Indica vs Sativa – The Real Difference

Indica vs sativa how it feels different

There’s a lot of buzz in the cannabis community surrounding the terms Indica vs Sativa, but what do they actually mean? Though clever generalizations like “indica = in-da-couch” may roll off the tongues of bud-tenders to help sell a product in a hurry, the intricacies of a strains effects are much more complex than simply “indica vs sativa?”.

What’s the Real Difference Between Indica vs Sativa?

Scientifically speaking, Cannabis Sativa L. (or “marijuana”, “pot”, “weed”, “ganja” or any other number dank terms for the kind of cannabis that gets you “high”) is from the same genus as hemp, Cannabis L. Therefore, any cannabis that gets you high (or rather, any plant with enough THC) can be considered a sativa. Nevertheless, the difference between indica and sativa strains is important to understand, especially for growers and breeders who want to give their plants the best environment to thrive. So what is the difference between the two, and why should you care? We’re glad you asked.

The Interagency Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) has further broken down the plant into two subspecies – indica vs sativa[1] – but this distinction is largely based on where the plants originated and their resulting growth patterns, not their effects on the body.

Let’s take, for example, indicas which originated from the Hindu Kush Mountain Range where growing seasons were notoriously short and weather conditions more variable. The strain adapted to the conditions by maturing quicker; producing shorter, stockier plants and flowers; and coating themselves with a thick dusting of trichomes (where all the most important chemicals are), making them especially ideal for medical patients.

Conversely, sativa strains which come from warmer areas like Colombia, Thailand, and Mexico, have adapted to the uninterrupted sunny days with longer grow times; taller, lankier buds; and higher tolerance to heat. Sativas also tend to boast sweet or fruity flavors lending to their uplifting qualities, which leads us to a very important distinction in determining why different strains produce different effects.

Terpenes Play an Important Role in Indica vs Sativa

Terpenes are largely what determine the ambiance of a high. They’re typically the first thing someone notices when sniffing fresh flowers or opening a bag of carefully-cured dank due to their pungent aroma and (hopefully) awesome flavor. But terpenes play a much greater role in determining the outcome of a high than many people realize.

Terpenes have long been used therapeutically to help treat things like the common cold or a restless mind, and their abundance in cannabis has the same effect on our bodies. In fact, their effects are amplified when consumed in conjunction with cannabinoids like THC and CBD because they work on the same receptors in the body[2], dancing together in this sort of “entourage effect.”

When terpenes like a floral linalool or a citrusy limonene interact with cannabinoid receptors in the body, the effects are often an uplifted spirit and a reduced amount of pain. When these qualities are regularly attributed to a specific strain type — in this case, a common sativa trait — it is only natural that these generalizations would stick on one side of the indica vs sativa debate (just like the musky flavor of myrcene terpenes characteristic of many indica strains).

Using What You Learn to Find the Best Cannabis Strains

Just because a strain’s effects are not necessarily determined by whether they are more indica-dominant or more sativa-dominant does not mean the distinction isn’t important. To grow the best cannabis for your space and desired effects, it’s important to consider both the strain type (indica versus sativa) as well as its terpene content. Search for strains based on their flavor profile or strain type then refine your search accordingly until you find the perfect strain(s) for your needs.

We encourage you to track your results in a notebook and share your results with our social media pages or in the comment section below. Comments help our online community thrive by letting us learn from each other.

Have you tried any of our cannabis seeds? What inspired you to choose the seeds you chose? We ship worldwide in stealthy packing.

[1] https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=19109#null

[2] Fine, P. G., & Rosenfeld, M. J. (2013, October). The Endocannabinoid System, Cannabinoids, and Pain. Retrieved October 21, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820295/

75 thoughts on “Indica vs Sativa – The Real Difference

  1. Mary says:

    Takes a lot of research to find the medical marajuana strain for Chronic Pain.
    But I can’t really find out any medical conditions informing buyer so they can decide what to buy.

        • Jake Break says:

          I experience nerve, body and joint pain from multiple fractures, (sternum and all ribs were broken, broken jaw, bilateral pelvic fractures/torn sciatic nerve) and after years of experimentation, I’m coming to lean “Indica?” But the terpenoid dynamic weighs forever on my mind.

          I’ve enjoyed a sour diesel referred to simply, as #7. This was bred for effect. Our phenotype hunting endeavor tracks something like this, we look for how the plants naturally behave. From this we look at growth patterns and structure while of course appreciating all of the aromas. The plants that have a structure and potency that is considered good, are cloned and germinated with similarly structured male plants. And we continue from there. Typically the second grow of clones comes out better than the initial grow from seed.

