Indica vs Sativa With more than 1,000 strains of cannabis having been bred during the past several decades, it is critical that patients are aware of the different types of efficacy available to Find out what is the difference is: Indica vs Sativa cannabis plants even though legally and scientifically they are all Cannabis Sativa L. How to tell the difference between Indica and Sativa in matters of appearance, size, effect and flower time? ?
Indica vs Sativa
With more than 1,000 strains of cannabis having been bred during the past several decades, it is critical that patients are aware of the different types of efficacy available to them in terms of cannabis medicine. Some varieties of cannabis are most appropriate for particular diseases and ailments, but not others. Choosing the right strain is critical to ensuring that patients receive the best therapy possible.
Cannabis is a species of flowering herb that is split into three subspecies: Indica, sativa, and ruderalis. Ruderalis plants are small and yield relatively little medicine; what they do provide lacks potency and is generally not appealing to patients. Because of this, ruderalis strains are typically avoided by breeders and cultivators; the focus of the medical cannabis community is on indica and sativa strains.
Indica and sativa plants differ not only in their physiological effects, but also in their appearance. Indica plants are short and stocky, featuring leaves that are broad and “chunky.” Sativa plants tend to be taller and skinnier and may even be lanky in appearance, with leaves that are thin and pointed.
The most important difference between these two subspecies of cannabis, however, is in their medical effects and how they influence energy levels and productivity. Indicas tend to decrease energy and are better for consumption in the evening or at night, after the conclusion of the day’s work and activities. Potent indica strains may give some patients what is called “couchlock,” a condition in which they become so relaxed that they care barely get up from the sofa.
Sativas, on the other hand, are uplifting and cerebral, enhancing creativity and productivity. Indicas provide what has been called a “body high,” while sativas deliver more of a “mind high.” Unfortunately, sativa plants require longer to grow and yield less medicine (flowers) than indica varieties. This is why indica strains have traditionally dominated those available on the black market, where there is no concern for patient need and the sole focus is profit.
The fact that patients are given no choice of subspecies or strain when purchasing from the black market is a major reason it should be avoided. Patients should never trust or consume cannabis medicine without knowing its exact strain and that it was properly grown, dried, cured, and laboratory tested for purity and potential contamination.
Modern cultivators of medical cannabis purposefully breed and grow a wide spectrum of strains within both the indica and sativa categories for the purpose of making available the right medicine for a particular patient’s unique combination of disease, preference, and lifestyle. Often, patients must maintain jobs or family responsibilities that demand a particular energy level and can’t tolerate the sedative properties of many indicas. Other times, patients must seek the most potent non-opiate painkiller possible. Given the choice of chronic pain or the mellowing effects of a strong indica of a particular strain known for its medical benefits, most patients will choose the latter.
Because cultivators and dispensaries are sensitive to the subjective efficacy of particular strains for different patients, they grow and make available as many strains as possible for targeted ailments. Major conditions of focus include HIV/AIDS, cancer, fibromyalgia, glaucoma, Parkinson’s, all types of arthritis, and epilepsy, among many others.
In terms of particular ailments, sativa strains tend to be better for psychological disorders like depression, PTSD, and anxiety. Indicas are often the best for pain and inflammation and, thus, are beneficial for patients with arthritis, fibromyalgia, and cancer. However, because so many diseases are accompanied by side effects like depression and insomnia, a patient must consider treating both their core disease and also its daily symptoms. In the end, each patient will favor multiple strains that will likely fall within the categories of sativa, hybrid, and indica.
When it comes to aroma, indica strains tend to emit musty, earthy, and skunky odors, while sativas smell sweet, fruity, or spicy. This difference in aroma is the result of terpenes, the molecules within the plant that are cousins to cannabinoids like THC and CBD. While these chemicals provide sometimes stunningly pungent odors, their greatest benefit to patients is actually their medicinal efficacy.
Hybrids are simply new and unique strains that are bred from parents of different types. A hybrid theoretically possesses many or most of the beneficial medical properties of both its parents. Breeders can “cross” any two strains they desire in an effort to create a new strain that delivers the best possible medical efficacy, sometimes for particular diseases like lupus, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, and epilepsy.
