The difference between indica and sativa strains is the effect it has on your body after you consume it. Sativa strains provide energy and creativity, while indica strains work well for feeling calm and relaxed. Hybrid strains are bred to incorporate a specific ratio of each indica and sativa into a plants genetics.

Each strain works with the body’s endocannabinoid system in its own way, providing different different results in the user. When choosing a strain of weed, it’s important to understand the effects it might have on your body.

The Science of the Cannabis Plant

Indica and sativa plants aren’t just different in their effects on people, they also look and grow differently.

Sativa plants tend to grow tall and have long, thin leaves that are a lighter shade of green than indica plants. Sativa plants also have a longer growth cycle than indica’s and require more light and time to reach maturity. Once mature, sativa plants produce strains that have high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and low Cannabidiol (CBD).

Typically, Cannabis Indica plants are short, bushy plants with broad leaves. Indica plants usually grow faster and have a higher yield than the sativa variety. Medicine produced from Cannabis indica plants have higher CBD and lower levels of THC.

Indica plants produce wide leaves that are shorter and bushier than Cannabis sativa leaves. Compared to sativa plants, indica plants take less time to grow and are also known for having higher yields. Indica plants produce weed strains that have higher CBD content and lower THC.

Regardless of whether a plant’s indica or sativa, all marijuana plants contain cannabinoids and terpenes that give each strain of weed it’s unique quality.

The most common cannabinoids are THC and CBD. The amount of either of these cannabinoids in the weed will determine whether it’s an indica or sativa strain.

Terpenes are another phytochemical within the cannabis plant that are responsible for giving cannabis it’s distinct aroma and taste. There are hundreds of terpenes, each with their own benefits and medicinal properties. When terpenes work together, it’s known as the entourage effect, which is what makes the user feel high.

One of the most common terpenes, myrcene, is known for having a sedative effect, which works well for fighting insomnia or anxiety. If a strain contains more than 0.5% myrcene, it is classified as an indica. If there’s less than .5%, then it’s labeled sativa.

Another terpene, limonene, is known for its citrus smell and helps to boost energy and enhance the user’s mood. Limonene is found in both indica and sativa strains in different quantities.


When it comes to how the plant’s smell, indica and sativa plants have distinct aromas too. Indica plants have an earthy and skunky odor. Sativas usually smell sweet, fruit, or sometimes even a bit spicy. The smell is a direct result of the combination of terpenes within the plant, which are responsible for the plant’s odor.

The origins of the plants

You might be wondering how indica and sativa and be so alike and yet so different. The source of each plant has a lot to do with its makeup.

Archaeologists have found directly dated and scientifically verified cannabis residue used in religious ceremonies at least 2500 years ago. According to 18th-century biologist, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, they were mostly found in Europe and south-east Asia. Their geographical locations led them to evolve and acquire different appearances to adapt to their conditions. According to some botanists and taxonomists, what we know today as Cannabis sativa grew in Europe, and Cannabis indica grew in south-east Asia. Since they evolved in different, isolated locations, they adopted unique traits that affect how they look, smell, and feel when ingested.

Over the years, as humans migrated across the continents, they spread both Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa seeds all over the world as they traveled. The wild seeds grew, which caused genetic changes in the plant from it’s growing in a foreign environment. The discovery of these changes in the plant is what inspired selective breeding and the invention of new strains. That’s how we ended up with thousands of different strains of both indica and sativa.

The Body Effects of Indica vs. Sativa

The most significant differences between indica and sativa is the effects it has on the body.

Sativa-dominant strains tend to produce high-energy experiences and more of a cerebral mind-high. Indica-dominant strains have been reported by users to induce a calm mind and can help you fall asleep with a stronger body high, where your limbs feel heavy and your mend feels tired.

Flower from Cannabis sativa plants is known for creating energizing and uplifting effects on the brain. The right sativa strain has been said to boost energy and creativity. Medicinal sativa strains are anecdotally used in reducing anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and increasing serotonin.

Some sativa strains are also being used to increase focus, which makes an appealing choice for treating patients suffering from symptoms of ADHD. There have also been studies that support the benefits of Cannabis sativa use for treating chronic pain and inflammation.

Medical Marijuana patients are being recommended indica strains by budtenders to decrease nausea and for pain relief, relax muscles, promote mental relaxation, increase dopamine, and reduce insomnia. Cannabis indica strains are also used frequently to help manage pain and inflammation in patients with cancer, arthritis, or other chronic illnesses.

Indica strains are recommended for night time use because they can be sedating and cause drowsiness or sleepiness. Too much indica, (or a really potent strain) can cause make the user so relaxed they sink into the couch for hours, also known as couchlock.

Thanks to modern technology, growers have more control than over breeding strains aimed at helping specific conditions. Because many of the effects of indica and sativa plants cancel each other out, many medical patients choose to go with a mild hybrid that combines the best benefits of each.

The Most Popular Indica and Sativa Strains

There are thousands of cannabis strains, and new ones are being created every day. We’ve compiled some classic indica and sativa strains that have become fan favorites for a reason.

Northern Lights –  Indica

The sweet and spicy aroma of Northern Lights is just one of the reasons it’s one of the most popular Indica strains across US dispensaries. It creates psychoactive effects and a full-body high that helps relax muscles and mellow the body. Users choose this strain for its ability to help people relax and get a good night’s sleep.

Critical Mass – Indica

Critical Mass combines Skunk and Afghani weed, which produces dense and aromatic flowers. People choose this indica strain because it works well to relieve acute pain and reduce stress and anxiety. This strain is best used in the evening because it contains the perfect combination of terpenes to induce a couch lock.

Blue Dream – Sativa

The sativa-dominant hybrid blend of Blue Dream originated in California and has quickly grown to be one of the most recognizable strains in the US. Users love it for it’s balanced, body, and head high. If you want to feel relaxed and calm but still experience the creativity and energy of a sativa, Blue dream checks those boxes. It’s not uncommon to experience less pain, depression, and nausea when using Blue Dream.

Read our in-depth Blue Dream strain review here.

Durban Poison

Durban poison is one of the few pure sativas in the world. It originates from the South African city, Durban. It’s known for having a sweet and fruity smell and will make you feel energetic and uplifted. This is the strain to choose if you want a more productive or energy-filled day. Users will feel less stress and reduced anxiety and depression. It can spark creativity and feelings of euphoria. The buds on this strain are chunky and thick and often have a sticky coating of trichomes across the surface of the plant.

Patients who are trying to achieve a specific outcome might have to try a few different strains before landing on the perfect match. Because each strain affects each person differently, you can’t always rely on other people’s experiences with a strain to shape your opinion, so you may want to keep a cannabis strain journal (this one is a favorite) to help you navigate the various strains and find the ones that suit you best.

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