Indica, Sativa and Their Hybrids: What's the Difference?

Indica, hybrid, sativa? If you’re not familiar with cannabis, you may be confused by these different classifications. Even those within the cannabis community differ on the importance these terms really hold.

What’s the Difference?

Sativa and indica are different subspecies of the same plant of the genus cannabis, with noticeable differences in appearance, flowering cycle and terpene levels. Indica plants are said to be smaller in stature with broad leaves and shorter flowering cycles. The yield of an indica plant is generally higher than that of a sativa. Sativa plants are taller in stature, with narrow leaves and longer flowering cycles.

There are also hemp plants, which were initially cultivated for their seeds and fiber but are now also used for their high CBD (cannabidiol) content, which cannot get you high. To make matters even more confusing, hemp plants were named cannabis sativa. Cannabis indica includes all psychoactive varieties that were discovered in India and used for seeds, fiber and hashish production. Sativa and indica strains both come from the cannabis indica species with either subspecies indica (for sativa) and afghanica (for indica).

Furthermore, almost all strains consumed today are hybrids. Through so much crossbreeding, it is no longer possible to accurately predict the effect a particular strain will have based solely on its classification as indica or sativa. On top of that, each person has a different cannabinoid system — the adage of “listening to your body” plays a big role in understanding how cannabis personally affects you. The best way to assess the effects of an indica, sativa or hybrid is simply to experiment with different strains and dosages and note your experiences with each.

So, how do informed consumers find a strain that will have the precise effects they are looking for? Cannabinoids and terpenes.

Cannabinoids & Terpenes

Cannabinoids play an important role in how cannabis interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system. There are hundreds of cannabinoids, but the two most common are THC and CBD. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is known for its psychoactive effects, or the “stoned” feeling you get from marijuana. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is associated with pain relief, anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory effects.

Terpenes are what give the marijuana its unique aroma, whether citrusy, piney or skunky. More than just scent, terpenes do a lot to determine the type of effect you will have in much the same way as cannabinoids, but little research exists in this area.

Indica Effects

It is said that indicas are good for nighttime use due to their sedative, relaxing effects. They can also be of great use for pain relief and anxiety. But when you look closer, it is the terpene myrcene, which is sedative, and linalool, which relieves anxiety, that cause the achieved effect. These terpenes may be found more often in indica strains, but due to crossbreeding may also be found in some sativas.

Sativa Effects

Sativa strains, which feature prominently in products such as Winberry Farms Blue Dream and Cypher King Goji Live Resin, are thought to cause more cerebral effects such as increased productivity and focus, energy and creativity. Medically speaking, these strains are often used to help with anxiety, depression and attention disorders. Terpenes that could produce these effects include limonene, which is shown to have antidepressant benefits, and pinene, which has anti-inflammatory properties.  



Because accessible cannabis is almost entirely hybrids, what really needs to be considered is the chemical makeup of the plant. Minor cannabinoids such as CBC, CBG and THCV open the door to vastly different experiences with cannabis that do not fit the old three-prong model. Not all indicas will put you in-da-couch, and not every sativa will be uplifting. While this is all confusing, a knowledgeable budtender will be able to guide you to the right product. Cannabis delivery services such as CaliChill offer a variety of brands which sell hybrid products, including Kiva Confections and Winberry Farms.

With more legalization comes more research, and companies are racing to give consumers more information about their cannabis. In the meantime, experimentation and information will help guide you to what works best for you.