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Difference Between Indica and Sativa

two cannabis plants, test tubes and bottles

While the terms indica and sativa have origins rooted in the science of botany, they have come to be shorthand for different strains—or chemovars—of cannabis and their predominant effects. But how meaningful (or even accurate) is this application when you’re choosing a marijuana product? In this guide, we’ll explore:

  • Indica vs. Sativa: What’s the Difference?
  • What is Sativa? What is Indica?
  • Is there a Real Difference Between Indica and Sativa?
  • What is Hybrid Cannabis?
  • Which One is Best for Me?

What’s the Difference Between Indica and Sativa?

There are a few evidence-based ways to differentiate indica and sativa cannabis plants:

  • How the plants look as they grow.
  • The regions in which they were discovered.
  • Their ratios of THC to CBD.

You likely already know that each cannabis strain has a different chemical make-up, but do these differences fall neatly along the indica vs. sativa divide—is this the best, most accurate way to categorize cannabis? And is this an appropriate way for you to choose your cannabis products?

What is Sativa?

When the terms Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica were widely codified by botanists in the 1700s, sativa was applied to hemp plants that were grown in Europe and Eurasia for their fibers and seeds—plants without intoxicating effect. These tall and narrow plants have historically been perceived to produce flower that is more uplifting, which is why cannabis consumers often shop this way.

Learn more about the Cannabis sativa plants that are native to Mexico in our guide to Mexican Landrace strains.

What is Indica?

Indica’s name comes from the region where it originates, India. Similar to sativa, it’s a common, pop culture-promoted belief that indica provides a calming effect (sometimes remembered with the wordplay that indica will put you “in da couch”). These plants are short, bushy, and wide-leafed.

What is Hybrid Cannabis?

You’ll likely find the terms indica and sativa applied to hybrid cannabis strains, usually in an effort to align a hybrid plant’s flower with the supposed effects of either of the colloquially “definitive” strains. Hybrid plants can take on physical characteristics of either indica or sativa plants—and a wide array of psychoactive characteristics.

Is there a Real Difference Between Indica and Sativa?

The short answer is: Not really. Any meaningful, noticeable, use-related differences that may exist between indica and sativa are caused by the strain’s biochemical content—its cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. The effects of any given strain all come down to its chemical compounds and the entourage effect.

We can thank hybridization for this. Season after season of interbreeding plants and hybridizing strains has rendered the mythic differences in effect between indica and sativa strains moot. It’s entirely possible for a sativa to produce the popularly expected effects of an indica and vice versa. The science community surrounding cannabis study, in fact, includes several advocates for abolishing the use of indica and sativa as differentiators in favor of focusing on the chemical makeup of a given strain.

How the Entourage Effect Changes the Indica vs. Sativa Conversation

The entourage effect is how different chemical compounds in a given strain of cannabis interact with each other to create the effect felt by a user. Think of how a symphony can create an array of different songs out of the same instruments, or how the same set of ingredients can be used to create a whole menu of meals.

When it comes to cannabis, our entourage includes cannabinoids, terpenes, and, to a lesser extent, flavonoids. At a basic level, these compounds—which are produced in the plant’s trichomes—bring the following to the cannabis experience:

  • Cannabinoids engage the body’s receptors and can create psychoactive effects; when one of the dozens of different cannabinoids is dominant, for example, this is where effects differentiate along the scale from sedating to invigorating.
  • Terpenes provide the taste and smell of a given strain of cannabis; while research hasn’t unlocked the exact way terpenes add to the effects of a strain, it’s believed it may be similar to the way aromatherapy works.
  • Flavonoids also contribute to the aroma and flavor of a strain, but may also contribute other effects.

In different combinations, these compound groups create the vast array of effects produced by cannabis. But can these combinations be strictly aligned with the indica vs. sativa paradigm? No. Knowing your marijuana product is labeled indica, sativa, or hybrid is not an accurate predictor of the effect it’ll have.

Which One is Best for Me?

It’s time to move beyond the “indica vs. sativa” question. Choosing the best flower or edible for your needs shouldn’t be left up to weighing the supposed (and debunked) differences in effect between indica and sativa. Instead, pay attention to the cannabinoid and terpene content of the products in which you’re interested and discuss your desired outcomes with an expert care representative at your local Verilife dispensary.

Recreational Cannabis is not available in all states. Cannabis is for medical use only and may only be used by certified patients in Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania. State laws impact what dispensaries can and can’t sell to recreational customers and medical marijuana patients. Not every type of product, consumption method, dosage form, or potency mentioned on this blog will be permitted in all locations.

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