When you're choosing your herb, you'll typically see your options divided between indica, sativa, and hybrid. With a growing number of options for the modern-day recreational or medical consumer, the indica vs sativa distinction serves as the main way that people distinguish between weed effects. In other words, indicas are associated with a "body high" whereas sativas are a "head high." A hybrid is said to fall somewhere in the middle.
Today, there are two realities forcing us to question these distinctions. For one, most varieties are hybrids, meaning that they are genetically related to indica and sativa. Beyond that, science suggests that other components of the cannabis plant affect how we experience it.
This leads to the question: Is the distinction between indica vs sativa vs hybrid over-hyped in a world of cross-blended plants and in-depth research? Here's what we know.
DISCLAIMER: The following information is intended for educational purposes only. It is not medical advice.
What Is the Difference Between Indica and Sativa?
The Reader's Digest version of indica vs sativa is this:
- Indica produces a body high. This means that it's relaxing and can make you sleepy.
- Sativa is a head high, making it ideal for creative pursuits, parties, and even working out.
Indicas are also thought to be danker -- meaning that they have a stronger scent. Beyond that, these two types of weed may appear similar when in the form of dry herb in your weed grinder, but their leaf shape and origin stories differ. Have more questions? Keep reading.
What Effects Does a Hybrid Produce?
Though it might be handy to know the differences between "pure" weed strains, the reality of today's cannabis is that most of what you'll come across is a hybrid. In broad terms, a hybrid is said to produce a combination of these effects. It may have been bred to inspire creativity but also be relaxing, for example.
Most hybrids will be divided between sativa and indicate "dominant." This means exactly what it sounds like: a strain can lean more to one end of the cannabis spectrum than the other. Have questions? A budtender should be able to make a recommendation.
How Accurate Are These Distinctions?
Great question. Though strains are almost always classified based on indica vs sativa, this may be more convention than science. Though these plants are physically different, it's hard to quantify exactly why indicas would make someone sleepy, for instance.
In other words, their components, meaning the cannabinoids and terpenes that make up a strain, matter much more than the label assigned to it. The downside to this is that it makes understanding why certain strains produce certain effects more complicated. We're also in the preliminary stages of cannabis research, due to the stigma and laws surrounding it.
Beyond Sativa vs Indica: What Really Impacts Your High?
If the strain's label doesn't matter, what determines what kind of high you have and how strong it is? Great question. The simple answer is that we don't really know. The more complex one is that dosage, CBD and THC ratios, age, and terpenes (yes, they're more than just flavor) can impact how you experience a strain.
Cannabinoids in the Context of Indiva vs Sativa
A cannabinoid is an active chemical compound within cannabis or hemp that interacts with the human body's endocannabinoid system to produce an effect. These effects may be as wide-ranging as producing psychoactive effects, i.e. a high, to mediating pain to reducing anxiety.
The two most prevalent cannabinoids in cannabis are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC is the cannabinoid primarily responsible for making a person feel high. In recent years, CBD, including CBD flower, has become a common relief to everyday anxiety, sleeping troubles, skin conditions, and a long list of other things.
Instead of considering strains in terms of sativa vs indica, some people consider whether it's THC or CBD dominant. There is some overlap with the whole indica vs. sativa vs hybrid question, too: Indica strains may be higher in CBD content.
Do Sativas Contain More THC?
No, not as a rule. Most modern-day cannabis contains high levels of THC, according to an interview with neurologist Ethan Russo, MD. In other words, most readily available strains are high in THC, no matter how they're labeled.
Dabs, on the other hand, contain concentrated amounts of THC.
Terpenes May Affect Your High the Most
In fact, it may not come down to THC or CBD content either. As explained by Dr. Russo in this interview, "The differences in observed effects in Cannabis are then due to their terpenoid content, which is rarely assayed, let alone reported to potential consumers."
Heard of terpenes but not sure how they relate to the sativa vs indica debate? Terpenes are the organic elements that produce the taste and smell of specific blends. Know how Pineapple Express smells like, well, pineapple? That's due to a terpene called Limonene.
But researchers have begun to understand that terpenes provide much more than flavor: They may affect how a strain interacts with the human body, and negate the whole sativa vs indica debate in its entirety.
A few common terpenes you may have heard of include:
The big problem with terpenes being responsible for someone's cannabis experience is that information on them is rarely provided and not understood. The cannabis community has a long way to in terms of understanding humanity's favorite herb from a scientific perspective.
Cannabis Sativa vs Indica: How to Tell Them Apart
Even though this distinction may not matter to buyers, it's still relevant for people who cultivate the herb. Most experts are in agreement that cannabis can be divided into these two distinct physical groups from a generic perspective.
- Indica plants also referred to by their scientific name, Cannabis indica ssp. afghanica is shorter, denser and has wider leaves. The classic weed leaf logo is based on this type.
- Sativa plants are taller have narrower leaves.
Fun Fact: Hemp is technically a subset of cannabis sativa, despite the fact that it legally cannot contain more than 0.3% THC.
How to Shop Once You Understand Sativa vs Indica
To anyone who knows weed, this distinction seems outdated and unnecessary. In a perfect world, all cannabis would be labeled with THC and CBD content as well as the terpenes it contains. On top of that, we should know more about the effects that terpenes can produce to better understand why certain strains feel the way they do. In the not-so-distant future, we'll know more about what we're putting into our silicone bong.
Beyond that, it's important to know that indica = sleepy and body-focused and sativa = cerebral and energizing. However, start paying attention to terpenes and CBD/THC levels. This may ultimately tell you more about the herb than other labels.