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Indica Vs Sativa: Understanding Weed Strains and Species

Last Updated: March 29, 2023By Joshua Mezher

Marijuana is one of the most genetically diverse herbs on the earth. This article will help you understand what the difference is between indica vs sativa. And how cannabis strains ca effect your body. There are thousands of cannabis strains worldwide, all with different terpene profiles, consumption effects, and weed growing preferences. But did you know there are only four different strains of cannabis: Indica, Sativa, and? We will explore why some are regarded as the best cannabis strains and why others are called ditch weed strains.


Strains of Weed Vs Species of Weed

Strains are sub-categories of the species belonging to the Cannabaceae family, which are either indica, sativa, or hybrid, along with whether it is a photoperiod or autoflowering species. Because of cross-breeding, the cannabis plant is one of the most genetically mutated herbs on the planet-- literally every seed is different even with the same parents. Homogenized genetics has yet to infiltrate the cannabis plant. That's why there are so many different varieties.

When you are buying a cannabis strain in dispensaries, if you are looking for something to help relieve physical pain, they would suggest Cannabis indica which has been known to help treat various medical conditions. Or, if you wanted the best cannabis strain for medical and recreational purposes, they would probably advise you to get a hybrid like White Widow.


What gives cannabis strains their name?

The breeder who discovers a particular cannabis strain is the one who names the exotic marijuana they have created. The given hybrid strain name oftentimes is a combination of words or a reference to the strains that started it. Other times it has to do with the strain's effect or feeling: For example, Blue Dream probably got the same from the mellow, dreamy adventurous feeling it gives you. And sometimes they are just named that because it is fun, like Unicorn Poop. Or as a sign of respect to a certain individual who most people would regard as a champion of cannabis history, such as Jack Herer.


How are weed strains made?

For thousands of years, humans have been crossbreeding their favorite female and male plants to create blue weed strains, purple ones, short cannabis strains, hemp, and of course, the crowd favorite, the strongest strain or highest THC strain. Maybe one day they will breed for the most terpenes!

Because of globalization, there is no such thing as true wild cannabis strains anymore. Landrace seeds are about the closest you can get to original genetics before the explosion of cross-breeding and creating hybrid strains stormed the world from Amsterdam's best seed banks. Today new strains are created all the time, this continually evolves the different strains to be stronger and yield more.

Related: Highest THC Strains List


What are weed strains?

Firstly to understand strains of cannabis, you need to learn about the three categories or buckets assigned to the different types of weed. The current accepted theory is that there are three different species, C. indica, C. sativa, and hybrid. Often this is not an exact science but rather an educated guess by growers who are placing strains into these buckets based on their look and effects.

Today's science has shown us that while these categories are good guidelines, the terpenes are what give the different effects, along with the cannabinoids profile. Recently the industry has started to focus on these as the precursor to the different species to try and better serve individual preferences. While the White Widow strain might make one person sleepy to another, it might be creative depending on their individual terpene and cannabinoid profile.


Sativa Strains

classic sativa cannabis bud with thin red leaves, congolese bubblegum strain

Over the years of trying to put cannabis in a box, there have been many theories and misunderstandings. However, at large, the below remains true: The cannabis community has determined that Cannabis sativa plants have a more energizing effect on the human body. Smoke a joint of Red Congolese (seen above) to test this out for yourself if you want a bad night's sleep.

Meanwhile, toxicologists have focused on the plants' structures, such as their narrow cannabis leaves and how they grow in a tall, lanky fashion which is preferred by the textile industry. Toxicologists still regard Cannabis sativa strains as hemp. However, this is only true under federal law if the final bud grown from the cannabis plant contains less than 0.3% THC. Cannabis strains that are Sativa dominant will generally have some of the highest THC concentrations. Its medical benefits range from helping with inflammation, muscle spasms, and known cancer-treating properties.

Sativa's are often referred to as hazes. They are great if you are looking to go on a hike to relieve stress or if you want to create some art. It should be noted that while Sativa strains can be a great mood enhancer for depression because it is often higher in the psychoactive compound THC, but it can inflame preexisting medical conditions such as bipolar disorder.

