Indica and Sativa are two different strains of marijuana within the cannabis plant family, each with its own characteristics and benefits. It can be difficult to know where to start when comparing strains, so we've provided a shortlist of the most popular Indica and Sativa strains as well as our top 3 hybrid strains in this article. Learn the differences between Indica and Sativa strains to help you choose what's best for you!
Physical differences between strains
Indica plants are shorter and bushier than Sativa plants, and they have a woody stalk, not a fibrous one. They also have dark green leaves and tend to grow more quickly than Sativa plants. Sativa plants have lighter colored leaves and are tall, thin flowers.
There is some disagreement among scientists and botanists about what caused these physical differences among the marijuana species. However, terpenes (the chemical compounds responsible for the aromas and flavors of a strain) are mainly what botanists use to classify strains as either a Sativa or an Indica. For example, the terpene myrcene is associated with the effect of relaxation and is found in high concentrations in Indica plants.
What are the different classifications for cannabis strains?
Indica strains originate from cooler, harsher climates across South Asia and help you embrace your inner sloth. Due to being grown in harsher conditions, the strain also has a distinctive resin shell. They are associated with a deep, to-the-bones type of relaxation that is great for heavy-hitting pain relief and can help with insomnia. Indicas can stimulate appetite and overcome nausea, and give users a whole–body sedative feeling. Indica strains can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety, chronic pain, or frequent headaches.
The Sativa plant originates from Central and South America. Sativa strains tend to be more cerebral and uplifting, making them good for daytime use. Some people also claim Sativa makes them more productive. Sativas are most effective when used in larger doses and for longer periods of time.
Hybrids are a blend of two or more different strains. Most popular strains of marijuana today are hybrids, but some strains are much more Indica or Sativa dominant. Hybrids come in a variety of ratios, usually ranging from 20-80 or 30-70 ratios to evenly balanced 50-50 ratios. The effects of hybrids vary depending on which traits were inherited from the parent plants. They can give someone a mix of both effects typically associated with Indica and typically associated with Sativa, a nice mix for someone that wants something that’s in the middle. This creates an experience that, according to cannabis growers, is the “best of both worlds.” We currently do not understand the effects of strains based on their appearance alone.
Cannabis ruderalis is a subspecies of the plant that doesn't contain much THC or CBD, the chemical responses credited causing marijuana’s euphoric or relaxing effects.
It has its origins in cooler parts of the world, such as Russia and Hungary, and was first classified in 1924. Due to its low THC and CBD concentration, it has no known medicinal properties. The plant also grows wild and does not need cultivators to flower. If you want to feel any psychoactive effects, ruderalis is not the strain for you.
Low THC Hemp
Hemp is any cannabis plant that contains less than .3% THC. Though high–THC cannabis has long been valued for its psychoactive effects, hemp is growing in popularity due to the legality and therapeutic benefits of its CBD content. Hemp can also be used for industrial products such as paper, clothing, and textiles. As a fibrous plant, it also can be added as a source of protein in foods.
History of Indica and Sativa
Indica and Sativa have been used to describe two distinct species of cannabis for years. These two strands have been named by Western scientists since the mid 18th–century, but they have been used by different cultures around the world for centuries. Both Indica and Sativa's positive effects on the mind and body have been written about or observed for many years.
Cultivation of Indica and Sativa is thought to have originated as far back as 12,000 years ago in Central Asia, making it one of the oldest cultivated crops in the world. In some places, the use of Indica and Sativa has been mainly medicinal, but it has also been observed as part of past cultures’ religious ceremonies, such as in ancient China or Siberia. Additionally, African peoples in Ethiopia and across West Africa were trading and using cannabis from the 14th century onwards.
Due to cannabis legalization movements and scientific studies about the positive effects of weed, there are now more strains to choose from than ever. Many are genetically hybridized to offer unique and more potent user experiences. People look to cannabis for its health benefits, including its ability to calm anxiety, combat sleep deprivation, or soothe chronic pain. Consumers (both recreational and medicinal) use different cannabis strains for its impact on mood and body feeling.
Most Popular Sativa–dominant Strains:
Sour Diesel is a type of Sativa–dominant strain, nearly 90% Sativa according to WikiLeaf. It is known for its analgesic (pain relief) and euphoric effects and is best taken in the morning.
