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Indica or Sativa?

How to choose the strain that suits you best

When you’re in a dispensary and tell a budtender that you want to purchase some cannabis, you’ll probably hear something like this: “What are you looking for? Do you want a sativa or an indica?” What he or she really wants to know is what type of high you want.

The use of “sativa” and “indica” to designate strains is the industry standard when it comes to determining how certain types of cannabis might affect the patient or consumer. It’s an oversimplification when understood within a genetic context (“sativas” and “indicas” do not necessarily have different chemical makeups) but it’s in the lexicon for a reason. Humans have manipulated cannabis for so many years that it’s difficult to say with certainty what is a sativa and what is an indica, specifically. Studies have even shown that the sativa vs. indica designations often do not match their genetic makeup.

However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t certain characteristics that can and should be expected when it comes to your favorite sativa or indica strain. The most important thing is that you need to be able to decide which one is going to work best for you so be aware that these characteristics are not set in stone.

Sativa and Indica Plants

Sativa plants were first classified in the west by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753. They thrive in warmer climates around the equator in places like Mexico, Colombia and Southeast Asia, and their strong and fibrous stems were traditionally converted into rope and cloth. Sativas can be found growing wild in many tropical areas of the world and in terms of aroma, they tend to be fruity and sweet.

Indica-type plants, meanwhile, tend to be short and stocky – rarely over six-feet tall.

First designated in 1785 by French botanist and naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, these plants have broad leaves and are bush-like in appearance, as opposed to the tall and lanky sativa.

Cannabis indica can be traced to Central Asia and has subsequently spread to regions in Nepal, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and Morocco. Indica thrives in colder climates and has a shorter growing cycle than sativa. Generally speaking, indicas give off odors that are more skunky and musty.

Let’s dig a little deeper.

Chemically speaking, indica and sativa strains contain different cannabinoid levels and content. Although there are dozens of cannabinoids present in each, the key cannabinoids found in marijuana are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Simply put, THC provides the psychoactive aspects of weed and CBD brings the mental and physical relief without any psychoactive effect. CBD has been determined to actually negate some of the high associated with THC and in other circumstances, can complement it as it relates to the Entourage Effect.

What we might call a pure sativa strain will most likely have a high THC content and low CBD content. An indica will be expected to have a lower THC content and a higher amount of CBD. Another chemical variation between strain types are terpenes. Terpenes can be found throughout nature in all types of plants. They can be quite fragrant and we have them to thank for providing the myriad wondrous smells that all types of weed offer. The flavor, the scent and most likely the high will differ depending on the terpenes present.

Sativa Effects

Sativa plants are generally understood to produce flowers that induce a stimulating and cerebral effect. A “mind high,” if you will. A sativa experience can leave you energized and focused. Consuming a sativa strain can be especially enjoyable during the daylight hours. With uplifting and invigorating effects, sativas are a fine complement to physical activity like a bike ride, a walk in the park or a hike – or getting things done around the house. Other benefits of the high are enhanced mental acuity and increased creativity. Sativas are also known to benefit those suffering from migraines, mood disorders and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

Indica Effects

An indica should be on the menu if your activity is on the mellow side as they tend to decrease energy. The effects can be described as soothing, calming and relaxing. An indica will work to reduce stress and can be great for post-work transition or a movie night. The indica experience is also linked with physical improvements such as decreasing nausea, reducing pain from arthritis and lowering anxiety. Indicas are also often prescribed for psychological disorders like PTSD and depression and are the more common type of cannabis used in the medical community.


The hybrid exists to provide the best of both worlds. Selected top strains are crossbred with other strains to create new super strains. Hybrids fall into three categories: sativa-dominant, 50/50 between sativa and indica, and indica-dominant. Breeders growing sativa-dominant hybrids are gunning for a strain that primarily provides a cerebral experience but with a touch of body high thrown in. The strains composed of a clean split between sativa and indica are hoping to provide a perfect blend of mind and body comfort. Lastly, the indica-dominant plants are expected to give a strong body high with a small dose of mind magic.

Hopefully now you have enough information about sativas and indicas to get a better idea of what strain might be best for you and suit your specific needs. Although not every sativa will get you up and running and not every indica will make your mood mellow and your body relaxed, there is enough of a dichotomy between the two to get you headed in the right direction when it comes time to answer that inevitable question from your budtender.

What type of cannabis do you prefer? Have you ever consumed a sativa only to end up enjoying a distinctly “indica” experience? What are your thoughts on cannabis varietal designation? Let us know in the comment section below.