Indica vs. Sativa: What’s the Difference?


Rachelle Gordon

March 22nd, 2017

Policy, Top News


One of the first questions people who are new to cannabis have is, “what’s the difference between indica and sativa strains?” Both have a variety of benefits, from relieving pain to helping treat opioid addiction. The basic answer is that sativa-dominant strains usually lead to a heady high, boosting energy and creativity, while indicas tend to be more body-focused, aiding in relaxation and pain relief. Many folks remember the effects of indica by using the term “in-da-couch.” However, there are many more important distinctions to note when searching for the perfect strain for your individual needs.

Appearance

One of the easiest ways to discern an indica strain from a sativa is visual inspection of the flower itself. Here are a few things to look for:

Indica Strains

  • Short plants with wide leaves
  • Compact buds in dark greens and purples
  • A strong skunky or sour odor to the buds

Sativa Strains

  • Tall and skinny plants
  • Sweet and spicy scent
  • Brightly-colored leaves

Effects of Sativas and Indicas

As previously mentioned, these two primary strain types have a variance in how they affect each individual user. It is important to determine what your desired outcomes are prior to choosing a specific strain. Sativas and indicas are used to achieve a variety of results, including but not limited to the following:

Indicas

  • A relaxing, calming feeling
  • Pain relief
  • Sleep aid
  • Anticonvulsant

Sativas

  • A cerebral, energetic high
  • Creativity booster
  • Anti-anxiety
  • Appetite stimulation

Growing Sativa vs. Indica

As mentioned earlier, indica and sativa plants tend to look quite different from one another – but that’s not the only difference in the way they grow. The yields are typically larger with indica, and crops have a shorter growing season. Since the plants tend to be shorter, they are ideal for indoor growing. Sativa yield is usually lower than Indica, but is very potent. These strains tend to have a longer flowering period, so they are better suited for outdoors. Additionally, sativas usually take longer to germinate and flower.

Genetic Differences

Cannabis has been on the earth since before mankind, and it has come a long way in that time. Recent developments in genetics and cross breeding have allowed for cultivators and consumers alike to know each strain inside and out. However, there are some characteristics that have remained the same since the beginning of time. Researchers from Canada recently published a genetic analysis of a large batch of different hemp and marijuana strains. They selected 81 “marijuana” samples (high-THC) and 43 hemp samples (low THC and low overall cannabinoid production).

The researchers found that while there is a slight genetic difference between indica and sativa strains, the larger variation comes between high-THC marijuana and hemp. While the two are considered the same species, that may soon change. This is thanks to the growing demand for high cannabidiol (CBD) strains, which tend to come from industrial hemp plants. CBD has gained popularity for its medicinal benefits, and is often used as an anticonvulsant, anti-inflammatory, and even an analgesic.

Which Strains are Indica or Sativa?

Nowadays, the majority of cannabis strains are hybrids, meaning they have both indica and sativa in one plant. However, there are plenty of types that have a higher dominance of one or the other. Some strains have been around for years, while some are brand new.

Popular Indica Strains

  • Northern Lights
  • OG Kush
  • Ice
  • Bubblegum

Popular Sativa Strains

  • Sour Diesel
  • Lemon Haze
  • Green Crack
  • Lamb’s Bread

Note that many indicas have “kush” in the name, a throwback to the Hindu Kush mountains where the strain originated. Sativa strains are often a type of “haze,” which is a great way to remember how the high feels – sort of like a soft haze over the head.

Final Thought

The most famous types of cannabis strains, while often found in hybrid-plants, both have their strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to note what results are wanted when consuming, and to educate yourself on each individual strain. A relaxing night at home may call for an indica, while a daytime hike may be elevated with a sativa. Don’t be afraid to ask dispensary staff for advice – they are friendly, knowledgeable, and desire only the best for their patients.

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Rachelle Gordon

About Rachelle Gordon

Rachelle Gordon is a Minneapolis-based writer. She was the president of her college's chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy and worked in Amsterdam for a brief time. Find her online at www.rachellegordon.net.


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