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Indica Versus Sativa: What’s the Difference?

Whether you are a beginner, novice or veteran cannabis smoker the first question asked when choosing a strain is how do I want to feel? Are you looking for a strong Indica that will give you the ultimate body high, a focused sativa that will give you that cerebral rush or a hybrid that will […]
February 2, 2021
Est. Reading: 8 minutes
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Whether you are a beginner, novice or veteran cannabis smoker the first question asked when choosing a strain is how do I want to feel? Are you looking for a strong Indica that will give you the ultimate body high, a focused sativa that will give you that cerebral rush or a hybrid that will bring the best of both worlds. Each strain has its own range of effects on either the body, mind or both. Or so we think, even though the belief that Sativa and Indica strains have different inherent properties and effects is a widely held assumption, the truth is that there is no scientific evidence to confirm this. It’s actually just a very popular myth.

Indica versus Sativa: What's the Difference?

Origins of Sativa & Indica

Cannabis plants are believed to have originated in Central Asia, specifically in what we know today as Mongolia and southern Siberia. Cannabis use can be dated back as far as 12,000 years, making it one of the oldest cultivated crops in history. Cannabis was used for both psychoactive effects and hemp in ancient China. The first known use of marijuana for medicinal purposes dates back to 4000 B.C. where it was used as an anesthetic during surgeries. From there it was brought into Korea in 2000 B.C. by costal farmers and was brought into South Asia when the Aryanas invaded in between 2000 B.C. – 1000 B.C. Cannabis soon became widely popular in India where it was known as one of the five kingdoms of herbs due to the effects it had on relieving anxiety. Cannabis then moved from Asia into Europe by a nomadic Indo-European group known as the Scythians, the Scythians carried the cannabis into the Middle East then into southeast Russia and then Ukraine after occupying each terriotry for years. Germanic tribes then brought the drug into Germany where it spread to Britain during the 5th century. This lead to cannabis spreading to various regions traveling through Africa to South America then by the 19th century making it’s way into North America.

The term Cannabis comes from two subspecies known as Cannabis sativa (marijuana) and Cannabis sativa L (hemp). Cannabis sativa is obviously the plant that produces psychedelic effects that millions of people smoke today to feel “high”, Cannabis sativa L is however pure hemp which is made for products like oil, cloth and CBD. These terms were coined by German botanist Leonardt Fuchs and Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus.  Around 30 years after the term Cannabis indica was coined, another psychoactive species of the plant was published by Jean-Baptiste Lamarch, who called it Cannabis Indica, which meant India in Latin. Cannabis Indica referred to the wild-growing psychoactive variety of cannabis discovered in India, predominantly used to produce hashish.

Now we know that the term Sativa was originally used to describe hemp, while Indica was used to describe the psychoactive medical marijuana variety. This means that almost all of the cannabis strains people ingest today actually all stem from the original Cannabis Indica breed, while the originally known Cannabis Sativa plant is largely used industrially for hemp as fiber, food, and for CBD as well. But in the modern world, these terms have shifted to mean something completely different. Somewhere along the way — as the use of medical marijuana increased and cannabis culture spread across the globe — the terms Sativa and Indica have evolved into a new way to categorize the thousands of cannabis strains that circulate the market today.



The idea that sativas, indicas and hybrids all provide very specific effects comes from the deeply rooted cannabis culture where cannabis sellers and budtenders use it as a starting feature to figure out what the consumer is looking for. This however is not an accurate way to pin point the perfect strain for your needs, it is however better to look at the chemical compounds of the strain such as terpenes and cannabinoids. It is difficult to distinguish which will provide an energy like feeling or act as a sedative, the terms indica and sativa are use primarily for cannabis growers to distinguish between the two plants more then the effects it may have. There is no real clear picture to show a clear pattern between the effects we get with indicas, sativas and hybrids. The effects of any given cannabis strain depend on a number of different factors, including the product’s chemical profile, your unique biology and tolerance, dose, and consumption method. If you can understand how these variants influence your cannabis experience then you have a better chance of finding the best strain for your needs.

Within a cannabis plant there are hundreds of chemical compounds that create various different effects, with the most dominant compound being cannabinoids. The two most dominant cannabinoids found in cannabis are THC and CBD, these are the main reason for cannabis’s therapeutic and recreational effects. When finding the right strain, its best to focus on if the strain is THC dominant, CBD dominant or a THC/CBD mix. THC dominant strains best suited for those looking for a euphoric experience and also for treating things like depression, anxiety and insominia. CBD dominant strains usually contain very little CBD and are used by those who do not like the psychoactive effects that comes with THC. It is best used for pain relief. THC/CBD mixed strains usually contain an equal amount of both, providing a midway point for both euphoria and pain relief. Both indica strains and sativa strains contain these active compounds and cannabinoid profiles.



Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in plants and fruit, such as as oranges, hops and cannabis. Terpenes are what gives cannabis its smell, which is emitted from the same glands that produce THC and CBD. Terpenes do have an effect on the impact cannabis has in relation to sedating and energizing, with specific types of terpenes having a direct impact. There are a variety of terpenes found in certain cannabis strains that can provide a variety of effects:

β-Caryophyllene- This is one of the most common terpenes in cannabis and is known to have a variety of medicinal use. Research has shown that β-Caryophyllene contains analgesic and pain reliever properties which can be found in anti-inflammatory drugs. β-Caryophyllene has shown to help with things like protecting stomach lining, agitated skin relief and the possibility of helping treat addiction. It contains properties similar to CBD which effects the CB-2 receptors in the body which helps with pain relief and chronic pain. Cannabis strains that contain β-Caryophyllene are Skywalker OG and Rockstar.

Pinene- Pinene is exactly what you think it is, it’s the terpene that is responsible for the smell of pine and is found in a wide variety of plants in nature. Medical studies have shown that pinene can work well as an anti-inflammatory component, working well with CBD by interacting with our CB-2 receptors. It has also shown to help with memory and combining it with cannabis can help eliminate the mental fog that comes with smoking cannabis. Cannabis strains that contain Pinene are Jack Herer and Mimosa.

Myrcene- Like the other terpenes, myrcene provides anti-inflammatory relief and is known to be a mild sedative which works well with THC to help with feeling comfortable and relaxing. When you eat foods that contain high levels myrcene like mangos or hops before consuming cannabis it can help enhance the high and help with healthy sleep cycles. Myrcene is commonly found in cannabis strains such as Green Crack and AK 47.

Limonene- This is the second most common terpene found in nature, giving off a citrus fruit aroma like lemons and oranges. Limonene is known to have bioavailability and has been shown in studies to be an effective way to treat acne and ulcers. Limonene is found in cannabis strains like White Widow and Banana Kush.

Linalool- This is what gives lavender its relaxing effects and is known to help with reducing anxiety and a pain reliever, known to help enhance the relaxing effects of cannabis when used in aromatherapy. Found in cannabis strains like Pink Kush and Grand Daddy Purple.

Nerolidol- Known to work well with both THC and CBN this terpene is often found in oranges and when paired with cannabis it can help with relaxing and better sleep. Found in strains such as Girl Scout Cookies and Blue Dream.

Caryophyllene oxide- Not well studied, Caryophyllene oxide is known for its anti-fungal properties and insect deterrent, it effects CB-1 and CB-2 receptors synergistically with cannabinoids. Found in OG Kush and Durban Poison strains.

Phytol- Is directly associated with cannabinoid CBG, interacting with GABA system in our brain which created a calming and relaxing effects. Can be found in Sour Diesel and Cheese strains.

When looking for a cannabis strain to do something specific like help with sleep, appetite or pain it’s important to focus on the terpenes contained within the strain. Terpenes have a strong influence on the effects felt when consuming certain strains and should be focused on more then the traditional Indica VS Sativa.

Forget Indica and Sativa

Forget Indica and Sativa

As we’ve discussed in details throughout this article it’s vitally important that when looking for a specific strain to deal with various ailments it has to do with things like tolerance, potency, dosage and the chemical profiles like terpenes. Arguably the most important aspect of finding the best strain for your needs is looking at the chemical profile of the strain, specifically cannabinoid profile and terpenes and how they interact with each other.

This can be a bit confusing and we totally get it is you’re still unsure what strain you want. When looking for the right strain for you, keep in mind the 8 most common cannabinoids and terpenes found in the cannabis plant. This will help point you in the right direction and get you started on finding exactly what you are looking for.

The four most common cannabinoids found in cannabis are:

THC- THC is the most dominant strain found in cannabis. It provides effects such as increased appetite, pain relief, anxiety and the euphoric feeling of being high.

CBD- Helps with pain, inflammation, anxiety and counteracting the effects of THC.

CBN- Known as cannabinol, this can help ease symptoms and side effects for neurological conditions, such as epilepsy and seizures.

CBG- Cannabigerol helps with symptoms such as anxiety, OCD , PTSD as well as depression.

The four most common terpenes:

Myrcene- An earth aroma that can help deal with anxiety and sleep issues.

Linalool- A floral aroma that heps with relaxation and overall mood. Commonly found in lavender.

Caryophyllene- A spicy aroma with a pepper type smell and is known to activate CB2 receptors, helping with things like inflammation and pain.

Pinene- Has a very recognizable pine aroma while helping with memory boost and reducing pain.

New to buying cannabis? Head over to our Very Basics of Cannabis article to learn more about this wonderful plant.


What is the difference between indica and sativa leaves?

It is quite easy to tell the difference between indica and sativa by the shape of their leaves. Sativa leaves are a much lighter color and are known to be smaller and more slender. Indica leaves are dark and deep in color and are known to be more robust and broad.

How do you tell sativa from indica?

Both Indica plants and sativa plants not only differ in psychological effects but also appearance in the plants. Sativa plants are tall and skinny while Indica plants are shorter and stockier.

Does Indica make you cough more?

Smoking vapors or smoke can cause irritation which leads to coughing. If a certain Indica strain is causing you to cough more then normal then switch strains or stop smoking until the coughing passes.



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