Strains Explained: Indica vs. Sativa

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The two superstar strains of cannabis are indica and sativa. They are the Rolling Stones vs. the Beatles. They are Friends vs. Seinfeld. They are the ocean vs. the stars.

Take these metaphors as you will, but here’s the TL;DR for you: Indica tends to give you a warm, relaxing body high, while sativa tends toward an energizing head high.

And while this is a helpful rule of thumb, it’s also worth noting that these descriptions are by no means universal truths. The truth, as it turns out, is far more complicated.

Understanding Strain Effects: The Starter Pack

To start moving past the binary indica/sativa dichotomy, it’s time to dig into what actually gives a plant its unique effects.

Even plants in the same strain can have subtle differences in their chemical profiles that produce differences in effects. The plant’s chemical composition, the growing technique used to cultivate it, and the breed are the most important factors.

Dispensaries and growers often provide information on the “chemovar,” or chemical variant, at hand. Within this description, you’ll often find valuable information on the cannabinoids and terpenes that give the strain its unique journey. In other words, don’t go by the name alone.

Cannabinoids, by the way, are those natural components of the cannabis flower that create its many effects. THC, CBD, and CBN are examples of cannabinoids. Terpenes are those parts that give a strain its unique smell and flavor, but they are also influential in its effects. Some common terpenes are:

  • Bisabolol: With a scent like tea tree oil, this terpene may have pain- and inflammation-reducing effects.
  • Myrcene: This is the most common of all terpenes. Myrcene has an earthy smell and may help with anxiety and insomnia.
  • Ocimene: This fruity, herbal-smelling terpene could potentially have helpful effects on congestion and bacterial infections.

Indica Strains

Our deep dive into indica starts with the origins of this plant. Cannabis indica comes from a geographic area reaching from the near Middle East to South Asia. Cannabis indica plants are acclimated to high, arid places such as the high mountains of Kashmir.

Perhaps due to the harsh climate they’ve adapted to, indica plants tend to be hardier. They are stocky, short, and chunky, with broad leaves that soak up plenty of sunlight. Faster-growing than sativa plants, indica plants are also more productive in terms of buds.

Indica plants tend to produce a higher ratio of CBD to THC, though they can still pack a solid punch in terms of THC content. The result is generally a highly relaxing experience. Medically, indica may be beneficial in reducing pain, nausea, and low appetite.

This plant is the botanical equivalent of a chill pill. Depending on how you react to it, it’s probably best to enjoy it at night so that you can transition into a deep sleep afterward.

Some examples of indica include:

Sativa Strains

Whereas indica is a relaxing experience, sativa tends to provide a heady, exhilarating, energizing effect. Think of it as a mental high — you experience lots of thoughts very intensely, and whether you pour your efforts into creativity or other tasks, your productivity may go up. What you probably won’t feel is sleepy.

Cannabis sativa is from different parts of the world than indica. It can be found growing anywhere with long, hot, dry days with lots of sunshine. Think Africa, Southeast and Western Asia, and Central America.

With a gentler climate comes a gentler plant. Sativa grows tall and skinny, with slender leaves and a height that can exceed 12 feet. You can expect sativa plants to take longer to reach maturity than other plants.

The magic of sativa comes partly from its THC content. Whereas indica has higher doses of CBD in relation to THC, sativa contains just the opposite. The high THC content is what produces its stimulating mental effects.

Sativa is no sedative, and therefore can be used both in the daytime and at night. Of course, enjoy it responsibly whenever you do choose to do so.

Some popular sativa strains are:

Hybrids: A Bit of Both

With all this talk of sativa and indica strains, there’s something you should know: Most of what you find is going to be a hybrid.

Breeders grow more adventurous and push new boundaries every year, and the possibilities for what you can enjoy as a result grows and grows. Hybrids combine sativa and indica strains, carefully selected for their desired traits and cultivated to create unique effects.

The appearance of hybrid strains is as diverse as the possibilities. When breeders target certain effects, they may also target a certain look (like certain color buds, for instance). Mostly, though, breeders work to either increase the percentage of THC or optimize the ratio of THC to CBD in the plant.

Farmers may also try to create new strains to help certain disorders like anxiety, insomnia, depression, and stress. Many are also working to develop strains that help those undergoing radiation treatment or chemotherapy.

Hybrids may be ideal for either daytime or nighttime use, depending on the type of hybrid. A good clue as to when you should try it is the type of strain. Growers will label their hybrids indica-dominant, sativa-dominant, or balanced.

You can find an infinite number of hybrids out there. However, some are especially popular, including:

Which Strain Is Right for You?

Determining whether sativa or indica is your jam depends on many things:

  • How do you react to each?
  • What effects are you looking for?
  • What time of day will you be enjoying it?

Obviously, you don’t want to smoke an energizing sativa right before you head off to bed. You also don’t want to start your day off in a lethargic slump from smoking an indica. Whatever type of strain you choose, be sure to read the description to figure out exactly what’s happening in it.

Explore your options and have fun!

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Brooklyn native, accent-having, travel lover, wordsmith and bud enthusiast. Versed from the streets of NYC, mixed with some world influence, writer/editor and medical user extraordinaire, JJ is here to tell you like it is and guide you to the finest. Brooklyn's favorite feminine stoner, your neighborhood contributor, wrapping leaves like a bandage and bringing you along for the ride.

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