There is a lot of misinformation around sativa and indica weed strains. Check out Leafly's guide to learn about the difference between indica and sativa strains. Cannabis indica vs Cannabis sativa comparison. The two strains of cannabis, cannabis indica and cannabis sativa, differ in size, shape, smell, and potency. Although these strains are different, they are often combined by marijuana farmers to create hybrid strains. People mostly refer to them as simply…
Indica vs. sativa: understanding the differences between weed types
When browsing cannabis strains or purchasing cannabis at a dispensary, you’ll notice that strains are commonly broken up into three groups: indica, sativa, and hybrid. Most consumers and budtenders use these weed types to predict effects, but are they accurate?
Science is pointing to a better way of determining the effects a cannabis strain will have on you: cannabinoids and terpenes, the compounds that make up a particular strain’s chemical profile.
So why do smokers and budtenders alike still use indica, sativa, and hybrid instead of the cannabinoid and terpene model?
There’s a big push in the cannabis industry to disavow the indica/sativa/hybrid classification system because it is not based in data and science—the terms are botanical names that refer to a plant’s structure, not the effects it produces.
However, most of the cannabis industry, including shops where you buy weed, is still stuck in classifying strains as either indicas, sativas, or hybrids for one main reason: It’s easy. Give a consumer three options—up, down, or in-between—and you can easily explain how a certain strain will make them feel and sell a product. Like it or not, the indica, sativa, hybrid classification system is still entrenched in the world.
Both models have value, and consumers of all levels can use both. For an easier, more general way to pick a weed strain and its effects, the indica/sativa/hybrid model may work for you. Once comfortable with cannabis, you may want to dig into the nuances of weed a bit more, and learn about chemical profiles, cannabinoids, and terpenes—our preferred method.
Let’s look at the differences between indicas and sativas, and the usefulness of the two classification systems.
Indica vs. sativa: understanding the basics
The common understanding of indicas and sativas is that indica strains are physically sedating, perfect for relaxing with a movie or as a nightcap before bed, and sativa strains are energizing with uplifting cerebral effects that pair well with physical activity, social gatherings, and creative projects. Hybrid strains are thought to have a mix of indica and sativa effects.
But indica doesn’t always mean “in da couch” and sativas don’t necessarily energize all consumers. The origins of the two terms are actually rooted in botany, not effects, and describe the physical structure of a plant. On top of that, every person has a different body chemistry, so a strain can affect each person differently.
However, even today, the belief that indicas, sativas, and hybrids deliver distinct effects is still deeply rooted in mainstream cannabis culture. If you’ve ever been to a dispensary, you’ve likely heard a budtender begin a strain recommendation by asking which of those three types you prefer, but the science doesn’t support that.
The origin of indica and sativa
In 1753, Carl Linnaeus published Species Plantarum, classifying all cannabis plants under one group, “Cannabis sativa L.,” with “Cannabis” as the genus, “sativa” as the species, and “L.” indicating Linnaeus’ system. “Sativa” comes from the Latin “sativum,” meaning “cultivated.”
French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck updated the naming in 1785 with two distinct species: “Cannabis sativa,” a taller, lankier, and more fibrous plant, and “Cannabis indica,” a shorter, stouter, and more psychoactive plant, its name meaning “from India,” where it was thought to originate.
These definitions largely refer to each weed type’s physical structure and are still used today.
Typically thought to be energizing, sativas originally grew in warm, humid climates, growing long and lanky so they can dry out and not absorb so much humidity. Their warm climate also means they can take a long time to grow and flower, or produce buds, because the weather won’t get cold and rainy at the end of the growing season.
Typically said to be relaxing, indicas originally grew in cold, northern climates. They grew short and dense because of their environment, and their growing life cycle is shorter so they can get harvested before the cold and wet of fall and winter set in.
