Two of the most important words that get thrown around the marijuana community are ‘indica’ and ‘sativa’ – and rightly so. Together, sativa and indica form the backbone of genetic breeding and the strains that we love today. Every strain that you pick up from a dispensary is either indica, sativa or a combination of the two. Even within these two categories, there are many different variations and many different qualities.
The main differences between indica and sativa are the effects (and for growers, the plants look slightly different too), and choosing will depend on what you want to get out of using weed. Even the chemical composition of compounds changes between indica and sativa, and again between strains. In this article you’ll learn a little bit about the different qualities of sativa and indica and how to tell them apart.
Indica is said to have started with pure Kush in the mountains of Afghanistan. The colder climates gave way to a smaller, bushier and generally stronger plant than what was growing in other parts of the world. The harsher climate is also said to be the reason that indica plants are usually covered in such a thick layer of resin. In general, indica plants are more likely to produce heavy yields than sativa plants. Growers and geneticists love indica plants for this reason, and it is often this phenotype that they are trying to reproduce in other strains.
Medical marijuana patients have a tendency to choose indica strains because they are sedative, and their effects are said to be relaxing. For example, indica strains are usually enjoyed by those who suffer from anxiety or muscle pain. Indica strains are also popular among insomniacs because it can have an extremely drowsy effect.
The taste of indica plants are usually woody and earthy, and sometimes harbor that smell of diesel that is so characteristic of marijuana. Remember that in a marijuana plant, there is a whole spectrum of terpenoids and cannabinoids that contribute to the final effect that the user feels. It is the unique combination of terpenoids and cannabinoids that make strains different from one another, and the very same is true between indica and sativa. It is hard to quantify these because we don’t yet know about every single compound that is present in cannabis.
Sativa strains are usually found near the equator, and are taller, flimsier plants than sativa. They love to live outdoors, and even the shape of the leaves differs greatly between sativa and indica plants. Sativa has longer, skinnier leaves, whereas indica leaves are wider and more robust. While the effects of indica plants tend to be more physical effects, sativa is the opposite. Sativa plants have more of a cerebral effect, inducing sensations of creativity and euphoria. The effects of the sativa are said to be more psychedelic than the indica plant.
Sativa plants require longer to mature than indica plants, and as mentioned they don’t give quite as good a yield. Sativas aren’t generally grown for their stealth in the garden, because if anything, they are hard to grow and are stubborn. The qualities of the sativa plant that growers usually love are the taste and of course, the super powerful cerebral effects.
Users report a sensation of upliftedness and energy when they use sativa strains. For this reason some medical patients choose to use sativa to treat mood disorders and depression. Sativa can also be used to aid concentration or to assist in creative inspiration. What is important to realise is that, even within strains, the phenotype can be experienced completely differently. As much as energy, upliftedness and creativity is what we might expect from a sativa strain, we might experience some characteristics closer to that of an indica plant.
There are very few pure sativa strains left on the market. Most of them are hailing from Amsterdam, with Haze probably being one of the most sought out pure sativa varieties. Because sativa is more delicate and harder to grow, breeders have been working on isolating the phenotypes and creating more hybrids. It has become increasingly difficult to find pure sativa strains.
Even within the categories of cannabis indica and cannabis sativa, there are so many different variations. It has become less important whether a strain belongs to indica or sativa, and the strain itself has become the main attraction. There is more of a consistency within strains than there is within the very broad categorization of indica and sativa.
Hybrid is the phenomenon that occurs when breeders cross a sativa strain with an indica strain. Almost all the strains you are used to smoking are hybrid, and contain some of the best qualities of both indica and sativa. When a hybrid has two, really strong parents, the chances for a great strain are really high quality. When we consider Girl Scout Cookies, arguably one of the best sativa-dominant hybrids that exists, the possibilities when we interbreed sativa and indica become very clear.
Genetically mixing sativa and indica was one of the most important things that ever happened in modern marijuana. It opened the door to genotypes and phenotypes that we never would have imagined possible. We have way more strains of marijuana now than we did fifty years ago. Blue Dream, OG Kush and White Widow are more hybrid success stories, not to mention Trainwreck, AK-47 and Cheese. Yes, almost all of the strains you love are the product of a indica and sativa mix. It seems that all the magic starts to happen after we start mixing.
Breeders are usually playing something of a puzzle game with strains; trying to get a plant to show this quality and that quality. By mixing the qualities of both indica and sativa, breeders have created an even bigger gene/phene pool in the world of cannabis. Even genetic mutations have become accidental winners, revealing qualities to us that we didn’t even know the marijuana plant could have. Hybrid mixing basically changed marijuana genetics, and although it can be harder and harder to come across pure strains, more and more are being created.
The landrace strain
Other than sativa and indica, there is one other “type” of marijuana that wasn’t really mentioned here. There is such a thing as a ‘landrace’, which is something like ‘no strain of marijuana at all’. Landraces are hard to come by because we have been involved in the genetic breeding of cannabis for so long.
They are strains that basically don’t have a strain, for lack of a better way of explaining it. If you can imagine what the original strain of marijuana might have been, the landrace is it.
Some people put hemp in the category of being a landrace, but even that is questionable. The landrace is what our ancestors were smoking thousands of years ago, before we started picking and choosing the different qualities that we liked.
Marijuana is much stronger now than it was in the past, and cannabis sativa and cannabis indica carry generally much higher THC contents than landraces. It is for this reason that it is highly unlikely to find a landrace strain available in dispensaries.
Is one better than the other?
Stoners are always wanting to know if one is better than the other. Should I be using sativa or should I be using indica? Ahh, they don’t always have to be at war with one another. The truth is that one is not better than the other.
What you want to achieve with marijuana will dictate whether sativa or indica is going to be better for you. The medical properties of the two vary greatly, at least in the immediate effect that the user feels.
If you are the kind of body that is prone to hyperactivity and doesn’t know how to relax, perhaps and indica strain is the most suitable. However, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t know where to find the energy to go to work, perhaps it can be found in a sativa strain.
In any case, it takes some time to get to know the different plants and the different strains to decide which one is the most suitable for your situation.
It’s like apples and oranges. Humans simply couldn’t decide if one was better than the other and that’s essentially why we created hybrids. There are qualities of both indica and sativa that can be beneficial to you and it’s all a matter of choosing what is going to be right for the occasion.
Choosing a strain of marijuana can boil down to so many things, but one of the most important is whether you’ll be buying indica, sativa or hybrid.