Indica vs. Sativa: Understanding The Differences

sativa vs indica

Are you looking for the right strain of marijuana for your recreational or medicinal needs? There are two types of cannabis, sativa and indica, and each has their unique properties. By knowing the difference between them and how they can be combined in hybrids, you will have the knowledge you need to choose the best strain for your needs. Learn more about the sativa and indica differences in this article.  

What Is Sativa and Indica Origin?

Though there is still some debate regarding the history of the cannabis plant, most evidence suggests that it originated in Central Asia. A geographical split happened centuries ago, which is thought to be the main reason why two very different species of cannabis were able to thrive. Those plants that remained in the South and East Asia were selected and bred for their psychoactive properties and are now known as indica cannabis. The plants were not needed for more pedestrian purposes, such as for rope or paper, because there were plenty of other materials available. Instead, the plants were used for religious or medicinal purposes and were bred to have higher THC levels.

Those plants that migrated to Europe and were cultivated for their hemp oil and fiber are now known as sativa. These generally have lower THC content as the plants were not bred for their psychoactive components. 

Sativa and Indica Physical Differences

sativa and indica

Though both indica and sativa originally came from the same plant, they now look quite different from each other. Indica is short and bushy, featuring very wide leaves. These plants tend to grow better in an indoor environment and grow quite quickly with a large yield. 

Sativa plants, on the other hand, are tall and willowy. Their leaves are narrower and tend to be a lighter shade of green than indica plants. Sativa grows better in outdoor environments because they require more light and they take more time to mature than their indica counterparts. 

Indica and Sativa Effects

Indica plants tend to have more CBD and lower levels of THC. This makes them ideal for medicinal use, especially for those who want the positive health effects of cannabis without the high or psychoactive effects. Effects of indica strains include muscle relaxation, decreased nausea, increased appetite, mental relaxation, an increase in dopamine and a decrease of acute pain. Those who use indica strains can experience deep relaxation and “couch lock”, so these strains are usually recommended for night time use when mental clarity or energy are no longer needed for the day. 

The difference between indica and sativa high effect is notable due to the THC content. Sativa strains tend to have higher THC levels than indica and many use it for its psychoactive effects. Sativa is also very beneficial for medicinal use and has been effectively used to treat anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. Sativa strains can help increase focus and creativity and boost serotonin levels. Because sativa is much more energizing than indica, it’s good for daytime use. 

Indica/Sativa Hybrid Strains

indica and sativa

It’s possible to breed indica and sativa together to create hybrid strains. Such hybrids can be grown to target specific effects and are typically raised on farms or in greenhouses depending on the climate and the type of the strain being grown. Depending on the parent plants, hybrids can look like either indica or sativa plants or somewhere in between. Depending on which strains are combined, the THC and CBD levels vary. For example, if a breeder wants to create a strain with equal amounts of THC and CBD for medicinal purposes, they could cross a high-THC sativa plant with a high-CBD indica plant. 

Hybrid strains are usually referred to as sativa-dominant or indica-dominant depending on the balance between the two. Hybrids are effective in treating certain medical conditions, such as anxiety or the effects of chemotherapy. As more hybrid strains are produced and studied, breeders will get better and better at creating strains that produce very targeted effects. 

What Determines If a Plant Is Sativa or Indica? 

Now that sativa and indica strains can be grown throughout the world and are not limited to growing where they originated, determining whether the plant is indica or sativa takes a little more investigating. Of course, you can look at the appearance of the plant, but if any cross-breeding has occurred, this is not always a reliable indication. 

In the end, determining whether a cannabis plant is sativa or indica comes down to terpenes. A terpene is an organic compound that is produced by plants. Terpenes have strong odors and are used by plants to protect them from herbivores that want to eat them. Plants such as foxglove and menthol have terpenes as do herbs like thyme and ylang-ylang, a plant popular for its use as an essential oil. The cannabis plant has over 200 terpenes including myrcene, limonene, pinene, and linalool. Myrcene is the most widely-occurring terpene in the cannabis plant and it’s this terpene that typically decides whether a plant is indica or sativa. 

Those plants that have a myrcene content of over 0.5 are considered indica plants while those that are under 0.5 are sativa. Measuring terpene levels in hybrid plants determine whether the plant is indica or sativa-dominant. 

Sativa and Indica for Recreational and Medical Use 

Knowing whether you want to use marijuana for recreational or medicinal use and your goals for using it will help you decide on a sativa, indica, or hybrid strain. If you are using it recreationally, choose sativa for an energetic high full of creativity and psychoactive effects. If you want to mellow out at home and have a more cerebral, relaxing high, choose the CBD-dominant indica strains. If you’re looking for a little of each, a hybrid might be the right choice. 

If you are using marijuana for medicinal purposes, indica is your best bet for acute pain, mental relaxation, muscle aches and nausea or lack of appetite, especially brought on by chemotherapy. Indica strains are also good for those with insomnia. Patients can also use indica or sativa for anxiety depending on the type of the disease and the way it operates. Sativa can also treat depression and chronic pain. Many people find that keeps them up at night, though, so be careful with sativa-dominant strains if you have insomnia. 

Knowing the sativa and indica differences and which will produce the effects you want is important. Choosing the wrong strain for your needs could lead to a negative experience with cannabis.

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