As a side note, what we call “hemp” refers to the industrial, non-intoxicating varieties of cannabis harvested primarily for fiber, seeds, CBD, and novel cannabinoids such as delta-8. Hemp’s fiber can be used to make materials and textiles, its seeds can be eaten, and CBD and other novel cannabinoids can be extracted from it. Legally, hemp is any cannabis plant with less than 0.3% THC.
Indica, sativa, and hybrid vs. cannabinoids and terpenes
Weed is incredibly nuanced. Each strain has its own chemical profile that will interact differently with each person’s body chemistry—the same strain could affect you and your smoking buddy completely differently.
As weed nerds here at Leafly, we prefer the more complex and specific model of determining a strain’s effects by looking at its mix of cannabinoids and terpenes (more below). But the indica/sativa/hybrid model is a basic, quick and easy way to get a general sense of how a strain will hit you. Just know that it isn’t exact.
Leafly’s own strain database uses the cannabinoid and terpene model, compiling the chemical profiles of thousands of strains using data from cannabis testing labs all over the country.
This method is a little more complex, but don’t let data scare you—once you find a strain you like, you can dial in your cannabis experience and find a strain that’s best for you.
How to use the indica, sativa, hybrid method
Had a long day and want to chill out? Need to do some spring cleaning or get a project done? Talking to your local budtender, they will tell you:
- Indicas are calm and relaxing, great for chilling out at the end of the night, watching a movie or listening to music, taking a nap, or just staring at the wall.
- Sativas are energetic and will make you productive. They’re great for physical activity, going for a hike, completing a task, cleaning, and anything that requires focus.
- Hybrid strains offer a mix of indica- and sativa-like effects.
Broadly speaking, you’ll see a lot of consistency to the idea that indicas are relaxing and sativas are energetic in Leafly’s own Top 100 cannabis strains: Most of the strains in the “sleepy” and “relaxed” categories are indicas, while most of the “energetic” strains are sativas.
Easy, right? Now let’s dial in that process.
Cannabinoids and terpenes
So if indica and sativa aren’t the best predictors of effects, what are?
The better way to pinpoint effects of different weed strains is to talk about their mix of cannabinoids and terpenes, or the chemical compounds in it. These compounds combine to create the entourage effect, leading to the feeling of being high.
What are cannabinoids?
The cannabis plant is composed of hundreds of chemical compounds that create unique effects, and the primary ones are cannabinoids. THC and CBD are the two most common cannabinoids and are the main drivers of cannabis’ therapeutic and recreational effects.
- THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is the compound that most think of when talking about weed—it’s what makes you feel high, and relieves symptoms like pain and nausea.
- CBD (cannabidiol) is a non-intoxicating compound known to alleviate anxiety, pain, inflammation, and many other medical ailments.
What are terpenes?
If you’ve ever used aromatherapy to relax or invigorate your mind and body, you understand the basics of terpenes, the aromatic compounds commonly produced by plants and fruit. They can be found in lavender flowers, oranges, hops, pepper, and of course, cannabis. Secreted by the same glands that ooze THC and CBD, terpenes are what make cannabis smell like berries, citrus, pine, fuel, etc.
There are many types of terpenes found in cannabis, but these four are the most common:
One question yet to be answered by research is how terpenes—and different combinations of terpenes—shape the effects of different cannabis strains. So while cannabinoids are the primary step in determining how a strain will make you feel, for example, whether you want THC or CBD in a strain, or both, terpenes add a lot to effects as well.
How to use the cannabinoid and terpene method
When choosing a cannabis strain, instead of thinking in terms of an indica or sativa, the better way is to think of weed is in terms of cannabinoids and terpenes, or a strain’s chemical profile (another name for this is “chemovars”).
Cannabis strains are broken down into three broad chemical profile types, or chemovars:
- Type I: high THC, low CBD
- Type II: balanced, or equal parts of THC and CBD (like 1:1 cannabis strains)
- Type III: high CBD, low THC
These terms are out there in the industry, but aren’t commonly used—you likely won’t hear a budtender using them, and most customers don’t walk into a weed shop asking for a “type II” strain; they’ll ask for a “balanced” or “1:1” strain.
