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Person examining the difference between sativa and indica

The Differences Between Sativa, Indica, and Hybrid Cannabis

Whether you are a medical or recreational cannabis user, or you are barely getting started on your cannabis journey, the terms “sativa” and “indica” seem to crop up everywhere. Somewhere you might read they are different plants, while somewhere else it may state that they are different strains of the same plant! So, what is the truth? And how does the difference between sativa and indica affect a cannabis user?

Well, all we can say with certainty is that sativa and indica are subspecies of the cannabis plant. They contain the same compounds but in different proportions, which produce quite distinct effects upon using either type of cannabis product. Before we get into a more in-depth comparison, let us familiarize ourselves with the compounds present in sativa, indica, and hybrids!

Cannabinoids Present in Cannabis Plants

  1. THC - Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis plants. Using THC products produces a “high” or a state of euphoria.
  2. CBD - Cannabidiol or CBD is not intoxicating like THC. CBD products work with the body’s natural endocannabinoid receptors to reduce chronic pain and ease neurological disorders. It might also help with migraines, nausea, anxiety, depression, epilepsy, ALS, and PTSD symptoms.
  3. CBG - Cannabigerol or CBG has antibacterial, antifungal, and antiparasitic properties. CBG products might be able to reduce inflammation without causing psychoactivity, ease anxiety, and treat symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. It is thought to inhibit the growth of cancer cells as well.
  4. CBN - Cannabinol or CBN has sedative properties, which makes it a great sleep aid for conditions like insomnia. CBN products are used for pain relief and to ease symptoms of neurological conditions, including epilepsy, seizures, and uncontrollable muscle stiffness.
  5. THCA - Tetrahydrocannabinol acid or THCA acts similarly to THC without causing any psychoactive effects. THCA products can relieve inflammation and are an ideal cannabinoid for treating symptoms of such conditions as arthritis, seizures, autoimmune diseases, and neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease and ALS.
  6. THCV - Tetrahydrocannabivarin or THCV is analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antipsychotic, and neuroprotective. It helps with bone health and bone formation, promotes sleep, and helps with nausea, vomiting, epilepsy, and anxiety. THCV products can be a useful remedy for weight loss and management of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
  7. Delta-8 THC - As a psychoactive substance, Delta-8 THC can get you high but to a milder degree than that produced by the regular THC variant. Delta-8 THC products provide a smoother psychoactive experience, boost appetite, reduce pain, provide digestive support, and help you relax and sleep.

Factors to Differentiate Between Sativa, Indica, and Hybrid Strains

Close up of a cannabis plant

1. Plant Origin 

Sativa: It originated in East Asia. Sativa plants grow best in warmer environments. They thrive in areas like Africa, Central America, Southeast Asia, and portions of Western Asia, where the climate is hot and dry and days are long and sunny. 
Indica: It originated‌ in the Middle East, in places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Turkey, and Tibet. It grows in harsh, mountainous conditions and has adapted to the dry and turbulent climate of the Hindu Kush mountains.
Hybrid: Sativa and indica hybrids are typically grown on farms or in greenhouses from a combination of sativa and indica strains.

2. Appearance of the Plant

Sativa: Plants producing sativa flowers are tall (often over 12 feet), have long stems and thin, finger-like leaves. They take longer to mature, which is a key difference between sativa and indica. 
Indica: Plants producing indica flowers are short and stocky, featuring leaves that are broad, bushy and chunky. They grow faster than sativa, and each plant produces more buds.
Hybrid: Plants producing hybrid flowers have variable appearances depending on the combination of the parent plants.

3. CBD to THC Ratio 

Sativa: Sativa often has lower concentrations of CBD and higher concentrations of THC. Sativa-dominant products might have between a 2:1 and 4:1 CBD to THC ratio.
Indica: Indica strains often have higher levels of CBD, but the THC content isn’t necessarily less. Indica-dominant products usually have a 1:1 CBD to THC ratio.
Hybrid: Although sativa and indica hybrids are grown to increase the THC percentage, each type has a unique ratio of the two cannabinoids. Hybrid products can have equal parts CBD and THC or be dominant on either of the compounds. 

4. Effects of Use

Sativa: It usually has a stimulating effect and produces a “head high,” which is an invigorating, energizing effect that can help reduce anxiety or stress and increase creativity and focus. You can expect a boost to your energy levels and a surge in productivity after using sativa products.
Indica: It usually has intensely relaxing effects and produces a full-body impact which can help reduce nausea, insomnia, and pain and increase appetite. You can expect a sleepy, lethargic feeling that is ideal for dozing off after using indica products.
Hybrid: The impact of sativa indica hybrids is going to be somewhere between sativa and indica variants. The effects of hybrid products can range from reducing anxiety and stress to easing symptoms of chemotherapy or radiation, depending on how they are bred by farmers and producers.

5. Common Uses

Sativa: It is grown for harvesting hemp fiber and also for consumption both medicinally and recreationally. Because of its stimulating impact, you can use sativa in the daytime. It can be helpful for people with depression, headaches, nausea, and appetite loss.
Indica: It is grown for medicinal and recreational use. Because of its deep relaxation effects, indica is better consumed at night, which is one of the biggest differences between sativa and indica and the intention of their use. It is an effective pain reliever, with a flat and relaxing high.
Hybrid: People bred hybrids, for example, to make plants that grow more quickly, improve yield, and balance out the energizing and calming effects. It completely depends on the predominant effects of the hybrid.

Close up on cannabis bud


Does It Even Matter?

The words “sativa” and “indica” have been created purely for ‌convenience and scientific classification. They mean little for the average user. Trying to find the difference between sativa and indica is a meaningless exercise since it is quite a vague way to differentiate cannabis plants in the first place. 

The same strain can have entirely opposite effects on people depending on their body chemistry. Moreover, not all sativas are going to be energizing and not all indicas are necessarily relaxing. It all depends on the compounds present in each respective plant. In fact, two plants of the same strain can have varied effects depending on the conditions they were grown in.

Your best bet is to stop thinking about the difference between sativa and indica and start exploring individual cannabis products based on their concentration and ratio of compounds. Keep trying until you find the one that suits you the best!

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