Sativa Growing Traits

Generally skinny tall plants, their leaves are often long and thin. These plants do well in equatorial regions. The female plant typically takes 10 to 14 weeks to fully flower, partly because of the equatorial latitude in which cannabis plants evolved. They also grow better than others in a slightly more humid growing environment. These plants grow best outside due to their height.

Sativa Terpene Profile

As the science of cannabis evolves, we are getting more peer-reviewed studies that give us a better understanding of what terpenes we commonly find Sativa dominant varieties. The most present terpenes in sativa strains are α-Humulene, β-Pinene, Linalool, and β-Caryophyllene. These terpenes are partly responsible for the energizing sativa effects.

Most Popular Cannabis Sativa

Some of the most popular marijuana strains are Sativa dominant or regarded as energizing strains such as Blue Dream, Red Congolese, Sour Diesel, Durban Poison, Super Lemon Haze, and Acapulco Gold. The effects that these species have we know that this has more to do with terpene profile and can than a simple classification.


Indica Strains

classic indica cannabis bud with thick purple leaves, runtz strain

Perhaps one of the most popular strains of cannabis is Cannabis indica for its medical and recreational benefits. The term indica came about from the physical shape of this plant, and its effects are very different. The female cannabis plant will have broad leaflets, like seen above, and be short and stocky. These marijuana strains also have a habit of giving the consumer what's known as couch lock and are great at treating pain.

While the effects that Indica strains have on the body and mind are also quite different when compared to Sativa strains. Indica strains are the opposite of an energizing strain. Typically, they will be more relaxing and the consumer might get caught in a "couch lock". A term coined for when one doesn't want to get up from the couch. These strains are great for treating medical conditions such as low appetite, insomnia, chronic pain, dealing with stress, and a wide range of other benefits, as reported in peer reviewed studies.

Indica Growing Traits

Indica strains are considered easier flowers to grow, mostly because they are quicker to harvest, so there is less time for anything to go wrong. The leaves are much wider than their Sativa sister. The short height of these shrubby bushes made them a favorite plant to grow indoors, and their quick flowering period of 8 to 10 weeks makes them a more profitable strain for commercial and hobbyist growers. Indica nugs are often much denser than Sativa buds. Afghan Kush is a perfect example of an OG Indica, these plants were originally found in the dry arid mountains of Afghanistan.

Indica Terpene Profile

The nose always knows as they say. And when you have smelled enough Cannabis indica, you can tell the effects it is going to produce just by smelling it. What you are smelling is the plant's terpenes. The most popular terpenes found in C. indica plants are Myrcene, Beta-Caryophyllene, Limonene, Linalool, and Humulene. These smells make it easier to identify the cannabis variety, often times they smell of gas or earthy tones. Myrcene is a known terpene that can help sedate you to treat insomnia or relax from a painful injury.

Best Indica Strains

If you are looking a variety that will sedate you the most, then you are in the right place. Indica strains are known to be the strain to turn to if you want to relieve pain or relax. Indica's most common characteristic is dense potent nugs that are covered in trichomes.

Classic varieties like White Rhino and Platinum OG have set the bar for the top Indica strains. One of the strongest indica strains to date is Motor Breath and Wedding Cake. That is because seed breeders are constantly creating new indica strain names like GMO and Biscotti to be the most potent and best-smelling marijuana strains.


Hybrid Weed Strains

hybrid marijuana strain flowering bud close up, romulan grapefruit strain

Nobody knows how many strains of marijuana are now hybridized, although it is probably most, if not all. Pure unadulterated cannabis doesn't exist anymore. Still, some are easier to assign growing characteristics to a certain bucket. While some are very hard to classify as an indica or sativa.

For that reason, we call them hybrid strains. This is because they have cannabinoid profiles and terpenes from both sides of the family. The Runtz weed strain is a great example of a tropical-smelling hybrid variety that has a purple color.

Is it Indica or Sativa?

Gelato is both indica and sativa, and whether it is more Indica or Sativa depends on the human smoking or judging it. Blue Dream is another which can often be confused for indica or sativa. That's because it has characteristics of both. Most colorful strains are hybrid strains. If a strain has some blue, pink or purple, it has often been selected for that trait.