Step 1: Pick a cannabinoid
To use the cannabinoid and terpene model to pick a strain, start by considering how much THC and CBD you want in your strain.
THC-dominant strains (Type I) are high THC/low CBD, and are great for people seeking a potent euphoric experience. These strains are also selected by patients treating pain, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and more.
Balanced THC/CBD strains, or 1:1 strains (Type II), contain similar levels of THC and CBD, offering mild euphoria alongside symptom relief. These strains tend to be a good choice for novice consumers seeking an introduction to cannabis’ signature high.
CBD-dominant strains (Type III) are high CBD/low THC, and are widely used by those highly sensitive to THC or patients needing clear-headed symptom relief because of their low levels of THC. If you tend to feel anxious with THC-dominant strains or dislike other side affects associated with THC, try a strain with high levels of CBD.
Step 2: Pick some terpenes
Take note of the terpenes in some of your favorite strains. You can find a strain’s terpene profile in Leafly’s strain database, and many products include this information as well.
For example, GSC is primarily composed of caryophyllene, with smaller amounts of myrcene, and limonene. If you like GSC, you may like strains with that similar mix of terpenes, such as GMO Cookies or OG Kush. Conversely, if you find a strain you don’t like, it’s highly likely you won’t like strains with that similar terpene profile.
Step 3: Use Leafly’s strain database
As previously mentioned, Leafly’s own strain database is based on the cannabinoid and terpene model. It’s the more accurate of the two models because it relies on data from cannabis testing labs.
Weed has to be tested before it can be sold in a dispensary, ostensibly for pesticides and contaminants, but sometimes also for its cannabinoid and terpene levels. Leafly uses that data to power our strain database and strain search tool, giving consumers a variety of related strains to choose from and explore once they find a strain they like.
More considerations when choosing between indicas and sativas
Other factors play into how a strain will affect you. Consider the following when looking for a cannabis strain or product.
Everyday smokers will have a much higher tolerance than occasional smokers and can often consume a lot more weed, or stronger weed, without feeling effects. If you don’t smoke a lot, remember the saying: “start low, go slow.”
A strain’s potency and how much you consume, known as dosage, will greatly affect a cannabis experience.
Many popular strains at dispensaries can be potent, and a strain packing 25% THC might not be as enjoyable as one with 16% THC. There’s no shame in opting for a low THC percentage—find the right level for you and your ideal experience.
Additionally, taking a couple puffs and smoking an entire joint will produce much different effects, and a different intensity of effects. If your tolerance is low, consider a low-THC strain in low doses.
Everyone’s body chemistry is different, and it’s hard to know how a strain will affect each individual. Even if you consume as frequently as someone else, your bodies could react to cannabis much differently. A friend may be able to burn down a whole joint, but maybe a puff or two are sufficient for you.
If you’re susceptible to anxiety or other negative side effects of THC, try a strain high in CBD.
Set and setting
Aside from tolerance, dosage, and body chemistry, your mindset and environment when consuming weed—known as set and setting—are crucial to enjoying cannabis. If you’re having a bad day or are nervous about trying weed, consuming it may give you negative effects. Additionally, if you’re not a social person, smoking in a big crowd may also give you negative feelings.
Set and setting depend entirely on the individual. Some people thrive in social settings, some don’t. Some prefer smoking in the comfort of their home, while others enjoy consuming out in nature.
How you consume weed will also determine how a strain affects you. One puff on a vape is generally thought to be lighter and deliver less effects than one puff of a joint. Doing dabs will produce intense effects immediately, and generally isn’t for beginners.
If you want long-lasting effects, consider edibles, and again, start low, and go slow.
Be mindful of any medical conditions you have, or if you are taking any medication, and how they might interact with cannabis. When in doubt, talk to your doctor or a medical professional before trying cannabis. They may have suggestions or recommendations for you to complement your existing medical or health regimen.
