Indica vs. sativa: What’s the difference
between cannabis types?
When browsing cannabis strains or purchasing cannabis at a shop, you may notice strains are commonly broken up into three distinct groups: indica, sativa, and hybrid.Most consumers have used these two cannabis types as a touchstone for predicting
Indica strains are believed to be physically sedating, perfect for relaxing with a movie or as a nightcap before bed.
Sativas are said to provide invigorating, uplifting cerebral effects that pair well with physical activity, social gatherings, and creative projects.
Hybrids are thought to fall somewhere in between, offering a balance of indica and sativa effects.
This belief that indicas, sativas, and hybrids deliver distinct effects is so deeply rooted in mainstream cannabis culture that budtenders typically begin their strain recommendations by asking you which of these three types you prefer. But if you look at the chemical “ingredients” inside of indicas and sativas—that is, terpenes and cannabinoids (more on that below)—you’ll notice there aren’t clear patterns to explain why one type would be inherently sedating and the other uplifting. We know that indica and sativa cannabis strains can look different and grow differently, but this distinction is primarily useful only to cannabis growers.
Indica vs. sativa effects: What does the
The indica, sativa, and hybrid system is no doubt convenient, especially when first entering the vast, overwhelming world of cannabis. With so many strains and products to choose from, where else are we to begin?
“The clinical effects of the cannabis chemovar have nothing to do with whether the plant is tall and sparse vs. short and bushy, or whether the leaflets are narrow or broad.” Ethan Russo, cannabis researcher and neurologist.
A more useful starting point would be cannabinoids and terpenes, two words you should put in your back pocket if you haven’t already. We’ll get to know these terms shortly. But first, we asked two prominent cannabis researchers if the sativa/indica classification should have any bearing on a consumer’s strain selection.
Ethan Russo is a neurologist whose research in cannabis psychopharmacology is respected worldwide, and Jeffrey Raber, Ph.D., is a chemist who founded the first independent testing lab to analyze cannabis terpenes in a commercial capacity, The Werc Shop. “The way that the sativa and indica labels are utilized in commerce is nonsense,” Russo told Leafly.
“The clinical effects of the cannabis chemovar have nothing to do with whether the plant is tall and sparse vs. short and bushy, or whether the leaflets are narrow or broad.”