Indica vs. Sativa | What's the difference?
If you've been to a dispensary or even browsed offerings online, you've probably seen strains listed as Indica, Sativa and Hybrid. Is there even a difference, and if so, why does it matter? With over 1,000 unique strains of cannabis bred over the last decade or so, there's bound to be a lot of different options on the market. In addition to a wide variety of strains available, there are also a lot of differing opinions about what's what...so we wanted to help clear the air for you.
What are Strains?
A cannabis strain is the name for a particular variety of cannabis plant. Think plant DNA. New strains are introduced through different methods of cultivation and cross-breeding. The cannabis plant is generally divided among three subspecies: Indica, Sativa and Ruderalis. Indica and Sativa are the primary subspecies that cannabis cultivators and users seek out whereas Ruderalis plants are generally small with low yield and low potency. For the sake of this article, we're going to focus on Indica vs. Sativa vs. Hybrid (Hybrid being a combination of both Indica and Sativa).
Sativa and Indica plants each have their own unique characteristics in terms of appearance and effect. Here is a helpful chart from Cresco Labs:
On the medical side, there is varying information across multiple sources as well as conflicting studies. Small sample size and lack of access to the plant has stunted the progress of learning the plant’s medicinal efficacy. This has undoubtedly led to a lot of confusion around this topic. It is generally believed that Indica dominant strains tend to increase sleepiness and are best served at night. Indica strains have been known to induce an effect known as "couchlock", which has been known to make people so relaxed that they don't want to get up from the sofa. Additionally, Indica strains have been known to stimulate appetite, relieve pain and generally relax the user.
On the other hand, Sativa dominant strains tend to increase energy and are best consumed during the daytime. Sativa strains are known to result in a head high that can increase creativity, alertness and be generally uplifting/euphoric. Sativa strains are popular among daytime users and people in the creative space alike such as (but definitely not limited to) artists and musicians.
A lot of brands and suppliers have been known to make false claims as to the subspecies of their plants and products, so we strongly advise that you only purchase products that have been tested by a reputable lab for purity and type.
Today, licensed cannabis cultivators tend to grow a wide variety of different strains to ensure they have the proper medicine available for their customers. In addition to the differences between Indica and Sativa, each individual strain can have varying levels of terpenes, cannabinoids and flavonoids. These active compounds can each alter the type and length of the intended effect from a specific strain.
"In terms of particular ailments, sativa strains tend to be better for psychological disorders like depression, PTSD, and anxiety. Indicas are often the best for pain and inflammation and, thus, are beneficial for patients with arthritis, fibromyalgia, and cancer. However, because so many diseases are accompanied by side effects like depression and insomnia, a patient must consider treating both their core disease and also its daily symptoms. In the end, each patient will favor multiple strains that will likely fall within the categories of sativa, hybrid, and indica."
To put it simply, a hybrid is a crossbred combination of two or more strains that results in an entirely new strain. While cultivators cross breed many strains for various reasons, one of the most common is to try to create a single perfect strain by identifying and combining desired characteristics of other strains. Whereas a hybrid strain is usually either Indica dominant or Sativa dominant, some are 50/50 and some are crossbred with another strain from the same family. Due to a long history of crossbreeding spanning the globe, many strains’ origins have been lost or confused which can lead to a general lack of information about the history of the product.
Hybrids can be the perfect option for someone who, for example, wants the pain relief provided by an Indica but who doesn't want to feel sleepy. It's all about experimentation and discovering what works best for your individual scenario.
Albeit extremely rare, there are also strains referred to as Landrace Strains. Landrace strains are those that evolved naturally within their native environments. Because they weren’t bred and aren’t hybrids, landrace strains offer a very pure example of sativa or indica, with no interference from humans. In fact, landrace strains are typically 100% Indica or Sativa and the result of tens of thousands of years of inbreeding in a particular weather climate and geographical location.
Some examples of landrace strains include Afghan Indica, from Afghanistan and Panama Red, from Panama. These strains are generally very difficult to find and their chances of purity decrease constantly as more and more strains are combined.
What Determines if a Strain is Indica or Sativa?
Cannabinoids are generally assumed to determine whether a particular strain falls into the Indica or Sativa category but in fact, it's actually a terpene that determines the status of the strain.
The most common cannabis terpene is called Myrcene, and it's known to help patients relax and sleep. When this terpene is present in a strain at a volume greater than 0.5%, the strain is considered an Indica. On the other hand, if the level of Myrcene is less than half of a percent, then that strain is deemed a sativa.
While the terpenes content determines the status of the strain, it's important to remember that they work in harmony with cannabinoids to produce the full spectrum of intended effects.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, there are a seemingly endless number of strains each with their own unique profiles and effects. Some people only use Indica, or Sativa whereas other only use Hybrids. To find what works best for you, try out a few different options until you have a better understanding of how these different strains work for you personally.
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disclaimer: All studies, sources, links, etc. are the words of their respective authors. We are not endorsing any information contained within these resources and we encourage you to do your own research before forming an option.