It should be noted that any two strains can be mixed to create a hybrid. While indica/sativa mixes are common and often noted for their “alert mellowness” and productivity, medical cannabis breeders can also mix indicas with other indicas or use two sativas as parents.
With so many hybrid strains available to patients, many are a compromise that possess the ability to kill pain and fight inflammation while not putting a patient to sleep in the middle of the day. Patients who must medicate in the morning or mid-day, typically for nausea and pain, often prefer a sativa-dominant hybrid, but will switch to an indica-dom strain in the evenings and for maximum pain relief.
Hybrid strains that display more indica than sativa traits are labeled “indica-dom,” while those that lean toward sativa are similarly dubbed “sativa-dom.” Often, strains are labeled with a sativa/indica ratio, like a 60/40 sativa/indica. Other times a strain will indicate only a percentage, such as “70 percent indica” or “80 percent sativa”.
Landrace Strains & Heirlooms
Landrace strains are those that evolved naturally within their native environments. Because they weren’t bred and aren’t hybrids, landrace strains offer a very pure example of sativa or indica, with no interference from humans. In fact, landrace strains are typically 100 percent indica or sativa, the result of tens of thousands of years of inbreeding in a particular weather climate and geography.
Heirlooms are landrace strains that have been grown outside of their native environment, such as plants or seeds professionally grown in Illinois that originated on the other side of the world. While sought for their pure indica or sativa characteristics, such strains lose some of their unique characteristics when grown outside the climate in which they evolved.
Examples of landrace strains include Durban Poison, a sativa from South Africa; Afghan Indica, from Afghanistan; Malawi Gold, a sativa from Southeastern Africa; and Panama Red, a sativa from the country that bears its name.
Landrace sativas appear in Asia, Anatolia, and Northern Africa. These climates provide the long summers and intense sun in which such strains have evolved and adapted to thrive. Indicas are located in Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan. Such strains will not reach their potential if grown within indoor or outdoor conditions that don’t match those of their native environment.
Eastern Europe, the Himalayan region of India, and Siberia are home to ruderalis landrace strains and are among the least desired of these naturally evolved plants. Often, as in the Himalayas, such plants are used to create traditional hand-rolled hash, with impoverished villagers in such regions subsisting on black market sales of the concentrate that eventually appears in smoking cafes throughout Europe.
What Determines Sativa or Indica?
Readers have already learned that the sometimes pungent aromas produced by many strains of cannabis are the result of terpenes, the special molecules in the herb that are similar in many respects to cannabinoids like THC and CBD.
While many might guess that a particular strain of cannabis is categorized as indica, sativa, or hybrid based on the presence or absence of a particular cannabinoid, or a cannabinoid in a particular volume, it is actually a terpene that determines this important status of a strain.
Myrcene, the most common terpene in cannabis, is known to help patients sleep, battling conditions like anxiety and insomnia. If present in a specific strain in a volume greater than 0.5 percent, the strain is considered an indica. If the amount of myrcene is under one half of one percent, then the strain is deemed a sativa.
This dynamic is a good example of the entourage effect, a theory that cannabinoids and terpenes work together in harmony to deliver medicinal efficacy to patients. Many terpenes buffer or enhance the effects of major cannabinoids like THC.
New Strains Constantly Being Created
New strains of cannabis, many of which are hybrids of existing strains that display exceptional analgesic (pain killing) or anti-inflammatory qualities, are being created on a regular basis. While some strains are better at dealing with the nausea associated with chemotherapy (used to treat patients with cancer and Crohn’s, among other diseases), most types of cannabis are very good at this.
With such dramatic differences between indicas and sativas in terms of medicinal efficacy and the experience of the patient, those legally using medical cannabis should work with their physician and dispensary to experiment with various strains that are already known to deliver exceptional benefits to other sufferers, especially those with the same condition.
Patients must strive to find the strains that best deal with their particular disease or ailment and its symptoms, including the side effects of any pharmaceutical drugs or therapies. This is typically not an overnight project and may require months or even years of diligent effort. In fact, patients are encouraged to continually experiment with new strains in search of greater potency or a superior cannabinoid profile that delivers improved relief.
Because this efficacy is so subjective, the advice of other patients can be given only so much weight. The true test of a particular strain of indica or sativa occurs only when used by an individual patient when they most need it, such as during bouts of pain, nausea, or insomnia.