          Along the path to that juncture, a terpene bomb was discovered. Sour diesel is considered a Sativa but, smoking this flower had you wondering. Wondering where you came from and how you got to where you are. Looking at the clock, you realize 2-3 hours have passed and you’ve been doing great just focusing on whatever work you were doing. A slight introspection reaffirms that the body/mind are still in the flow..

          While this is my desired outcome, it’s impractical to have just this one phenotype in the garden. Even among 10-15 other varieties, the #7 was a go to. Hard to build a tolerance towards. My point, is that if a Sativa leaning hybrid like sour diesel could be such a well rounded smoke, what does that imply? It implies that there’s a whole lot more than Indica/Sativa when selecting our medicine.

          I then began researching the history of marijuana. After growing up in the U.S.A., I had experienced a plethora of varieties, personalities, and situations, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted. Or so I thought!!! After going through 12 different, regularly sexed hybrids, I learned some things. Work one variety at a time. It’s going to take more than a single 10-12 pack of seeds to typically be able to find something good. You can conservatively figure that about half of your seeds will be male while half will be female. Of those hypothetical 5, or 6 female plants there’s no guarantee of a keeper. We averaged one “decent phenotype,” out of each 10-12 seed cluster. The takeaway, find stable genetics, and acquire 20-100 seeds per genetic breed.

          We’re currently running BC Bud Depots BC Kush. This being considered a stable breed, I purchased two twelve packs of seeds. The first pack was an equal split, 6 males, 6 females. 1-6 are all very similar in stature and growth patterns, yet each plant has distinct buds. One being purple, one being a deeper magenta-esque color. The magenta Bud is extremely tasty and a smooth/7.5 out of 10 of effect. These are plants #5 and #6. #1 and #2 are both green Bud and really tasty in their own right. The #2 Bud has bigger bud structure than the #1 Bud, both tasty and really stoney. Buds numbered 3 and 4 are more earth and incense leaning. Small popcorn buds, all are very dense!!! The second batch of 12 seeds from the breeder are going as we await a second grow of the first 12 from our reproduced seed. The genetics typically get more complex when there is a healthy variety to breed from.

          Jelly Pie appears to have the diversity that appears to be a true winner. Cherry Pie x Grape Stomper = Grape Pie. Cherry Pie and Chemdawg are two sought after strains that bring to me what I enjoy. Below is my first experience with GPS genetics, at the Michigan hash bash 2019.

          I had a freshly cured 1/4 pound bouquet of Gunslinger x Deadhead nuggets that were decadently easy on the eyes. This plant, I thought, was the better of the two Gunslinger S1 varieties that I was gifted, at the 2016 hash bash. The other being Gunslinger x Chemdawg.

          The Deadhead cross had big ovaries/calyxes, and what were definitely bigger colas with a seeming touch in color of blue and purple hues, atop a nice Army green bud. The Deadhead cross, with its mysterious coloration and ovary stacked, arrow shaped colas packed a wonderful high. Plenty of vacant headspace to roam, with a pleasant residual of body relaxation. I cured some of these very flowers for 6 months and WOW! A cornucopia of flavor with a steely herbal taste with a slight floral nose upon exhale.

          The Chemdawg cross didn’t share the large ovary, spear shaped cola plant structure, but more than made up for it in strength. The Chemdawg cross of the S1 seeds I was gifted was the main producer. Definitely leaned heavier towards the Indica side which, in a hybrid is what I seek. It’s that heavy weight behind the eyes of an Indica, that just brings about feelings of childlike euphoria to me. That intersection of bliss, where the eyelids are allowing just a narrow slice of reality, and all of the weight is felt behind the eyes. This is such a refreshing way to be able to “relax,” while allowing the imagination to continue plugging away, bringing to the consciousness a variety of different planes upon your horizon. Good stuff, and I patiently wait for Jelly Pie as I contemplate the diversity of these differing Kush plants.

          My research states that all of the different Cannabis varieties started out in this area of the world. If that statement is scientifically correct, then these Kush seeds may hold more complexities than what I’ve previously experienced.

  2. Frank says:

    I’m going to try growing both to see which I like better but it really doesn’t matter since I’m more interested in just growing good weed. I’m new at this so it’s all a learning experience for me.

  3. jmwilson84 says:

    Indict relieves anxiety and pain perfectly. Creating a relaxed, eurohoic, & sedated state of being in the user. While Sativa tends to be more of an energetic, motivating, and envigorating expeeience. Great for daytime use.

    • CAPersian says:

      I dont think that’s always the case where sativa=energetic. I think it depends on your mood, health, placebo effect from tangy tasting weed gives me more energy too IMO.

  4. Loon85307 says:

    Thank you for the information . I use indicas all day long for my chronic pain from the military. Sativas get my head racing too much and cause panic. Sucks because that’s where all the good flavors are.