Sour Diesel can enhance mental and creative focus. It has been speculated that it was created from mixing strains Chemdawg and OG Kush, but there are other possible parent strains as well. The plant has a distinctively strong smell, described as a mix between skunk and lemon. The taste is herbal and also lemony. Take advantage of Sour Diesel’s high energy characteristics and use it to start your day off on the right note.
Lemon Haze is one of the most popular Sativa strains, known for its uplifting, happy euphoric effect. It is decently less Sativa–dominant than Sour Diesel, at 70% Sativa. It is a cross between the Silver Haze and Lemon Skunk strains. Lemon Haze also has very distinguishing physical features, with deep green, fluffy leaves. It strain also has very strong effects, with noticeable sensory distortion and a quick improvement in one’s mood. This strain will also leave you feeling clear-headed and ready to tackle projects head-on, especially creative ones. With the motivation that Lemon Haze often gives people, it is a great strain to use lookout for when trying to get long–procrastinated household tasks out the way. However, this strain also has a distinctly high percentage of THC, so if you have a low tolerance or are looking for a strain that’ll help you sleep, it might not be the best for you.
Jack Herer is a strain of cannabis that is known for its unique creative effects. The strain is named after a cannabis activist who fought for the drug’s decriminalization and legalization through his fundamental texts such as 1985’s The Emperor Wears no Clothes. Herer was one of the founders of the modern hemp movement as well, and his work supporting the cannabis industry continues to be forwarded today through The Jack Herer Foundation.
The Jack Herer strain was developed as far back as the 80s or 90s and has continued to be an immensely popular Sativa–dominant strain. It is 55% Sativa, so it’s nearly an even hybrid with Indica, meaning it is less energizing than Lemon Haze and Sour Diesel. A speculated cross between Northern Lights #5 and Shiva Skunk, Jack Herer causes an award-winning high that has been described as calming, but not sedative. It has been described as giving users the ability to think more creatively and visualize more abstract ideas.
Originally grown in South Africa, Durban Poison is a rare 100% Sativa strain. It has a high that is best for listening to music or watching movies, as its purely–head feeling will lead you to interesting thinking patterns. With earthy and herbal flavors, Durban Poison is unique in the fact that, unlike many other strains on the market today, it wasn’t grown in a lab. As a strong Sativa strain, it has been observed to have some negative effects for those not as used to Sativa, such as jitteriness or paranoia. Nevertheless, many users report an energetic high that makes them feel creative and introspective. It’s good any time of day, as it will keep your motivation up and your drowsiness down.
Most Popular Indica–Dominant Strains
This 75% Indica strain is one of the most popular in the U.S., especially on the West Coast. It was created in 2003 as a hybrid of Purple Urkle and Big Bud. Known for its oversized bud structure and deep purple flowers, Grandaddy Purple has been described as a body high that has amazing benefits for those looking for pain relief. Granddaddy Purple can also treat insomnia, as its relaxing effect is known to make users want to lie down. It is best suited to nighttime use.
Also recommended for nighttime use is Blue Cheese, which can also induce intense feelings of relaxation. With a mix of 80% Indica and 20% Sativa, Blue Cheese packs a powerful and distinctive smell that can be compared to a mix of cheese, herbs, and fruits. The strain has a largely sedative effect, making it a good treatment for ADHD, depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders. Users have described that a feeling of euphoria overwhelms them slowly over time. It’s a high that doesn’t hit all at once but leaves users with a stronger experience nonetheless.
Developed in the 70s or 80s, the Blueberry Indica strain is known for its blueberry scent and taste. Its sticky, green leaves also carry unique traces of purple and red as well, caused by the strain’s high concentration of pigments. Blueberry is considered a potent strain, giving users a feeling of a calm mindset yet a heavy physical feeling. It’s definitely a strain to consume at night, as its powerful sedative nature makes it unsuitable for productivity. The high produced by Blueberry is stated to last longer than usual, and is good for pain relief or to simply unwind.
