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Indica vs Sativa: Which Strain You Need To Choose

Updated on Mar 5, 2021. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Fred Ashford, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer

The cannabis space is huge and constantly expanding as we find new cannabinoids that the magical plant equips within itself. In the past decades, with the growing acceptance of the cannabis plant, there are thousands of strains that have been bred as a result of constant research. Indica vs Sativa still holds the majority of focus because of the way cannabis is grouped.

Each strain profile packs unique effects based on their Indica or Sativa genes. Well, the species breakdown further encapsulates another breed of cannabis that is known as Ruderalis. This variety is devoid of any medicinal effects and growers usually avoid cultivating it.

Now, talking about the difference, Indica and Sativa both produce varying effects on the body. This is not just limited to the effects, the appearance of plants is different too. As you can see, there is a clear distinction between the two species of cannabis.

Indica produces sedative effects that give a complete body high and is ideal for night time use. On the other hand, Sativa produces an energetic high, which boosts creativity and energy. This makes it ideal for day-time use and you can combine it with your work routine.

Indica vs Sativa leaves

Talking about plant structure, Indicas are short and bushy, with short and wide leaves. On the other hand, Sativas are taller and slimmer, with longer and thinner leaves. Along with that, the climatic conditions also dictate their growth cycle.


Indica-landrace strains are known to pack more THC than their Sativa counterparts. Indicas are known for their adaptation to dry, turbulent, and cold weather. This makes them native to the Himalayan and Hindukush region.

Indicas are particularly associated with the couch-locking effects and the ability to put you to sleep. This makes them an ideal choice for night-time use or after a busy and tiring day at work. Well, not every Indica strain is equally potent to induce sedating effects.

In most cases, the effects can be best described as relaxing, euphoric, sedating, and blissful. Plus, they come with an added sense of pain-relief and full-body high effects that make them highly useful for unwinding at the end of a busy day. It serves as an escape from heavy physical activity and provides much-needed relaxation.

There are various Indica strains that you can find in dispensaries. They also lend their genes to some of the famous hybrid strains. Well, top strain names lining the shelves of dispensaries include Granddaddy Purple, White Rhino, Bubba Kush, Purple Punch, Northern Lights, Blue Cheese, etc.

Sativa In-depth

Sativas are native to hot and dry climates. This means they are native to Central America, South-eastern Asia, and some parts of Africa. In general, Sativas take longer to mature than Indicas, plus a higher THC to CBD ratio.

Sativas are energizing and produce a head high, which can also be termed as stimulating. People usually report better mental focus and more energy after ingesting Sativas. Plus, this strain profile also helps in reducing anxiety and boosts creativity.

Sativas make you productive and load you with more energy. Along with that, other effects include happiness, euphoria, energy, and upliftment. These properties make Sativas ideal for day-time use. You’ll be able to boost productivity and enhance your overall ability to work.

The Sativa strains have been headline grabbers for quite a while. Well, credit goes to their potent effects and this makes them one of the top choices for people. Top strains include Sour Diesel, Strawberry Cough, Durban Poison, Jack Herer, Super Lemon Haze, Green Crack, Super Silver Haze, etc.

Indica and Sativa: Origins

Indica and Sativa derive their names from Cannabis species namely Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Sativa. Both these terms were first used in the 18th century. Indica comes from the psychoactive plants native to India. The plants were harvested for fiber, seeds, and hashish production.

Earlier Sativas denoted the hemp varieties found in Western Eurasia and Europe, where the plant was cultivated for seeds and fiber. In the present scenario, Sativa refers to the narrow leaf varieties of cannabis, where Indicas refer to the short and wider leafed variants of the plant. It’s worth noting that earlier, narrow-leaved varieties were associated with Indica, which eventually changed.

Plus, hemp usually refers to the non-intoxicating varieties of cannabis that produces fiber, and is rich in CBD. This explains why hemp is closely associated with the CBD profile in the recent string of changes.