For example, Grand Daddy Purple would be a hybrid strain that has been crossbred to have a purple color, and it gives most people more of an indica feeling. While Sour Diesel is one that some people would regard as a Sativa, but it is considered to be a hybrid. Different varieties often become hard to classify as breeders try to develop new strains from fashionable ones often times it is not a matter if it is indica or sativa but rather what the terpene and cannabinoid profile is.

Hybrid Cannabis Strain Growing Traits

True to their name, these plants are often a mixture of both; some will be short bushes with skinny leaves, while others can be tall lanky plants with thicker marijuana leaves. When buying seeds, it's best to look at the description and the growing characteristics of the variety if you want to know how smelly or tall the plant will want to grow.

Hybrid Terpene Profile

It's all over the map because of the cross-beading they can have the terpene profile of a sativa and a cannabinoid profile of an indica. Or the other way around. Hybrid marijuana strains are often the best-smelling strains because of the variety of terpenes they have been created to produce. One strain might have certain characteristics of both making them well-suited to help with certain health conditions and medical benefits.

What is a Cannabis Species?

cannabis sativa indica ruderalis species leaf comparison and relative size

The genus of cannabis was first documented by Carl Linnaeus in 1753; back then, we had very little understanding of what cannabis is vs what we know today. Originally marijuana was thought to be monotypic, meaning there is only one species called Cannabis Sativa, which is a tall lanky plant with thin leaves that begins to flower when the days get shorter. However, in 1785 Jean Baptiste de Lamarck discovered another kind of cannabis called Cannabis Indica. A shorter, more shrub type of plant with broad leaves and higher psychoactive properties.

This is where the division between "hemp" and "medicinal cannabis strains" started. This was done to fit it into a box in order to define specific characteristics. As the Sativa plant was used for fibre production in hemp fields. And Indica, for its recreational purposes where the female cannabis plants have higher levels of THC content than its counterparts. Both of these types of cannabis are photoperiod flowering, meaning they start to flower when the days get shorter.

However, cannabis consumers have also identified another, which is hybrid cannabis, where two species have been cross bread to produce a new strain with the breeder's desired traits. These are some of the best cannabis strains because breeders have created seeds that give plants the best traits of all the varieties.

autoflowering cannabis plant in a fabric pot surrounded by other garden plants and a grow kit

What is Autoflowering Cannabis?

This gets further complicated in 1924 by the Russian botanist D.E. Janichevsky who discovered Cannabis ruderalis, at the time a wild variety of cannabis that is "autoflowering". Meaning it will flower any time of year from seed, regardless of how much daylight it receives. Autoflowering cannabis today has been hybridized to be as strong, potent, and as varied as photoperiod cannabis.

Amazingly, toxicologists today still argue if these plants are even under the same genus of cannabis. Scientifically and legally speaking, there are now three categories of the cannabis plant that fall under the Cannabacea family: Indica, Sativa, and Ruderallis aka Autoflowering. Beginner growers often start with learning how to grow autoflowering weed first as it is easier and cheaper to get started.

How many different weed strains exist?

In reality, 10's of thousands of cannabis strains exist or have existed. New cannabis strains are getting made all the time, and old ones are always getting lost or going extinct. Because cannabis is such a genetically diverse plant, each new seed is unique in itself and no other plant will be identical. This is very different from most plant varieties like wine grapes or bananas, where the genetics have been homogenized for crop consistency and agriculture.

It takes a lot of work to keep a strain going-- raising mother plants, keeping them healthy, taking clones. But that can only go for so long, even with tissue cultures. Eventually, plants die and that unique phenotype (physical characteristic) will most likely never exist again. So you pop a fresh seed and the cycle starts all over again. 


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In conclusion, Grow Your Own Weed Strains

The above is a brief explanation of species of weed and the thousands of marijuana strains that are born from these cannabis species. Because of how each weed seed gives birth to a unique and special plant, the best way to understand cannabis and her many strains is to grow some for yourself! Start with some hybrids of the autoflowering species, then go on to try to grow just Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. Remember, only the female plants produce those delicious flowers. Watch out for male plants-- unless you are trying to get seeds.

At a Pot for Pot, we love supporting your homegrowing and have created grow kits to make it easy, accessible, and affordable. Reach out if you are curious, we are always happy to help grow your own weed at home!

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