What is the difference between indica and sativa?
This article outlines the differences between sativa and indica cannabis plants. Read on to learn more about the origins of sativa and indica, plus how they differ in growth patterns, appearance, and the effects they produce after consumption.
The two most well known types of cannabis plants are Indica and Sativa. The differences between Indica dominant cannabis strains and Sativa dominant cannabis strains are many and varied.
Indica strains have a different range of effects on the body and mind than Sativa strains. Both have different medicinal benefits.
An Indica strain is generally associated with a sense of deep body relaxation. Sativa strains tend to provide a more energizing experience.
Scientifically (and legally), there is no difference between Indica and Sativa cannabis plants. And all cannabis plants are considered to be Cannabis Sativa L..
There are a multitude of different growth-patterns, qualities and effects within the ‘spectrum’ of cannabis.
The differences between Indica and Sativa are largely due to the fact that cannabis displays a remarkable ability to adapt to a wide range of different environments.
Since all branches of the cannabis family tree can interbreed freely (including industrial hemp and Cannabis ruderalis J.), some botanists consider all forms of the plant to be members of a single polymorphic species.
What are the origins? – Indica vs Sativa
Cannabis Indica L.
Most indica varieties come from central Asia and the Indian subcontinent – Afghanistan, Pakistan, northern India, Tibet, Nepal, and so on.
Cannabis Sativa L.
Sativas generally originate in the equatorial regions – Thailand, southern India, Jamaica, Mexico, and so forth.
The difference in physical appearance between Sativa and Indica
Indicas are compact and stocky, with dense, heavy, fragrant buds.
Cannabis plants produce nodes at regular intervals along their stems, and these nodes are the sites at which leaves, branches and flowers (buds) form. Indica buds tend to grow in dense clusters around the nodes of the stem and branches, with relatively short spaces (known as internodal gaps) between each cluster.
Given the same conditions, sativas grow taller than Indicas.
Sativa buds tend grow larger than Indica, as they run along the length of a branch instead of clustering around the nodes. However, they will usually weigh less than Indica when dry, due to their lower density.
Sativa buds also tend to have a less striking odour, both when growing and when dry.
Flowering time – Indica vs Sativa
Indicas are the faster flowering varieties and usually have a flowering time of 45 to 60 days.
A major difference between indica vs sativa is that sativas take longer to flower. They will usually need between 60 and 90 days to finish blooming.
However, they need less time for vegetative growth prior to flowering than Indicas do, so the overall time required for Sativas is about the same as for Indicas (and sometimes less in terms of ‘light hours’).
The difference in size between Indica and Sativa
Indicas gain height quite rapidly once flowering begins, but they shouldn’t grow out of control in normal circumstances.
An Indica may be expected to increase its vegetated height by a factor of 50-100% during its flowering period.
In tropical regions, the days tend to be relatively short – close to 12 hours long all year round – so Sativas are adapted to grow and flower at the same time instead of having distinct vegetative and blooming stages as Indicas do.
In a 12/12 indoor flowering cycle, sativas will grow and flower at the same time as they would in their native environment.
Sativas can increase in height very rapidly once flowering begins and will often continue to gain height throughout their blooming phase.
It is normal for sativas to gain 200-300% (or even more) of their vegetative height while flowering.
The difference in effect – Indica vs Sativa
Perhaps the most profound, yet trickiest to describe, difference between indica and sativa cannabis strains is their effect. This can be especially difficult to grasp for people who have never used psychoactive substances. Plus, new evidence suggests the cause of the difference is not what we always thought!
There are various posts on this blog about the physical, historical or geographical differences between the two main types of our favourite plant, but this article focuses on the differences between the effects of indica and sativa cannabis strains. (For simplicity’s sake, we will take ‘indica’ to mean ‘indica-dominant’ and sativa to mean ‘sativa-dominant’ in this context.)
‘Being stoned’ on indica vs ‘being high’ on sativa
Experienced cannabis users often refer to the effects of indica as ‘being stoned’, and the effects of sativa as ‘being high’, so that their audience knows what sort of state of mind they are in. Examples of this could be “I really don’t want to move off this couch right now, I’m so stoned I feel like I’m sitting on a big warm cloud”, and “I’m so high, do you want to bake biscuits or just watch some comedy? Because I’m so high. No, seriously, stop laughing, I am so. High.”.