Desired effect, mood, or experience
If you’re hoping for a specific experience, like relaxing or watching a movie, or if you’re looking to treat an ailment like insomnia or nausea, use Leafly’s strain lists to help select a strain, or ask your local budtender for recommendations on what you’re looking for.
Remember that not all indicas are sleepy or heavy, and not all sativas are energetic or uplifting.
Note favorite and least favorite strains
Keep track of what weed strains you like and don’t like to explore (or avoid) similar strains. If you like a strain with a certain cannabinoid level and terpene profile, you’ll likely enjoy another strain with similar levels.
Additionally, strains in the same family, or with the same lineage, often have similar chemical profiles—GSC is derived from OG Kush, and is parent to GMO Cookies, Sherbert, and many more, so they’ll all have similar terpenes.
Summary of sativas, indicas, and hybrids
What is a sativa?
While not all sativa marijuana strains will energize you, most consumers notice a tendency for sativas to produce a “head high,” an uplifting, stimulating effect. They also often report sativas as being helpful in mitigating stress or anxiety, and many consumers enjoy sativas to sharpen focus and boost creativity or motivation.
Common effects associated with sativa strains include feeling happy, uplifting, euphoric, and energetic. Sativas are often thought of as “daytime” strains, used for feeling productive, creative, and focused, and for getting chores done.
Popular sativa strains
There are many sativa strains to try, and you’ve likely heard of some of the most popular. Most dispensaries should stock at least some of these sativa weed strains as they’re generally a crowd favorite.
What is an indica?
Not all indica strains will put you “in da couch,” but nevertheless, many consumers associate indicas with body effects, for example, heavy limbs or a tingly face. They also report indicas are helpful in aiding relaxation and curbing insomnia.
Common effects associated with indica strains include feeling relaxed, euphoric, happy, and sleepy. Indicas are commonly known as nighttime strains, used for relaxing and unwinding at the end of the night.
Popular indica strains
There are many indica strains, many of which you may be familiar with. Check your local dispensary for these popular indica weed strains.
What are hybrid strains?
Hybrid strains are bred from both indica- and sativa-descended plants. Due to the long history of crossbreeding cannabis, strains that have pure indica or pure sativa lineages are rare. Most strains referred to as “indica” or “sativa” are, in fact, hybrids, with genetics inherited from both types.
Since hybrid weed strains derive genetics from both indicas and sativas, their effects pull from both indica and sativa strains. Common effects include feeling happy, euphoric, uplifting, energetic, relaxing—it all depends on which hybrid you consume and what effects its parent strains produce.
Looking at a hybrid’s lineage—its parent strains—may give you a better sense of what kind of effects it will produce. For example, if it has more indica in its lineage, it might have effects more associated with those strains, but this is not always the case.
Popular hybrid strains
There’s certainly no shortage of hybrid strains on the market, and some of the most popular you’ll come across are also the most iconic.
Popular strains by strain type and effect
|Strain Name||Strain Type||THC||CBD||Helps with|
|Sour Diesel||sativa||18%||less than 1%||creativity, depression, anxiety|
|Green Crack||sativa||17%||less than 1%||energy, stress, euphoria|
|Lemon Haze||sativa||18%||less than 1%||happiness, fatigue, pain|
|Charlotte’s Web||sativa||less than 1%||13%||pain, stress, anxiety|
|Candyland||sativa||18%||less than 1%||socializing, relaxation, energy|
|Purple Punch||indica||19%||less than 1%||relaxation, stress, euphoria|
|Pennywise||indica||8%||8%||relaxation, anxiety, pain|
|Northern Lights||indica||16%||less than 1%||stress, pain, anxiety|
|GMO Cookies||indica||25%||less than 1%||pain, insomnia, relaxation|
|Bubba Kush||indica||17%||less than 1%||appetite, pain, insomnia|
|GG4||hybrid||20%||less than 1%||relaxation, happiness, stress|
|Sour Tsunami||hybrid||less than 1%||12%||pain, stress, anxiety|
|Sherbert||hybrid||18%||less than 1%||happiness, creativity, relaxation|
|Cannatonic||hybrid||5%||10%||pain, focus, stress|
|Blue Dream||hybrid||18%||less than 1%||relaxation, euphoria, happiness|
Indica vs. sativa FAQs
Here are answers to some common questions about indica and sativa marijuana.
