Sativa vs. Indica: What's the Difference?

By Liam Noonan

5/10/21

There are thousands of weed strains to choose from with each producing a slightly different effect. New and seasoned users both struggle to understand how to classify cannabis and its effects from different strain profiles. Unfortunately, the idea that you can choose your weed based on Sativa vs. Indica is largely a myth. 

You should first understand the differences between Sativa, Indica, and hybrid Strains. Indica dominant strains are generally known as body highs, while Sativa dominant strains are considered head highs. In reality, there is much more nuance to keep in mind when choosing your perfect strain. 

Continue reading to learn more about the main differences between Indica and Sativa, any myths associated with the two, and how to choose your perfect strain. 

How Are Sativa & Indica Strains Different? 

The relationship between Sativa and Indica is a complicated one and can’t simply be broken down into head high and body high. Another myth is the idea that Indicas pack more THC. The truth is, there are better ways to classify your weed than simply Indica and Sativa. 

In the past, Sativa and Indica produced distinctly different effects. Years of hybridization and breeding have made things infinitely more nuanced.

Aside from landrace strains, pure Sativas and Indicas no longer really exist. Everything you buy in a dispensary is some form of a hybrid strain. When you see a strain labeled as Sativa that simply means it is Sativa dominant and vice versa. 

The true differences between the two are seen in their observable physical traits during the cultivation cycle.

For example, Indica plants grow shorter with thick stems and deep-green leaves. They have short flowering cycles and can grow in cold, short-season climates. On the other hand, Sativa plants grow taller with light green leaves and they prefer warmer climates.

How Are the Effects of Sativa & Indica Different?

When looking for weed online or in-store, you’ll typically find Indica strains described as producing sedating, body-heavy, relaxing, and couched highs. With Sativas. you’ll see them characterized as heady, cerebral, energy-inducing, or euphoric. It’s important to understand there is much more to assessing the effectiveness of your weed than just looking at Sativa vs. Indica ratios.

On the other hand, Hybrids are often a popular option among consumers that aren’t necessarily looking for one dominant effect. It can be difficult to determine how each person’s endocannabinoid system will react to different hybrids, so you may need to employ some trial and error. More specifically, also strains are technically hybrids, which is one reason why we need to look at additional factors to determine strain effect. 

Additional Factors That Effect Strain Affect 

Your Individual Endocannabinoid System and Ingestion Method

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is a biological network that plays an important role in your body. More research needs to be done, but scientists believe the ECS plays a part in regulating a wide range of functions including sleep, appetite, mood, and more. 

In addition to your ECS, the way you ingest your cannabis can make a huge difference in the outcome. For example, edibles are metabolized into your digestive tract while smoking sends the THC straight to your lungs/bloodstream. Learn more about the different ways to ingest cannabis here

 

Cannabinoids 

Cannabinoids are the naturally occurring chemical compounds within a cannabis plant. They are responsible for producing many of the effects associated with cannabis use. Researchers have not been able to document what all of the different cannabinoids do, but we are very familiar with at least two of them. These two well-known cannabinoids happen to be good old THC and CBD. 

Well known Cannabinoids include

 

Terpenes 

Terpenes are naturally occurring elements that largely determine the smell of plants and herbs. Over 100 different terpenes have been identified in the cannabis plant, and every strain tends toward a unique terpene type and composition. The effects of specific terpenes may change when combined with other plant compounds. This phenomenon is now known as the entourage effect

Well-Known Terpenes Include:

Bisabolol: Bisabol is a terpene prevalent in plants like the chamomile flower. It has long been used as an ingredient in cosmetics products but is also displays medical benefits when in cannabis. Bisabolol is known as an anti-inflammatory, anti-irritant, antioxidant, and pain-relieving. 

Pinene: This famous terpene is one of the most abundant in all of nature. Pinene adds a pine scent to the cannabis plant and provides an anti-inflammatory effect. 

Limonene: Limonene is famous for its zesty citrus fragrance found in lemons as well as orange, lime, and grapefruit. It happens to be one of the most abundant terpenes in the cannabis plant and exhibits anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-cancer properties. 

Linalool: Linalool is a common and very fragrant terpene found in flowers or spices like lavender and coriander. Humans have been using the linalool scent as a stress-reliever for years and a recent study has corroborated this fact. 

Myrcene: Myrcene is a well know terpene that is found in fragrant plants and herbs like mangoes, lemongrass, basil, thyme, and of course cannabis. People love using Myrcene for its anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, sedative, and antibiotic effects. 

How to Choose a Cannabis Strain 

budtender choosing weed from a jar in a dispensary

With so many strains available, it can be overwhelming to try and find the right one for your body or desired effect. We suggest talking to your local budtender as they can often point you in the right direction. The more reputable the dispensary you visit the more knowledgable your budtenders will be (for the most part).

We used to simply break it down into Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid, but there’s more to the equation. If you want the most out of your cannabis experience, we suggest putting in a bit of time to find your perfect product. Follow this checklist to get a better picture of what to look for in your weed strains.

 

Step-By-Step Guide to Choosing a Strain

  1. Decide What You Want Out of Your Treatment

  2. Know Where you Can Get Legal and Compliant Options

  3. Understand Your Tolerance and Desired Consumption Method 

  4. Start Slow and Gradually Up Your Doses

Best Strains for Managing Specific Conditions

Blue Dream (Hybrid): Best for pain, cramps, inflammation, mental fog, and PTSD.

Sour Diesel (Sativa): Best for fatigue, stress, acute pain, mental fog, and PTSD

Grandaddy Purple (Indica): Best for treating low appetite, restless leg syndrome, and insomnia

Bubba Kush (Indica): Best for treating insomnia, acute pain, mental fog, and PTSD.

Afghan Kush (Indica): Best for treating acute pain, insomnia, and low appetite. 

Maui Waui (Sativa): Best for treating fatigue and depression

Northern Lights (Indica): Best for treating, pain, mood disorders, insomnia, and low appetite

Pineapple Express (Hybrid): Best for treating mental fog, acute pain, and social anxiety.

White Widow (Hybrid): Best for treating mental fog, low mood, and social anxiety. 

Acapulco Gold (Sativa): Best for treating fatigue, stress, nausea, and pain

What Will the Future of Indica & Sativa Look Like? 

Brand new strains (mostly hybrids) are created each and every day with different effects in mind for each one.

Most cannabis strains produce at least a few similar properties like anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-killing) properties. With that being said, the work being done to isolate certain desired side effects is very promising and constantly improving. 

Next time you visit your local dispensary and ask the budtender about some of the information you learned in this article before making a purchase. Ideally, they can help point you to the right product while taking into account more than just Sativa v. Indica. Due to the subjective nature of treatment with cannabis, it’s best to take other’s advice, but at the end of the day go with the strain that makes you feel the best.  

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