What is the difference between Indica and Sativa Cannabis?
Today’s plethora of cannabis strains can surely be overwhelming, even for the most navigated enthusiast. Commercial weed strains feature captivating names, funky flavours, colourful buds and a great variation in effects; while variation is indeed a good thing, it can also make it hard for the user to choose. However, if we strip everything down to the basics, what we are left with is just two parent-strains from which everything else originates. These parent-strains are called Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica. But exactly what is the difference between Indica and Sativa cannabis strains? Read on for both the simple answer and more in-depth information about the different cannabis strains.
We've talked earlier about the differences between weed and hemp. The buds we all see on the shelves of the dispensaries or weed stores, are nothing more than “blends” of genetic material coming from indica and sativa plants, masterfully bred to give life to the variation of strains we all know. There’s even a third strain that can be used to obtain even more variation; cannabis ruderalis – the genetic of which is mostly used to make autoflowering plants.
Image 1: an overview of the differences between indica and sativa effects, and various famous strains of marijuana classified.
Sativa and Indica: like green and red apples
So, what are the main differences between indica and sativa strains? To understand what strains are, you can think of apples, and the huge variety of cultivars (apple types) available for human consumption. Take a bite from a Granny Smith, and you’ll experience a somewhat tart, juicy, crunchy apple. Or a Pink Lady, crunchy and juicy with a much sweeter taste. Or a Red Delicious, boasting a beautiful red peel that protects a sweet, slightly soft pulp. And the list goes on and on.
If you go backwards in the genealogic tree of apples (pun intended), all of the different types must have originated from just a few “parent” apple strains – possibly semi-wild. By cross-breeding and selecting, farmers where able to create the varieties we are used to.
Image 2: main differences between indica and sativa weed strains
The holy trinity of cannabis: indica, sativa and ruderalis
Something similar happened with cannabis. The two OG strains are Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Sativa. Every other strain originated from them, thanks to skilful breeders and growers. Cannabis Indica and Sativa are quite different from each other, in terms of appearance, habitat, effects, flavour profiles. Also, within the same strain, Indica or Sativa, there’s a ton of variation due to different epigenetics (basically, which genes contained in the strain manifests and which don’t) and habitats. However, in a nutshell:
How to tell indica from sativa
Sativa is a tall, moderately-branched strain with thin leaves and a light green colour that grows pretty much all over the world. The flowers are generally not very dense, the flavours tend to be fruity-zesty sweet and the effects uplifting and stimulant. Sativa plants produce an average amount of trichomes, or resin glands, rich in THC and other uplifting cannabinoids and terpenes.
Indica plants are short and bushy, with broad leaves and a dark green colour. Indica is abundant in India (from where it gets its name), Afghanistan, Pakistan. The flavours tend to be earthy, piny, and the effects tend to be relaxing and sedative. Indica plants notoriously produce loads of cannabinoid-rich resin, contained in the plant’s large trichomes – the resin glands.
Ruderalis plants originate in eastern Europe, northern India and Russia. They are short, tiny plants that produce just a small amount of cannabinoid-rich resin. However, they are very resistant to pests and are able to produce flowers independently from the season. This is why ruderalis genetics are used to create autoflowering hybrids.
Hybrids are very popular nowadays. The idea is to selectively breed different strains and cultivars (the sub-strain) to obtain plants with the desired characteristics. This is pretty much the Mendelian breeding we all learn in high-school biology classes. Choose two parent plants that express some of the characteristics you are looking for. One plant is a male, the other a female. Take the pollen from the male, and use it to pollinate the female. Wait for the offspring, then select the offspring with the best characteristics. Now, cross-breed only the offspring that express the desired characteristics to create a stable genetic line.
The difference in effect between sativa and indica
It is important to note that Indicas and Sativas show significant differences in effects, but contain pretty much the same cannabinoids. So, where is the difference in effects between Indica and Sativa coming from? It mainly boils down to the percentages of cannabinoids contained in the plant. For example, a plant with a lot of THC but low on CBD, will have an uplifting effect. A plant high in CBD will have a more relaxing, narcotic effect.