Is there a difference between indicas and sativas?
“Indica” and “sativa” are botanical terms referring to a plant’s physical structure. As far as effects, indicas are thought to be sedating and relaxing, while sativas are thought to be uplifting and energetic.
Do sativas give you energy?
While there is no scientific evidence that sativas give you energy, they are believed to be uplifting and euphoric.
Do sativas give you a body high?
Sativas are commonly thought to provide a head and body high, although every consumer’s body chemistry is different.
Do sativas give you the munchies?
Sativa strains may help stimulate appetite and give you the munchies, but it depends on your body chemistry.
Will sativas keep you up at night?
Sativas are thought to be energizing so they may keep you up at night, but it depends on your body chemistry.
Do indicas make you sleepy?
In general, indicas are thought to be relaxing, which can make you feel sleepy.
Do indicas give you a body high?
Some indica strains are known for delivering heavy body highs.
Will indicas make me feel paranoid?
If you’re prone to anxiety or paranoia when sober, indica or sativa strains may cause negative effects, but it depends on your body chemistry.
Will indicas turn my eyes red?
Indicas or sativas may make your eyes turn red, depending on your body.
- Scholler DJ, et. al. Use patterns, beliefs, experiences, and behavioral economic demand of indica and sativa cannabis: A cross-sectional survey of cannabis users. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33856822/
- Clarke RC, Merlin MD. Cannabis Evolution and Ethnobotany. UC Press, 2013. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/275175754_Cannabis_Evolution_and_Ethnobotany
- Russo, EB. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. Br J Pharmacol, 2011. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21749363/
- John M McPartland JM, Small E. A classification of endangered high-THC cannabis (Cannabis sativa subsp. indica) domesticates and their wild relatives. PhytoKeys, 2020. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32296283/
This article was originally published September 20, 2018 and is often updated for accuracy and clarity.
Indica vs. Sativa
The two strains of cannabis, cannabis indica and cannabis sativa, differ in size, shape, smell, and potency. Although these strains are different, they are often combined by marijuana farmers to create hybrid strains. People mostly refer to them as simply “indica” or “sativa.” The most significant difference outside smell and appearance is that the use of indica results in a more relaxed, sleepy feeling, while sativa usually gives a cerebral, creative high. Sativa also has a much higher THC to cannabidiol (CBD) ratio than indica, resulting in stronger psychological effects like hallucinations and paranoia and long term health problem such as loss of memory and cognitive function.
Both plants are used to cultivate hemp, a durable fiber from the stalk of the cannabis plant.
- current rating is 3.62/5
- current rating is 4.18/5
Psychotropic Effects (a.k.a. “High”) of indica vs sativa
For those who use marijuana to achieve a buzz, indica and sativa plants provide different results.
The indica species is said to cause a “body” high. Users report feeling relaxed, warm, sleepy, and unmotivated after using indica as a drug. Users often reserve indica for nighttime use to aid in sleep.
Sativa plants provide a cerebral high, and are associated with mildly hallucinogenic experiences. Sativa is also reported to provoke creativity and rapid thinking. Users sometimes use sativa as a drug during the day to get a mental “energy” kick. Sativa is also associated with paranoia that sometimes results from using cannabis as a drug.
THC and CBD Content
Of the 70 or more cannabinoid compounds found in cannabis, the two main substances are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC is psychotropic, i.e. causes a strong reaction inside the central nervous system, stimulating feelings of mental euphoria. CBD is non-psychoactive – it is more relaxing and is not prone to anxiety or strong psychotropic reactions. Inhaling high amounts of THC is know to interfere with memory recall. Studies show that when acting with THC, cannabidol staves off memory loss that can be caused by THC.