This is all very well if you have experienced these states yourself, but they are not the easiest thing to accurately describe to those who have not! Writers from Charles Baudelaire to Jack Kerouac have wrapped their minds and words around the altered states created by cannabis, and attempted to take their readers with them to the worlds that they have explored whilst under its influence.
It can be difficult both to explain and to comprehend the difference between indica and sativa highs
A great deal of how the words of a psychonaut will be interpreted, and how successful they are in imparting the subjective truth of their experience, depends on the reader themselves. If the reader has not experienced anything comparable to the different psychoactive effects of indica, sativa, or both, can they really understand what the writer means?
Luckily, this article is not required to compete with the likes of Kerouac and Baudelaire, merely to try to explain to both the initiated and the inexperienced what the various results of consuming sativa or indica can be. It should also be pointed out that one is not objectively ‘better’ than the other; one of the great things about cannabis is how it seems to have an application for every occasion!
The typical effects of indica
Indica cannabis strains are associated with a feeling of relaxation in the body, as though stress is flowing out of the muscles. If you feel tense, or as though you are overwhelmed by pressure, consuming some indica can release this discomfort and replace it with a soporific ease. Imagine the feeling of sinking into a warm bath, or relaxing after a good massage.
Thoughts slow down, time seems to slow down, and, in classic ‘stoner’ fashion, it is possible that you will become so relaxed that you forget what you were doing, or were about to do! An often-referenced difference between indica and sativa effects is that indicas produce a feeling of sleepiness and passivity, whereas sativas induce an urge for activity.
It is interesting to note that due to prohibition, most illegally grown and sold cannabis is indica, since there is less risk associated with its quicker turnover and larger yields. The negative media portrayal of the ‘lazy, apathetic stoner’ could in part be due to the prevalence of indica among people forced to acquire cannabis illegally. With the major changes in legislation happening (especially in the US) and the new availability of sativas, in a few years’ time we may see a new stereotype – the ‘giggling, get up and go’ cannabis user. Which brings us to:
The typical effects of sativa
Sativa cannabis strains are associated with a feeling of rising or being uplifted in the head and mind. Creativity may begin to flow to the extent that you suddenly realise you have been staring into space as idea after idea goes through your mind, and concepts which previously seemed to have no connection join together to create new inspiration. There are numerous anecdotal reports, and even some science, on the tendency of cannabis to enhance pattern recognition. There are no studies on whether sativas produce this effect more than indicas, but this may well be the case.
Things can also strike you as funny, or far funnier than usual. Sativas have the power to render you helpless with laughter, suddenly gifted with a new appreciation for the absurd. An energetic desire to do something can seize you; what that ‘something’ is relies very much on the individual. Athletes may go for a run or work out. Artists may create, musicians may play music, gardeners may garden, and so on. The inspiration granted by the effect of sativas will manifest in what comes to hand for you.
The effects of indica vs sativa: the plot twist
Cannabis sativa L. was first classified in 1753 CE; Cannabis indica Lam. in 1785 CE. These classifications were not based upon effect, but botany. Modern cannabis authors such as Robert Connell Clarke built upon these classifications in their early works. They added more information about the type of high or stone that would be experienced from sativas and indicas.
Research into the effects of cannabis led to the discovery, and then synthesis of, CBD in 1963 and THC in 1964. For decades, it was thought that sativa cannabis strains contained higher levels of THC and indica cannabis strains contained higher levels of CBD. The restrictions of prohibition meant that this information mostly spread by word of mouth, but spread it did.
All the information about the different effects of sativa and indica described above has been ‘known’ since at least the 1970s, when dedicated breeding schemes and access to genetics from around the world came together. Ben Dronkers and his contemporaries were instrumental in honing and refining wild landrace strains into the building blocks of the modern cannabis seed industry – indicas, sativas, and hybrids.
The plethora of cannabis hybrids grows exponentially year by year, and research into the chemistry and taxonomy of cannabis barely keeps pace. Although humans have known that cannabis has a psychoactive effect for thousands of years, we have only known why – the existence of the endocannabinoid system – since the late 1980s.