  5. Boosky71 says:

    Great info here! I would like to add that not only finding the correct strain for you is important but timing of how long you let the strain grow for is just as important. You will get totally different highs from chopping your plants at 50 days compared with chopping at 70 days. Take the time to find out what is good for you and what isn’t. Thanks Gu!

  6. Christopher says:

    It’s real hard to find a true indica or sativa these days. It seems more and more everything is turning into a hybrid. I am not complaining about it in any way just my opinion and observation with it on the market these days. It’s just hard when you walk into a dispensary and they ask you if you want an indica or sativa, let’s just be honest here they may be sativa or indica leaning but one that is pure on side of the spectrum or the other is very hard to find

  7. CptnHowdy says:

    I would have to agree with Christopher.
    Also when it comes to feeding both types require different amount.
    Sativa dominant I Agree is more for the early afternoons.
    Indica late afternoons Also would like to add that when I grow Indica Dominant I use the leaves and stalks of them and make an oil for my Eczema and it seems to do better then when I try Sativas. Tho this is my Body chemistry don’t know how it would effect otheres.
    Much Love GPS and Everyone

  8. owenbarduhn says:

    A good 50/50 strain like a WIFI O.G or a Green Crack God are perfect for me. I like the balance , not to sedating but i get excellent pain relief. But I can still get stuff done.

  9. Nathaniel says:

    I love indicas because of their short stature which suits my growing space. I also tend to enjoy a couch lock high because it’s usually night time when I smoke. In contrast I do really love a good sativa that will give me a giggly can’t stop laughing at stupid things feeling!

  10. Mike H says:

    I remember reading that a genome study of Cannabis found that essentially none of the “origin stories” can be believed. For instance, a strain marked as pure Afghani C. s. indica contained no Afghani landrace genetics, and was, in fact, mostly C. s. sativa from South America. Molecular genome studies are hard to argue against.
    This is not the same article, but it is really informative.
    http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0133292

  11. Nathaniel says:

    My favorite would be an indica, theyre just really beautiful, quick to flower, and usually leave me stuck to the couch like your child’s favorite candy. Indicas are it for me but lately I’ve been digging the sativas, definitely not for the flowering time but for added effects. Sativas make some beautiful plants too, especially when there is a top shelf fairy hidden in the seeds, absolutely gorgeous stank baseball bats of yummy yummy good good!

  12. darryl says:

    Anyway WLD stands for Wide leaved drug type, while NLD stands for Narrow leaved drug type.
    WLD is what is refered to as indica, NLD is what is refered to as sativa.

  13. GodzWeedz says:

    Sure, I’ll share what little I know about narrow and wide leaf types of cannabis. As breeding purposes go you can produce real fire just using these two plants. Trading traits that you like into one or the other. Regular seeds work well for this purpose but you can also do it with fem seed females by making one hermie out and polinate the other female , which in turn leaves you with feminized seeds. The one thins this article didn’t bring to the table is Cannabis Ruderalis otherwise known of as hemp. Hemp lives a short life, making it possible for US farmers to get three crops out a year in some area’s. How does that help in breeding? Well a lot of hybrids of the auto flower variety have Cannabis Ruderalis introduced into the . Northern Lights Auto is a example. WLD plant that contains something like 20% Ruderalis by 80% Indica. thus creating a hybrid that is a quick grow and still in a desired thc range. I know I didn’t stick to your WLD or NLD and talked more on breeding, but really I find defining WLD and NLD as already talking about Indica and Sativa.

  14. OldSchoolGrower says:

    Indica’s have always been a favorite of mine. Both for it’s effects and shorter flowering time. I also LST (Low Stress Training) instead of topping to create plenty of uniformed branching creating an even canopy. Allowing the light to cover all parts of the plant. Therefore not wasting any light, space or energy. Last Indica I trained almost completely filled a 5’x6′ foot scrog net. Just got 3 Gorilla Glue #4 started. Buying more seeds on the 1st. Not sure which kind yet. But will be Indica dominant.

  15. GodzWeedz says:

    I love the effect of a sativa dominate strain. It opens up the creativity of my mind while allowing me to function around the house with daily chores. I recommend a indica dominate when your done for the day. Being a chronic insomniac it provides sleep easily and does away with my sleeping pills. Both help with my rheumatoid arthritis, although I have to say that a indica provides the best results for that. I have cirrhosis and its basically rejuvinating my liver. One of mother natures incredible health plants and they made it illegal. Its time for a change, but Big Pharma doesn’t want the change because it loses them money with trashy pills that have never alleviated my muscle spasms and chronic pain. I say get the best and the brightest from all around the world to study this plant for its cancer stopping capability. Maybe coupled with some other plants in the rain forest we could see a end of cancer. Wouldn’t that be better than letting them die? Think of it, a end to cancer worldwide.

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