Boasting a rare and potent 33% THC concentration, Northern Lights is nearly a pure Indica strain. It has been incredibly popular since it first arrived in the U.S. from Holland. Similar to Blueberry, it provides users with an ultra-loose, sedative feeling. It often makes people hungry and may relieve stress and anxiety as well. Northern Lights is suspected to be a mix of the Thai and Afghani strains of Indica, and has a delicious sweet and spicy flavor upon inhaling. For some, the physical distortions caused by Northern Lights produces an almost “glittering” effect on one’s surroundings, as if the user has actually been transported to the eponymous aurora borealis.
Most Popular Hybrid Strains
Gorilla Glue is a strain known for its potency, instant effects, and earthy aroma reminiscent of coffee. It is helpful in managing chronic pain and depression, insomnia, and anxiety, as it gives users a relaxing feeling of euphoria. A dry mouth and eyes are common side effects of this potent strain. It’s nicknamed “glue” because of the way it will leave you glued to your seat, also known as couchlock. Though some have noted its mocha and coffee taste, it also has a heavy sour taste that stays in your mouth. A cross between Chem’s Sister, Sour Dubb, and Chocolate Diesel, Gorilla Glue is a popular and award-winning strain, so definitely keep an eye out for it.
Also known as “Larry Bird,” Gelato is a less potent strain than Gorilla Glue that still delivers amazing benefits. Its taste has been rated as sweet, with tangy notes of citrus as well. Originally grown in the Bay Area of California, the strain has become extremely popular over the last few years. It leaves users feeling uplifted and relaxed, and can help with high-stress levels. The high often starts with a head rush, and then a whole–body buzzed feeling. It has also been described as having particularly strong effects on time dilation and sound distortion, but it is typically not observed to induce paranoia in users.
OG Kush is said to be a cross between three other popular strains, Chemdawg, Lemon Thai, and Hindu Kush, but its genetic lineage is not known for sure due to OG Kush’s vast popularity for medicinal (and recreational) marijuana usage. It is also the parent of many other strains. OG Kush has a notable earthy, spicy, and citrusy flavor. It can induce giggles, chattiness, and hunger, making it perfect for a more social high. Best for afternoon use, it is the perfect strain to enjoy with friends as its euphoric effect will be sure to give everyone a good time.
So, which strain is right for you?
While there are many different cannabis strains on the market, the best way to determine which is right for you is simply to ask yourself these questions:
How do you want to feel?
As previously mentioned, Sativa is known for energy, and Indica is known for relaxation. Hybrids often give a mix of these feelings. Generally speaking, if you want a high you feel all over your body, go for Indica. To get a feeling more centered in your head, go for Sativa. Also, the effects of your high might be different depending on whether you took an edible or smoked.
What kind of experience do you want to have?
Some strains are better than others for having a good day out with friends, while others are better for a night in. When determining the best strain, it all depends on which experiences you’d rather have.
How much do you want to spend?
There are strains, especially rare or specially–bred ones, that are more expensive than others. In most cases, more expensive weed is of better quality, but there are generally great options at every price point. If you’re willing to spend a lot of money, you can experience a really unique strain. If not, there are still many more common strains that deliver incredible psychoactive effects.
What is your tolerance?
The THC percentage can help you see how potent a strain is. High THC strains will make you feel the effects much faster and usually stronger. However, high THC strains can be scarier for those who aren’t regular smokers, as more THC heightens the risk of experiencing negative side effects like anxiety.
What are your goals?
As Sativa is often associated with a productive and mood-boosting mind high, it is suited for those looking for a boost to get something done. Indicas are best for relaxing, binge-watching, or just generally taking time to unwind after a long day or stressful week.
Choosing the right strain
It’s important to note that each strain does affect each person differently, so make sure to experiment to find the right one for you. There are dozens of different strains with different THC percentages or Sativa–Indica ratios that can give you the positive experience you’re looking for. Strains of marijuana can be categorized by their THC and CBD levels. Websites such as Wikileaf or Leafly feature user reviews that can also help you see others’ experiences and gauge whether it’s the right strain for you.
When it comes to truly answering the question of whether Indica or sativa is better, the answer is highly dependent on the individual. This article can be a starting point for your search for the ideal strain for your needs— don’t be afraid to try both Indicas, Sativas, and hybrids until you find your perfect match.