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Indica vs. Sativa: Are They Really That Different?

If you’ve spent any time digging into the wide world of cannabis and hemp, you may have come across smokable flower labeled either Indica or Sativa. They aren’t the same, and by old rules of thumb, each should elicit different effects. So which one is right for you?

In this post, we’ll be looking at some of the differences between Indica vs. Sativa cannabis like, 

  • How Indicas make you feel vs. how Sativas make you feel
  • How Indica plants are structured vs how Sativa plants are structured 
  • When should you use Indica strains vs. when you should use Sativa strains

What Is Sativa Cannabis?

Sativa is shorthand for a type of cannabis called Cannabis Sativa Sativa. It is the first of three subspecies of the Cannabis sativa L. species. Sativa cannabis is found primarily in hot, tropical climates such as Northern Africa, Central America, and Southeast Asia. 

Sativa plants are thinner and grow taller than the other subspecies of cannabis, reaching heights of 12 and 14 feet when left unattended. Their leaf structure mimics this general structure too. Sativa leaves are finger-like— long and skinny. 

Sativa plants also take longer than the other subspecies to fully mature during their flowering phase, sometimes up to 14 weeks. This is because Sativa plants evolved in areas with consistent light schedules and warmer climates with fewer mold pressures.

Common Beliefs About Sativas

It is often said that Sativa strains of cannabis and hemp are:

  • Energizing 
  • Anxiety-reducing
  • Productive 
  • Creative
  • More cerebral 

Because of its energizing and productive nature, many budtenders will recommend that you use Sativa strains during the daytime. 

What Is Indica Cannabis?

Indica is shorthand for Cannabis Sativa Indica. The more bush-like of the three Cannabis Sativa L. subspecies, Indica cannabis strains usually grow in colder, temperate climates like Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan. 

Indica plants are more stout than Sativa cannabis plants. Indica’s leaves also mimic its structure in that the individual leaves are shorter and wider than Sativa plant leaves. 

Because Indica cannabis plants evolved in temperate climates, they have a shorter flowering time of 6 to 9 weeks. Without this shorter flowering period, landrace Indica plants would’ve likely died off in nighttime freezing conditions late in the season. A shorter flowering period means that Indica plants can fully mature and produce ample seeds before the first frost. 

Common Beliefs About Indica

It is often said that Indica strains of cannabis are:

  • Relaxing 
  • Pain-relieving 
  • Good for appetite 
  • A sleep aid 
  • More body-oriented 

Because of its deeply relaxing nature, most budtenders will recommend Indica and Indica-dominant strains for nighttime use. 

Are There Other Types Of Cannabis?

There is so much more to the world of cannabis genetics than Indica vs. Sativa. Most cannabis and hemp flower that you’ll find for sale are some form of hybrid, meaning that it came from a plant with mixed Indica and Sativa lineage.

What Is Hybrid Cannabis?

Unlike Sativa and Indica plants, hybrid cannabis doesn’t have a set plant or leaf structure. That’s because hybrids contain the genetics of both Sativa and Indica. Not only do we not know what Hybrids will look like until they reach maturity, but it means that we also don’t know how new Hybrid strains will affect users. 

Most cannabis and hemp strains that you’ll see available for purchase will be to some degree a hybrid. There are a few reasons for that: 

  • Hybrid plants tend to yield more smokable flower than Sativas or Indicas. 
  • Properly-bred hybrid plants are more resistant to pests and external pressures. 
  • Hybrid plants can be bred to grow in certain climate conditions. 

Aside from the endless selection of hybrids, there is another cannabis subspecies that is becoming more popular with boutique and hobby growers. This subspecies is called Cannabis Sativa Ruderalis, though it is more commonly called “auto-flowering.” 

What Is Auto-Flowering Cannabis?

Auto-Flowering is a unique trait native to the Cannabis Sativa Ruderalis subspecies. Ruderalis plants are not photoperiodic, meaning that they don’t transition into their flowering period based on hours of daylight. Instead, Ruderalis plants transition into their flowering phase based on the age of the plant. Because of this genetically encoded transition, most true Ruderalis plants will never grow past three feet tall. 