The objective science of cannabis is still in its infancy. Compared to the subjective experience of millions of cannabis users, it’s practically still gestating. What is all this leading to? The revelation that there is barely any difference in CBD and THC levels between sativa and indica.
Once again, everything we know is wrong
With the publication of ‘Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany’ in 2013, the vernacular definitions of indica and sativa (despite being built upon the work of Linnaeus and Lamarck) were called into question for both accuracy and usefulness.
The terms ‘broad leafed hemp/drug’ and ‘narrow leafed hemp/drug’ were proposed instead, to more properly describe four main types of cannabis rather than two. In practice, this has still yet to catch on. (Sensi Seeds continues to use the vernacular terms and definitions because these are most easily found, and understood, by our audience.)
In the last two years, research based on scientific rather than anecdotal evidence has been published that contradicts everything we thought we knew about the difference between not just the appearance and evolution, but also the effects of indica and sativa.
An exercise in futility
Dr Ethan Russo is a neurologist, psychopharmacology researcher, and Medical Director of PHYTECS, a biotechnology company researching the human endocannabinoid system. In this compelling interview from 2016, he holds nothing back in his assessment of the current popular understanding of the differences between the effects of indica and sativa:
“…the sativa/indica distinction as commonly applied in the lay literature is total nonsense and an exercise in futility … it is necessary to quantify the biochemical components of a given Cannabis strain and correlate these with the observed effects in real patients.”
Dr Russo goes on to say that monoterpenes are behind the different effects of different types of cannabis. The sedative effect associated with indica strains and their supposed high CBD, low THC content is due to myrcene. The uplifting feeling we associate with the putative high THC, low CBD sativas is thanks to limonene (also found in citrus peels).
Dr Ryan Vandrey, a behavioural pharmacologist at Johns Hopkins who specializes in cannabis and cannabinoids, disagrees with Dr Russo’s assessment, citing limited science on the topic. This article explores the different scientific viewpoints and available research on the subject in 2016, and this one from 2018 adds more detail about terpenes.
Mapping a complete biochemical fingerprint
If you want to really get into the science, ‘Cannabis: From Cultivar to Chemovar II—A Metabolomics Approach to Cannabis Classification’ from 2016 seems to be the most in-depth study so far. It postulates that the use of chemovar mapping – creating a kind of complete biochemical ‘fingerprint’ for each strain, based on its cannabinoid, monoterpene, and sesquiterpene profiles – is the best way of determining nomenclature.
This study also has a conclusion which holds some hope for the retention of the simple, familiar distinctions of sativa and indica. “… vernacularly labeled Sativa and Indica accessions could be well separated into two distinct groups, which means that true differences seem to exist in chemical composition between these two types of cannabis”.
Rather than basing these classifications on the THC:CBD ratio, other cannabinoids, and terpenes, are used. The less well-known cannabinoids cannabichromene (CBC) and cannabigerol (CBG) were found to be “slightly but significantly higher” in the strains named as sativas. For “the identification of (vernacular) Indica [sic]” types, the different terpene composition and the presence of hydroxylated terpenes are described as “good chemical markers”.
We are only just delving into the deep science of cannabis
This fits not only the scientific, but the anecdotal evidence. Experience incontrovertibly tells us that different types of cannabis produce different effects; the only problem is, we thought we knew why but we’re only just beginning to scratch the surface of the topic.
You could think of it as being like the evolution of planetary science. Humans have always seen the sun moving across the sky. The theories as to why it does so have evolved from the Earth being flat with the sun embedded in a moving dome above it, then the sun circling a spherical Earth, then a spherical Earth circling the sun in one tiny galaxy out of a potential number of two trillion galaxies.
Despite what we have learned about it, the sun has continued to travel across the sky in the same way; despite what we learn about cannabis, different types will continue to have different effects upon us.
Thanks for reading all of what was originally going to be a short and simple article! What do you think about the different effects of various types of cannabis? Have you ever experienced a sativa high from buds that were supposed to be indica, or vice versa? Let us know in the comments below!
Laws and regulations regarding cannabis cultivation differ from country to country. Sensi Seeds therefore strongly advises you to check your local laws and regulations. Do not act in conflict with the law.