The difference in effect between cannabis indica and sativa is often described as the difference between being "stoned" or "high". A pure Indica strain tends to have a relaxing "stoned" effect that may transform into a full body-high or couch-lock (in classic terms, this would be described as a "downer"), making you forget about your worries and possibly turning you into some kind of weed zombie. The sativa effect is generally more uplifting, energetic, and creative - but this high level of energy can also increase anxiety, especially for inexperienced stoners. This differentiation makes some stoners or medical users decide to use sativa for day-time use, and cannabis indica for night-time use - get uplifted during the day, and relax at night before going to sleep.
However, this is not the rule. The effects of cannabis depend on a number of other factors, such as the plant’s ripeness at the time of harvest (late-harvested, amber trichomes are more narcotic), the terpenes contained in the plant (some terpenes are uplifting, others relaxing), and the entourage effect produced by the very specific blend of cannabinoids and terpenes expressed by the plant. It is also important to note that many of the effects overlap, so there’s not such a sharp border between the effects of one or the other strain, but more of a nuanced progression. After all, cannabis is cannabis.
Image 3: The difference between cannabis Indica and Sativa buds: how to identify indica and sativa strains
An in-depth guide to strains: strain chart
- Name: Cannabis Sativa
- Habitat and distribution: Cannabis Sativa is widespread. From the plains of central Asia to the Caribbean, sativa plants are sturdy and capable of adapting to various climates and soils. It is now considered cosmopolitan, which means that can be encountered pretty much in every temperate and tropical region of the world. Some of the best Sativas come from southern Africa, Mexico, Colombia, California, Hawaii.
- Appearance: Tall, up to 4 metres high, relatively branched. Sativa plants feature slender stems with a lot of space between one internode and the next. The leaves are well spaced out on the plant, with a distinctive light green colour, long and pointed. The plant’s root system is reverse-cone-shaped.
- Flowers: The flowers are not so dense, sometimes even airy, with small calyxes and long protruding pistils. Trichomes are abundant on the flowers, and not so abundant on the stem and sugar leaves (the small leaves next to the buds).
- Resin production: The resin production is medium to medium-high.
- Flavour profile and terpenes: Fruity, zesty, sour, floral, incense-like, spicy, at times sweet. Sativas tend to have grassy, hay-like nuances. They are typically rich in limonene and other sweet-sour terpenes.
- Effects: The effects of sativa-dominant strains are in general uplifting, energising, psychoactive, capable of stimulating creativity and improving the mood. Some of the most potent Sativas have lysergic, almost psychedelic properties. Sativas are typically suitable for depressed moods but can trigger psychotic-like symptoms. Sativa strains make for a great smoke in the hours of daylight, or anytime you wish to stay productive.
- Common landraces: The most common almost-pure sativa landraces are the Durban Poison from South Africa, Thai from Thailand, Malawi Gold from southern Africa, the Lambsbreath from Jamaica, the Colombian Gold from… well, Colombia.
- Common commercial strains: Common sativa-heavy commercial strains include the members of the Haze family, the Laughing Buddha, the world-famous Jack Herer, the Sour Diesel family.
- Name: Cannabis Indica
- Habitat and distribution: Cannabis Indica grows abundantly in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East. Known since thousands of years for its medicinal properties, the resin-rich Indica plants have been typically used in the making of ultra-potent, narcotic hash. Thanks to growers and breeders around the world, Indicas can now grow in many different regions as well as being present in many sativa-dominant strains under the form of genetic material.
- Appearance: Short, stout and bushy, pure Indica plants rarely grow taller than 1.5 meters. The internodes are close to each other, giving to the plant a distinctively “busy” type of look. The leaves are close to each other, broad and thick, of a beautiful dark green. The plant’s root system is bush-shaped.
- Flowers: Indica flowers are very dense, almost hard to the touch, with big fat calyxes and short white pistils. Trichomes are abundant on the flowers as well as on the sugar leaves and stems; sometimes even on the fan leaves.
