Indica vs. Sativa vs. Hybrid – Which Is Right for You?

Those who are unfamiliar with the world of cannabis or medical marijuana may be surprised to learn that different strains of the cannabis plant can have different impacts on those using the plant. The cannabis plant, commonly called marijuana, is a plant that has been cultivated for a variety of uses for centuries. As such, selective breeding among humans who grow this plant has resulted in a wide assortment of features, appearances, and effects among various strains.

It is important to note that all people are different in their chemical needs and physiology; what works for one person may not for another. A strain that is calming for many may exacerbate anxiety in others. While there are generally guidelines that can help in initially selecting strains, your best option is to take notes of the effects of various strains to determine what strains and cannabinoids you react most favorably to and to seek out the same or similar strains in the future.

What’s the Difference Between Sativa and Indica?

Indica plants are short and squat, with wide leaves and dense branches. Sativa plants, on the other hand, can grow quite tall and thin, with slender leaves to match. They also differ vastly in their reported effects on users (more on that below).  In theory, sativa strains descend from plants that grew in equatorial regions such as Thailand and Southeast Asia, while cannabis indica strains are descendants of cannabis plants cultivated and grown in the Hindu Kush region of the Middle East: places such as Morocco, Turkey, and Afghanistan.

Cannabis indica has a short growing and flowering cycle, while cannabis sativa has a longer vegetative and flowering cycle. Because of its small stature and faster flowering time, many indoor growers favor cannabis indica and cannabis indica dominant hybrid strains. Outdoor growers, especially those in warmer regions with long outdoor growing seasons, tend to favor the massive (and massively productive) cannabis sativa and sativa dominant hybrid strains. Both types of cannabis can be grown indoors or outdoors, but their size and growing habits definitely make indica an easier plant to grow indoors, while tall, slender sativas ideally have the ability to grow as tall as they want.

Are All Indicas and Sativas the Same?

The quick answer is “no.” Simply put, each individual strain of cannabis plant produces a flower with a unique cannabinoid profile. There are actually dozens of psychoactive substances in cannabis, with delta-9THC (or, in its non-combusted state, THCA), being the best known. Other well-known cannabinoids include cannabidiol, also called CBD, which shows promise as an anti-epilepsy medication. Indicas and sativas generally tend to have different balances of active compounds, resulting in different effects on the human mind and body. Other cannabinoids include CBG and CBN. Each has a different impact on the nervous system, resulting in effects that range from sleep-inducing to hunger-stimulating.

When growers and cannabis enthusiasts refer to the effects of indicas and sativas, they are generalizing. Because each strain is inherently genetically different and because each grower or farmer has one’s own practices that impact the quality and density of cannabinoids in the flowers produced, there is great variation within the cannabis world. This is important to keep in mind. Some sativas have very indica-like effects, particularly when grown a certain way, while some indicas may act like sativas, depending on how (and how well) they were grown.

The Generalized Effects of Indicas and Sativas

Indica strains will provide those who ingest them with a disruption of pain sensation (perception of pain relief without the involvement of actual painkillers), a sense of calm or relaxation, a pleasant sensation throughout the body often called a “body buzz,” and a sleepiness that make them ideal for insomniac cannabis users. For people with chronic pain or anxiety, cannabis indica can provide a sense of relaxation and rest that may otherwise be difficult to achieve without prescription medication.

Sativa strains, on the other hand, can be quite energizing and uplifting. Instead of experiencing sluggishness or “couch lock,” as the relaxation and rest-inducing effects of cannabis indica are sometimes called, sativa users often compare their cannabis to coffee. Sativas tend to be more “spacey,” meaning they can stimulate creativity and promote enjoyment of stimuli, such as art or music. If you are looking for cannabis that can help you write a sonnet or finish that painting, a sativa may be what you’re looking for!

Generally, people refer to sativas as morning or daytime cannabis strains, meant to be used when you need to be alert, energetic, and creative. Most people regard indicas as evening or nighttime cannabis strains, useful for those struggling with sleep issues or body pain. Depending on why you are considering using cannabis, you may find yourself with a preference for one or the other.

What About Hybrid Strains and Cannabis Ruderalis?

Hybrid strains are cannabis strains created by crossbreeding cannabis indica and cannabis sativa. There may be only a single grandparent plant with sativa genetics in an indica hybrid, or it could be an even split. Basically, hybrid strains have genetic ancestors that include both cannabis indica and cannabis sativa. The best breeders and most popular strains will be able to provide growers and enthusiasts with background information about the genetics that went into the hybrid strain.

Some of those hybrid strains may also include genetics from another strain of cannabis plants, known as cannabis ruderalis. Cannabis ruderalis is believed to have originated in Russia, and it is a very cold-tolerant variety of cannabis. Originally found thriving in the wild, cannabis ruderalis has grown in popularity due to its tolerance of extreme weather and three-season environments. Ruderalis plants are typically short, with tough stalks and have a very short flowering period, allowing these plants to grow in colder climates. They typically flower somewhere between 21 days and 30 days after they begin growing, leading some breeders and growers to call them “auto-flowering” cannabis.

Is Cannabis Indica or Cannabis Sativa Right for You?

Determining which type of cannabis plant is best for you will likely require a bit of personal experimentation, as well as record-keeping. Generally, if you are seeking relief from pain-related symptoms or the inability to fall (or stay) asleep, cannabis indica or indica-dominant hybrid strains, will be your best first option. Cannabis indica can also be useful for calming the mind, making them useful for people who suffer from anxiety.

Cannabis sativa, on the other hand, is ideal for people who have trouble focusing, who struggle with writer’s block or a similar creative issue, or those who have ongoing problems with depression. It is important to note that cannabis sativas can increase an individual’s sense of anxiety, leading to the dreaded “paranoia” side effect. Those with anxiety conditions should be cautious with the use of sativas and sativa-dominant strains.

When in doubt, ask your grower or dispensary about which strains they have on hand and see what will work for your symptoms. You may also find one of a number of websites that offer strain reviews, especially user-generated strain reviews, helpful. If a reviewer has similar responses as you to individual strains, chances are good that the strains he or she finds most helpful will be useful for you as well.

Disclaimer: Nothing in this article is meant as medical advice or intended to diagnose or recommend treatment for any specific condition.

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