Indica has a lower ratio of THC to CBD, i.e. it has higher CBD content. Cannabidiol produces fewer psychological effects, which may be why the indica species is associated with a “body” high and relaxation, and is better when it comes to medicinal use as chances of anxiety and paranoia are lower.
Conversely, sativa has a high THC to CBD ratio, which means that it can induce stronger psychological effects like paranoia, extreme anxiety and hallucinations.
Medical marijuana is a popular alternative to Western medicine in many cultures. Recent legislative changes in Europe and North America have allowed some jurisdictions to offer medicinal cannabis to interested parties. Both species are used for a variety of medical purposes according to practitioners of medical marijuana.
Specifically, indica is used as a sleep aid, to relieve inflammation, to fight seizures, relax muscles, and to cure migraines. It is also favored as an alternative treatment for schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease. Sativa is often used as an appetite stimulant, antidepressant, muscle relaxer, and anti-nausea aid. This video compares the effects and appearance of indica and sativa:
Cannabis indica is much stouter than sativa and has a more bush-like in appearance. Cannabis sativa grows on average up to 5 feet tall.
The leaves of the indica are broader than sativa and grow in a bundle. Sativa leaves are thinner, but appear spread out like an open hand. It is the leaf of the sativa plant that is most often used as the symbol for marijuana in popular culture.
The aroma produced by each species is very distinct. Indica gives off a distinctive skunk-like aroma. Sativa may also smell “skunky,” similar to beer – but often smells like freshly cut grass.
Formerly, cannabis was classified as a member of the mulberry family, but was later reclassified as a member of the hops family. Because cannabis indica grows in a bush, cannabis farmers grow the species indoors. Sativa plants are known to reach 20 feet tall or more, and are usually grown outside in warm or tropical climates.
Cannabis indica is more popular because of how easily and quickly it grows. The plant often reaches full maturity in as early as 8 weeks, which means it can be harvested earlier and more often than sativa. The plant also yield more buds than sativa.
Sativa plants, though they may take up to three months to fully mature, are prized for their THC content and deeper psychotropic properties.
Some strains of cannabis are more popular than others on account of their effect and accessibility.
Pure Indicas are originally found in hash producing countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Morocco and Tibet. Afghani is the most common strain and several newer strains incorporate these genetics. The most common pure strains of indica are Afghani, Pakistani, Hashplant, Herijuana, Hindu Kush, OG Kush and G-13.
Pure Sativa cannabis is a rarity in the medical marijuana field; firstly because it is difficult to cultivate indoors and in the northern hemisphere, and secondly because pure sativa highs can often induce paranoia attacks and irregular heart beats on account of high THC. While pure sativas are seldom chosen as a good medicinal product, strains like Acapulco, Burmese and Malawi Gold are quite popular.
Because sativa is harder to cultivate and has high THC content that may have harmful effects, medical cannabis cultivators prefer to combine properties of sativa and indica plants to optimize cannabis farming as well as effects. For example, a strain called Blue Hawaiian combines the mind-stimulating energy of sativa with the body relaxing properties of indica.
Farmers often grow their own hybrids by trying out different combinations of strains. There are around 400 hybrids; some of the most common ones are the Blue Dream, OG Kush, White Widow, and Girl Scout Cookies, but while some strains are more popular than others, they are not always very consistent because of different cultivators making their own changes. Effects of the strains depend on several factors, like the growing conditions, the consumer, medical condition etc.
- What Medical Marijuana strain is best for your condition, Sativa or Indica? – Patient’s Marijuana
- Cannabis Indica And Sativa – Weed Farmer
- Understanding Strains – Medical Marijuana.ca
- Wikipedia:Cannabis indica
- Wikipedia:Cannabis sativa
- Hash vs Weed
- Smoking vs Vaping
- Xanax vs Klonopin
- Cocaine vs Crack
- Abuse vs Dependence
- Addiction vs Dependence
Share this comparison:
If you read this far, you should follow us:
“Indica vs Sativa.” Diffen.com. Diffen LLC, n.d. Web. 6 Sep 2022. >