If you’re just getting into cannabis culture and checking out cannabis strains, you may wonder where to even start with understanding the whole indica vs sativa debate. You’ve likely heard claims about indica vs sativa and how each type of cannabis is purported to provide different effects and experiences (maybe even different medical benefits?).
You may have heard terms like “body high,” “head high” and “couch lock” and just get confused. You’ve looked at cannabis plants and wondered how they could all look so different from one another.
Allow us to get down in the weeds (pun intended) and explain the terminology and attributes of these two types of cannabis.
Remember learning taxonomy in seventh grade science class? No? Allow us to refresh your memory. Plants and animals are classified according to kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. For our purposes in understanding indica vs sativa, we only need to focus on genus and species. (Aren’t you relieved?)
Our friends indica and sativa are both subspecies of the cannabis genus. (There’s also a third subspecies called ruderalis, but it’s considered ditch weed and is not relevant to cannabis breeders and consumers.)
The important thing to realize is that botanists named indica and sativa, not chemists. They did not intend for the names to explain any medicinal effects — only observable botanical properties.
Another important thing to consider: cultivation practices have led to so much hybridization that there are few 100% pure strains of either indica or sativa. Because of this, these terms are almost meaningless regarding CBD and THC content. In other words, either indica or sativa can have varying concentrations of cannabinoids.
The botanical facts on indica vs sativa
So in knowing that indica and sativa are terms that describe the physical characteristics of two plants, let’s look at how indica and sativa differ.
|Indica vs Sativa|
|Short and bushy||Tall and thin|
|Broad leaves||Narrow leaves|
|Fast growing||Longer to grow|
|Short flowering cycle||Long flowering cycles|
|High yield||Low yield|
|Thrives in cooler climates||Thrives in warmer climates|
|Earthy smell||Sweeter, fruitier smell|
What cannabis users mean by indica vs sativa
So what about all that talk you hear in the recreational and medical marijuana communities about indica being higher in THC and giving you a “body high,” versus sativa giving you a “mind high”?
The idea of these attributes based solely on subspecies are largely fable. As we mentioned, cannabis is so highly cultivated that practically everything available these days is a hybrid strain of indica and sativa. Therefore, there’s really no hard and fast rule you can apply about what you’ll experience using indica vs sativa. They’ll have varying CBD levels, so you can’t use that as a rule. Some people think high CBD levels automatically mean it’s an indica—not true!
But just to inform ourselves of the discussion, let’s look at commonly held beliefs about how indica vs sativa effects supposedly differ.
|Indica vs Sativa|
|Body high||Mind high|
|Better used at night||Better used during the day|
|Used more commonly for pain relief||Used more commonly for anxiety and depression|
|High THC||Lower THC|
Hello! It’s the terpenes
The subspecies of cannabis doesn’t determine how you’ll feel when you use it. It’s more about the concentrations of cannabinoids, primarily THC and CBD and — we often overlook this — the concentration of the terpenes present.
In fact, when analyzing a new strain, producers test the terpene content (and the concentration of one terpene in particular: myrcene) to classify it as either indica or sativa (or indica-dominant vs sativa-dominant). Myrcene contains powerful sedative effects and may be responsible for the “couch lock” effect. If myrcene concentration is greater than one half of one percent, it’s labeled indica, if it’s less, it’s labeled sativa.
Given that the taxonomy for cannabis was created long before methods of terpene analysis, it’s clear that indica vs sativa designations have little to do with botanical labels at this point. So if we want to use indica vs sativa strains as shorthand for certain effects, that’s fine, but it’s important to understand that these terms are just a construct.
As a result, budtenders are now using the terms “indica-like” and “sativa-like” to improve accuracy and help consumers understand that just because a plant is labeled indica or sativa doesn’t mean much in terms of actual concentrations of cannabinoids. It just means the plant was either short with wide leaves (indica) or tall with thin leaves (sativa). This might be why you’re more likely to see buds classified as indica, sativa or hybrid.
Where do hemp-derived CBD products fall under all of this?
But what if you’re not into the psychoactive effects of marijuana and just want the powerful medicinal benefits of hemp-derived CBD? Then cannabis indica strains don’t come into the picture at all. Industrial hemp is a cultivar of cannabis sativa only, whereas marijuana be a cultivar of either indica or sativa. Cannabinoids and terpenes may vary by individual strain.
Hemp-derived CBD products contain high concentrations of CBD (much higher than marijuana), but with concentrations of THC less than .3 percent, which means they’re not going to get you high. Full spectrum CBD hemp oil (the kind we recommend) will also contain other cannabinoids in addition to terpenes and flavonoids that contribute to the synergistic healing properties known as the entourage effect.
Want to learn more about what hemp-derived CBD can do for you? Read all about the benefits here.