinoid and terpene profiles, check out Arete Hemp.
The taxonomy of indica and sativa
In the mid-18th century, the renowned Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus was the first to classify psychoactive cannabis plants as cannabis sativa. Later, in his studies of cannabis plants in India, a French biologist named Jean-Baptiste Lamarck identified cannabis indica as a separate species, less than fifty years after Linnaeus’ initial classification.
Lamarck noticed that cannabis plants in India were physically different from cannabis sativa plants and then a third classification of cannabis plants, cannabis ruderalis, was identified in the early 20th century when Russian botanist Dmitrij Janischewsky identified a unique flowering trait in ruderalis plants that made them stand out from indica and sativa plants.
Indica plants are typically shorter and bushier than Sativa plants, with wider leaves and a shorter flowering time. They are often grown indoors due to their smaller stature and are known for producing high yields of resinous, potent buds.
Sativa plants are typically taller and thinner than Indica plants, with narrow leaves and a longer flowering time. They are often grown outdoors due to their larger size and are typically known for producing lower yields of buds
Ruderalis plants begin to flower, automatically, within 20-40 days of sprouting, whereas both sativa and indica plants begin to flower as a result of the amount of light available at a certain time of year.
Strains vs chemovars
And while we’re at it… Another example of misused terminology in the cannabis world lies in the fact that many of us (me included) refer to different cannabis species as strains instead of chemovars.
The word “strains” is more commonly used to describe different types of bacteria and viruses. The word “chemovar” more specifically defines the breakdown of a plant species, according to its chemical make-up.
Redefining cannabis into types
As the cannabis industry continues to evolve, more and more people who work in the industry, including cultivators and breeders, are now classifying different cannabis chemovars into one of five different “types”.
Type I – high concentration of THC
Type II – combination of THC and CBD
Type III – high concentration CBD
Type IV – high concentration of CBG
Type V – low in all cannabinoids
I’m curious to see how many of these types exist in a few years, as breeding specialists master how to encourage other minor cannabinoids to be expressed more dominantly in cannabis and hemp plants (there are over 140 cannabinoids after all!).
Indica vs sativa vs hybrid: Which should you choose?
Choosing between an indica, sativa, and hybrid strain of cannabis or hemp really comes down to personal preference, much like choosing your favorite flavor milkshake. Some people are going to go with chocolate (or strawberry) every time, whereas some people like to switch it up a bit and experiment with different flavors and even different stores.
You could read hundreds of articles on what chemovars you might like best, but you won’t really know which will end up being your favorites until you try them (they say the proof is in the pudding).
For example, I always thought that, given the choice, I would prefer a cerebral high (sativa), but as it turns out, I actually prefer more indica-leaning strains. With sativa, I tend to live in my head too much and overthink things, when what I really want is to switch off and relax.
Your best bet is to find a vendor that offers discounted bundles, giving you the opportunity to try out several different strains at a lower price, or find a vendor that sells by the gram so you can buy a gram of each and see how you go.