Factors that shape the strain effects

There are various factors that dictate the kind of effect a particular strain produces. Most people ingest cannabis based on its characteristic effects. This applies to both recreational and medicinal use. Well, there is plenty of research in work to unearth more factors that shape the cannabis effects. Well, predominantly, it is mainly due to cannabinoids and terpenes.


The cannabis plant is a storehouse of hundreds of chemical compounds that produce characteristic effects on the body. Well, the cannabinoids dictate the course of these effects and the dominant ones are THC and CBD. Other cannabinoids include CBG, CBN, THC, CBGVA, THCVA, etc. The last string of cannabinoids are the latest discoveries led by continuous research and analysis.

THC: Tetrahydrocannabinol is the main psychoactive compound in the plant and is responsible for producing the characteristic high. On higher doses it can make you feel intoxicated. It acts as an appetite stimulant and relieves symptoms like nausea and pain.

CBD: Cannabidiol is the second most popular cannabinoid after THC and is non-psychoactive. This means it does not produce any high and is ideal for people who want to dive into the effects of cannabis without the intoxication. It manages pain, anxiety, inflammation, and other medical issues.

The endocannabinoid system

Cannabis produces characteristic effects on the human body through the mechanism of the endocannabinoid system. It is a network of endocannabinoids, enzymes, and endocannabinoid receptors spread throughout the human body.

When you ingest cannabis, the active compounds like THC and CBD interact with the endocannabinoid receptors to trigger the release of feel-good hormones in the body.

There are mainly 2 kinds of receptors CB1 and CB2. CB1 is mainly present in the nervous system and shows increased binding affinity to THC. It is also present in other body parts but in minute amounts. On the other hand, CB2 is present in other vital parts of the body like the immune system, cardiovascular system, etc. It bonds mainly with CBD but THC is also known to show some binding affinity.

Together these combine to produce relaxing effects on the body. In other words, the endocannabinoid system helps in producing homeostasis within the human body. This means it ensures everything operates in balance and does not get overboard.


Terpenes are the aromatic compounds produced by plants and fruits. They are mainly responsible for the characteristic aroma and flavor of a particular strain. This means they are found in flowers like lavender and fruits like oranges, almost literally everything you can think of. 

Other common examples of terpene presence include pine, hops, pepper, and last but not least, cannabis plant. So, if a particular strain smells like berries or pine or lavender, there are terpenes at work and they are the reason behind the way any strain smells. 

Common terpenes include myrcene, linalool, limonene, caryophyllene, and terpinolene. These combine with the cannabinoids to enhance the overall effect of cannabis. Plus, they enhance the additional medicinal value and make cannabis more ideally suited for the human body.

Does CBD come from Sativa or Indica?

The cannabis plant is a storehouse of hundreds of useful compounds. These include cannabinoids like THC and CBD. Both these compounds exist in Indicas and Sativas. This means CBD comes from Sativa and Indica.

The only difference comes in the quantity. Indicas typically have a higher CBD to THC ratio. So, CBD content is relatively higher in Indica than in Sativa. In general, both the varieties have a decent amount of CBD.

Most industrial methods extract good quality CBD from hemp plants. The type of extraction method dictates the purity of CBD. Usually, the CO2 extraction method delivers the best quality cannabidiol and is used by most CBD oil manufacturers.

Potential side effects and risks of Indica and Sativa

Generally speaking, the kind of effects a particular strain produces depends on the way you dose it. Cannabis works great on your body provided you ingest it in a way that suits your body. It interacts with every individual differently and that dictates the nature of effects cannabis produces on your body.

In moderate doses, cannabis works great and provides medicinal value. On the other hand, if you ingest it in excess, cannabis produces intoxicating effects that might trigger anxiety. So, the key lies in moderation. Anything in excess is set to harm your body and this applies to cannabis too.

If you’re just getting started, you should take a dose that suits your tolerance and experience. Most people seem to be affected by what others are dosing and this is not a good practice. For instance, the other person might be a pro, but you’re not. So. you should not blindly follow what amount others are ingesting. Follow a dose that suits your body.

