Indica vs. Sativa: What’s the Difference?

Most cannabis strains can be classified as either Cannabis Sativa or Cannabis Indica – two variations of the same basic species of cannabis. (What’s a cannabis strain, you ask? A “strain” is a genetic variant of cannabis.) Yet, these two classes of strains tend to have very different effects on the consumer—and they can look different, too.

Form and Structure

Indica plants tend to be short and stocky, with broad, chunky leaves. Sativa plants, on the other hand, are tall and lanky, with thin and pointy leaves.

Yet, it’s not always easy to quickly identify the different species solely by their appearances. The variation in form is primarily due to the different geographical regions where each originates: Indicas come from the mountainous regions of Asia and the Middle East, and sativas develop from more equatorial regions around the world.

The Effects

Two types of cannabis compounds—cannabinoids and terpenes—hold most of the influence when it comes to evaluating the effects of the cannabis plant. In this way, cannabis strains are the sum of smaller parts that are passed on genetically from plant to plant.

Sativas will likely have a powerful uplifting or energizing effect. Sativas can promote focus and productivity, making them preferable for daytime use. (Therefore, they’re not necessarily recommended for evenings.) However, strong sativas can cause a person’s mind to race and even cause users to feel anxious or paranoid.

Indicas traditionally promote relaxation and are generally calming. Often, indicas are thought to be very beneficial for relieving pain, reducing stress, and promoting sleep. (Strong indicas might not be the best option for morning use and wanting to stay productive.)

Hybrid Strains

Hybrids are simply a mix of sativa and indica, providing the pros and cons of each species. Hybrid strains that are more indica than sativa are called indica-dominant. Likewise, sativa-dominant strains have mostly sativa traits, but are buffered by some indica influence.

Today we regularly see the influence of hybrid genetics that combine both indica and sativa varieties. Over the years, countless numbers of hybrid strains have been created through genetic crossbreeding programs to develop plant profiles that are meant to take the best attributes of both parent strains.

Just go to your registered dispensary to see the assortment of strains that have been created over the past decades and discover a variety of cannabinoid profiles.

Updated March 2022