- Resin production: The resin production is high to surprisingly high.
- Flavour profile and terpenes: Funky, skunky, earthy, musky and woody. Sometimes even sweet. If we make a comparison to wines, Sativas are the champagne of weed, while Indicas are the red wines. They are naturally rich in funky terpenes such as myrcene, linalool and humulene.
- Effects: Put your pyjama on. Indicas have a great ability to whack you in the head and send you to bed. The most adventurous of you will find themselves in crazy adventures such as eating a slice of pizza in front of a movie. Some of the most potent Indicas have opium-like effects. Not only that, they have a great ability to stimulate appetite, reduce pain, soothe anxiety and nervousness, combat nausea and flu-like symptoms. They are recommended for use in the afternoon, before bed, or anytime you don’t have much to do.
- Common landraces: The most common almost-pure Indica landraces are the members of the Kush family from India and Afghanistan, the Mazar I Sharif from Afghanistan, the Ketama from Morocco.
- Common commercial strains: Common indica-heavy commercial strains include the Bubba Kush, Mendocino Kush, Hindu Kush, Girl Scout Cookies and the legendary Super Skunk.
- Name: Cannabis Ruderalis
- Habitat and distribution: Cannabis Ruderalis grows wild in Russia, Eastern Europe, and even Siberia. Ruderalis plants have been used in popular medicine, despite the minimal cannabinoid content. Ruderalis plants are generally used to make autoflowering plants, since they are capable of flowering independently from the hours of light.
- Appearance: Similar to a miniature Sativa. Thin and slender, grows to a maximum height of 1 meter. The internodes are well spaced, leaves are scarce and light green.
- Flowers: Ruderalis genetics produce small, sparse flowers. While present on the flowers, trichomes are generally small and scarce.
- Resin production: The resin production is scarce.
- Flavour profile and terpenes: Fresh, herbal, somewhat lemony. Ruderalis plants feature a distinctive terpene profile – not unpleasant – that tends to be present to some degree in all autoflowering strains.
- Effects: The effects of Ruderalis plants are almost negligible due to the low cannabinoid content.
- Common landraces: N/A
- Common commercial strains: Ruderalis genetics are present in all commercial-level autoflowering strains.
Sativa vs Indica, which is best?
As some may say, best is what’s really best for you. There’s not a best strain. There might be your favourite, or the one that works best at tackling a certain aspect of weed smoking, from medicinal to recreational.
Pros and cons of Sativa-dominant strains
In general, Sativa-dominant strains are better for the day, when you have to keep active and do stuff, and you need an extra boost of energy and creativity. Paired with a nice cup of coffee, the effects are maximised. They are not recommended if you have high anxiety levels, or if you are in a situation in which tripping balls could be detrimental.
Pros and cons of Indica-dominant strains
Indicas, on the other side, are better for all those times when you need to just lay back and relax, or eat and sleep. They are recommended in case of pain, nausea, and anxiety. Paired with a glass of warm milk or a cup of chamomile, they can send you right to bed. They are not recommended if you are naturally low on energies, or anytime you really need to be productive.
Hybrid cannabis strains
As a matter of fact, it’s not so common to find pure Sativa or pure Indica strains. After all, hybrid strains are the most popular, and for a good reason. By creating hybrids, breeders try to get the best characteristics out of one strain and the other, and combine them in an endgame strain. Breeders might want to combine the size of a Sativa with the resin production of an Indica, or the earthy flavours of an Indica with the mood-boosting properties of a Sativa, and everything in between. This is the reason why hybrid strains, such as Gorilla Glue, Bruce Banner and Skunk #1 tend to be the go-to for the most seasoned users.
So, do you think cannabis indica or sativa is better? Whatever your favourite strains may be: all of them are best enjoyed in a proper bong! Bongify is the #1 Online Bong Shop - we ship worldwide, and shipping is free on all orders of €75 or more! Use the discount code indicasativa to get a 5% discount on ALL products in our store - click here to go directly to our homepage or click here to browse all bongs!