It’s advised that you start with a low dose and then gradually increase the quantity as you develop tolerance. With this approach, you’ll be able to derive the full range of benefits that cannabis offers. Plus, it will enhance your health.

Well, it’s also important to understand Indica and Sativa’s effects on brain for better usage. If you aim to use cannabis for nighttime use, Indica is the best choice. Similarly, Sativa is best-suited for day time use. This makes understanding the subtle differences highly important.

You can avoid any possible side-effects and use cannabis in a way that enhances your overall health. If possible, consult a doctor who can guide you towards using the right dose for your health based on your analysis.

Cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes

Cannabis use can be broadly divided into medicinal and recreational. The approach you follow depends on your needs. Well, research suggests that medicinal use of cannabis is recommended for the kind of benefit it offers for your health. It’s tested and supported by sound scientific data.

Recreational users use cannabis with an aim to chill and there is no intention to derive the medicinal benefits. As you would guess, recreational users tend to derive the characteristic feeling of high and prefer potent varieties of cannabis. Plus, they emphasize on higher THC content compared to CBD.

Along with that, there is an active focus on smoking and they seem to do it excessively. Considering that, recreational users don’t necessarily derive the medicinal effects of cannabis.

On the other hand, the approach to using cannabis for medicinal purposes is a bit different. The dose is fixed and you don’t need to overdo it. In most cases, you need to interact with a certified cannabis doctor who can provide you with effective guidance about taking the right dose.

Plus, the doctor can also educate you about using the right strain of cannabis that suits your health condition along with the right method of dosing. You can use cannabis in multiple forms like smoking, edibles, tinctures, oils, etc.

It’s important to note that you stick to the ways that are established by the law. Smoking and edibles are banned in New York. The permissible forms include capsules, tablets, topicals, lozenges, and other non-smokable forms of cannabis.

It’s advised that if you plan to use cannabis for medicinal purposes, you should contact a certified clinic. These clinics are usually assisted by the certified cannabis doctors who have the depth of guidance and expertise to provide you with the right roadmap to using cannabis.

Prior to that, you need to have a look at the reviews and ratings. These help you decide if a particular clinic is good or not. Plus, compare multiple clinics and analyze them on parameters such as price, expertise, certifications, and reputation. Select the one that amalgamates everything and offers the best service.

How to select the right cannabis strain?

If you don’t have prior experience with cannabis, the notion of choosing the right cannabis strain can be pretty daunting for you. Well, there are more than a thousand strains as a result of continuous breeding over the years. If you want to select the best one for yourself, there is a basic approach that you need to follow.

For medicinal use

What health conditions are you facing? You might be struggling with chronic pain or anxiety or maybe stress. In most cases, The same strain is used to treat multiple conditions. For instance, if you’re struggling with insomnia and stress, a potent Indica strain would be a great choice.

On the other hand, if you’re feeling lazy during the day or having troubles maintaining focus at work, a sativa dominant strain would be a perfect choice for you. Well, in any case it’s advised to see a doctor to have a better idea of using cannabis for your health.

For specific moods

Chances are that you might be planning to unwind at the end of a tiring day. Which strain would be perfect for you? The closest guess would be Indica. Well, if you want to watch a good intense movie, you wouldn’t want to sleep or dive into sedative effects. Sativa would be a better choice for you in this case.

When you shop for strains at random, it’s easy to make the wrong choices. Well, you should select a strain that enhances your mood while giving a new dimension to your health as well.

Indica or Sativa?

Most people follow this approach while selecting a strain for themselves. It’s advised not to proceed with predetermined mindsets. Remember that not all Indicas are highly sedative and not all Sativas are very energetic. If you narrow down your choice based on these parameters, you are bound to make a mistake.

You might be struggling with anxiety and if you proceed to a dispensary and tell the budtender that you are not looking for a euphoric experience or Sativa, they might suggest you a strain like White Fire OG which is loaded with high levels of THC.

