Once you start showing even a slight interest in cannabis, some of the first terminology you’ll come across will likely be “indica”, “sativa” and “hybrid”. It’s hard to find a cannabis product—especially a THC-dominant one—that doesn’t use these terms, so it’s useful to know what they mean. However, you’ll also want to understand the limitations of these words and why—sometimes—they should be taken with a grain of salt.
What’s the difference between indica, sativa and hybrid strains of cannabis?
Indica and sativa are terms that have been around since the 18th century. Traditionally, they were used to classify different species of plant; specifically—and you’ll never guess this—Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica.
This original classification is kinda forgotten by today’s cannabis industry: Cannabis sativa referred to what we now call hemp (cannabis’ sibling). While Cannabis indica was an intoxicating variety that originated in India.
These days, indica and sativa more commonly imply two cannabis plant types that are defined by the shape of their leaves, among other characteristics—indica leaves are typically shorter and stumpier than their sativa siblings.
As these two plant types (using the “current” classification) have been known anecdotally to offer different kinds of highs, the terms indica and sativa are mainly used today by both growers and consumers to help describe the type of high you should expect from a strain.
Indica strains are known for their relaxing properties, and many users will experience what’s known as a full-body high. They help with sleep and anxiety issues and have been given a loving pseudonym to help you remember their number one goal: in da couch. Because, y’know, it’s likely you’ll be spending a good amount of time there. When you say it you’ll sound like a dad trying to be down with the kids but at least it gets the message across.
With sativa strains, many consumers report a more uplifting encounter that’s characterized as a head high. It’s common to experience increased creativity and even more energy after dabbling with sativas.
A hybrid strain is, well, I’m sure you’re most of the way there with that definition. Cannabis plants are crossbred in order to produce new strains, a practice that’s been going on for centuries. Strains that have been bred from a sativa and an indica plant are known as hybrids and offer a variety of effects, depending on the dominant parent strain.
But when it comes to indica vs sativa, it’s just not that simple
The problem with using these three terms is that, firstly, they’re not particularly accurate and, secondly, user experience varies so wildly that it’s difficult to predict with any confidence the effects of an indica or sativa strain on a particular user.
Due to the aforementioned crossbreeding between indicas and sativas, there aren’t actually any (or at least many) true indica or sativa strains out there. Pretty much every strain you’ll be able to get your hands on will be a hybrid of some sort.
Plus, there are many other factors that influence a particular strain’s effects on the user. Each strain will have a unique blend of cannabinoids and terpenes that all affect the body in different ways—and affect different bodies in different ways!
But that doesn’t mean that these terms are redundant—when you see indica or sativa on cannabis packaging, it will be referring to the dominant strain in the plant.
The terms indica and sativa still have an important role to play in cannabis marketing and consumption, as their unique reported effects are generally enjoyed by the majority of partakers—it’s just not as clear cut as it seems.If you want to be sure how a particular strain is going to affect you, there’s only one true way to find out: head down to your local licensed dispensary and get some product recommendations to take home and experiment with. Start slow, and enjoy.