Ruderalis’s auto-flowering feature has allowed this subspecies of cannabis to live and thrive in the harshest of growing conditions in Central and Eastern Europe and some parts of Western Asia. 

Because of harsher growing conditions and this auto-flowering feature, most Ruderalis plants don’t develop as many cannabinoids as either Sativa or Indica plants. 

Indica Vs. Sativa: Which Is Hemp?

Knowing that Sativa and Indica subspecies of cannabis elicit different effects, it makes sense to ask: Is hemp Sativa or Indica? 

Hemp can actually be either Indica or Sativa. The difference between hemp flower and recreational marijuana flower is the amount of THC present. Hemp flower, as defined by the 2018 Farm Bill, contains less than 0.3% delta-9 THC by dry weight

At Sunset Lake CBD, most of our hemp strains are Sativa-dominant hybrids meaning that our plants are the result of selectively bred Indica and Sativa plants that express more Sativa phenotypes, i.e. they are taller and have a skinnier, Christmas-tree structure. In short, they are hearty hybrids that look more like tall Sativa plants. 

Indica vs. Sativa: What Else Factors Into A Flower’s Effect?

Because most cannabis flower that you’ll find for sale is to some extent a hybrid strain, using Indica vs. Sativa may not be the best way to predict how each strain will affect you. 

To better understand what you’re smoking or consuming, it’s better to take a look at what cannabinoids and terpenes are present in your flower. These naturally-occurring cannabis compounds work together to elicit different experiences in users. 

What Are Cannabinoids?

Cannabis plants produce hundreds of chemical compounds that all have unique properties and the most prevalent are called cannabinoids. Both THC and CBD are examples of cannabinoids. 

What Are Terpenes?

Terpenes are aromatic compounds produced by fruits and plants that give each their unique smell. Cannabis is an especially aromatic plant and produces countless different terpenes, but the four most prevalent are: 

  • Myrcene
  • Limonene
  • Terpinolene
  • Caryophyllene

Not only do terpenes produce their own unique smells, but they can change how cannabinoids affect you. Some terpenes are known to help with:

  • Relaxation
  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Appetite stimulation

If you’re interested in learning more about your cannabis flower on the cannabinoid and terpene levels, you should become acquainted with certificates of analysis and how to read them. These third-party lab documents should tell you everything that you need to know about your flower from potency to terpene concentration and more. 

Indica vs. Sativa: Frequently Asked Questions

Is There Really A Difference Between Sativa And Indica?

There is a difference between Indica and Sativa cannabis plants. Based on our old understanding of Indica vs. Sativa, Indica cannabis has more of a “body” effect, while Sativas are supposed to give users more energizing, “heady” effects. 

Because of the interbreeding of Indica and Sativa plants, these old understandings of Indica vs. Sativa are just that: old and outdated. Almost every strain you’ll find for sale is a hybrid. The only real way to tell the difference between Indica vs. Sativa is by their structure. Indica plants are short and bushy, while Sativa plants are tall and skinny. 

Is Sativa An Upper Or Downer?

Sativa cannabis flower is supposed to produce more of an energizing and stimulating feeling. Because of the abundance of hybrid crossbreeding, a better way to gauge cannabis’s effects would be to look at an individual strain’s terpene profile. 

Is Indica An Upper Or Downer?

Indica cannabis flower is supposed to produce more of a mellow and downer feeling in users. Because of the abundance of hybrid crossbreeding, a better way to gauge cannabis’s effects would be to look at an individual strain’s terpene profile. 

Indica vs. Sativa: The Takeaways

Given that most of the strains you’ll find available for purchase these days are hybrids, you’ll likely have a hard time finding a strain that adheres strictly to the Indica vs. Sativa traits. 

The best way to get a sense of how a strain might affect you is to take a close look at the strain’s lineage, its cannabinoid content, and its terpene profile. There are likely other factors that play a role in how a cannabis strain might affect you, but these are the big three to take notice of.