In this condition, a better choice would be Harlequin, which is a Sativa but houses high levels of CBD. This makes it an ideal choice for someone who is planning to avoid anxiety and dive into the relaxing effects of cannabis. Focus on the effect and then make a choice rather than selecting a strain between Indica and Sativa.

Consider your tolerance

Your tolerance dictates the kind of effect cannabis produces on your body. If you’re a beginner, the effects would be potent and make you a bit intoxicated. In other words, you’ll be high pretty quick.

On the other hand, seasoned users need more amounts of cannabis to reach the same level of high. That’s because their body has developed tolerance against the immediate effects of cannabis. So, they need increased quantities to derive the characteristic effects of cannabis.

Select a strain based on your experience. In the present scenario, strains are bred to contain high levels of THC. So, you should start with a strain that offers a mellow experience. This means opting for a low THC strain. As you develop tolerance, you can gradually increase the dose and potency of cannabis.

Keep a track of your favorite strains

Let’s say you try a new strain and end up liking it a lot. Turns out, the strain smells a bit like lavender which some fruity undertones. Linalool and limonene are the closest terpenes you can associate . So when you plan to try a new strain, you might be attracted to similar strains.

So, it’s advised that you maintain a track record of strains you’ve already tried. This keeps you away from any unpleasant experiences. For instance, if you liked Golden Pineapple, chances are that you’ll like Jack Herer. Both are rich in terpinolene, so you might like the similar feel.

Does Indica CBD make you sleepy?

Cannabidiol is a relaxant and acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. So, its presence in both Indica and Sativa creates a similar relaxing effect. Well, in general Indica is known to produce more sedative effects.

So, CBD’s presence in an Indica strain can amplify the intensity of the relaxing vibe and make you fall asleep faster. But the Indica and CBD combination is no guarantee of inducing a potent sleep. It varies from across different strains.

If you’re typically aiming to look for a strain that induces sleep, you should find a combination that provides a mellow effect on your body. Other than that, seeking a doctor’s advice also helps.

What are hybrid strains?

Hybrids are a combination of both Indica and Sativa descendant plants. There is a history of heavy breeding of cannabis plants, which has eliminated the presence of pure Indica or Sativa strains. So, what you currently get in the market are hybrid strains. You would either find Indica dominant or Sativa dominant or 50/50 gene makeup. 


Since hybrids derive genetics from both Indicas and Sativas, they produce effects that fall in the bracket of both the species. The effects range from happy, euphoric, and sedated to energetic, creative, and couch-locking. It all depends on the kind of effect the parent strain produces.

So, if you choose an Indica dominant strain, you’ll feel the effects falling in the range of sedation or laziness. That’s because the parent strain was Indica dominant too and it produces that kind of effect in the subsequent lineage too.

Top hybrid strains

Honestly, there is no shortage of hybrid strains in the market. In fact, most of the strains you get to see are hybrids. The popular names include Girl Scout Cookies, OG Kush, Pineapple Express, White Widow, Gelato, Wedding Cake, GSC, and Blue Dream.

It’s advised to study the kind of effect you want to derive before you select the strain. If you happen to visit the dispensary, make sure you interact with a budtender and educate them about your choice. Or even better, have a word with a certified doctor and get your cannabis dose from them easily and safely.

Landrace strains and Heirlooms

Landrace strains are strains that have been growing in the wild naturally without any element of breeding or involvement of humans. This means their genetics are pure and haven’t been mixed with other species. So, a pure Indica or Sativa is an example of landrace strain.

They have been growing from tens of thousands of years out in nature. So, the climate and weather conditions usually shape the kind of effects they will produce. That’s because much of their characteristics develop on the basis of geography and climatic conditions.

Heirloom strains are varieties that are grown outside their natural habitat. For instance, a strain native to the Hindukush ranges of Afghanistan grown in California is a heirloom strain. The fact that they are grown in new conditions, means that they’ll lose some of their original characteristics and won’t be that potent.

Examples of Landrace strains are Afghan Indica from Afghanistan, Durban Poison from South Africa, and Panama Red from Panama. As you can see, these strains are named after the name of the place they originate from.

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