Indica vs. Sativa: What's the Difference?

    Posted by Diane Campbell on Jun 2, 2015 12:46:42 PM

    sativa-indicaNow that marijuana is legal in Colorado, the sheer variety of products that have become readily available is staggering. Even if you ignore all of the fancy new marijuana extracts and stick to good old-fashioned bud, at any given dispensary, you are faced with shelves of strains with such diverse names as Super Lemon Haze, Jack Herer, Green Crack, White Widow, Northern Lights, and Blackberry Kush, all labeled “indica,” “sativa,” or “hybrid.” How do you use this information to help you make a choice?


    sativa_indica_growingWhat is the difference between indica and sativa?

    The basic difference between indica and sativa is the part of the world in which they developed. Indicas evolved in cooler climates and higher altitudes, causing them to grow smaller and more densely than sativas, which originated in regions with longer and warmer growing seasons.[1] 

    Do indicas and sativas produce different effects?

    Plenty of sources give some variation of a fairly simple answer to this question: Indicas produce more of a body stone or couch-lock effect and are generally favored for pain control, insomnia, and anxiety, while sativas produce a more cerebral, energetic high that better suited to daytime use and favored for combatting depression and stimulating creativity.[2] This common explanation, while convenient, greatly oversimplifies the complex variety to be found in the thousands of indica, sativa, and hybrid strains in the world today.

    The fact is that the effect of any given sample of marijuana will vary based on the plant’s growing conditions as well as how it was dried, cured, and stored. For example, bud that is left on the plant longer or exposed to more light while curing will have a sleepier effect as a result of THC degrading into CBN.

    Furthermore, indicas and sativas have been cross bred for so long that you are unlikely to find a pure example of either; the label “sativa” in the dispensary indicates that the strain is sativa-dominant, but it may still display some indica-like qualities. You may get an energetic, euphoric high from an indica or fall asleep after smoking a sativa – it depends on much more than just the label.


    Do they have different cannabinoid profiles? 

    Some sources that attribute these separate sets effects to indica and sativa strains assert that the contrast is due to a difference in THC:CBD ratios between the two subspecies, sativas generally producing more THC than indicas and indicas containing higher concentrations of CBD.[3] It is true that because sativas evolved in warmer, sunnier climates than indicas, they have developed the tendency to produce higher levels of THC, which provides some protection from the sun’s rays. However, if you look over the cannabinoid content of various strains available today, you will find many indicas with higher THC and lower CBD content than many sativas, so subspecies is not an effective predictor of a particular strain’s cannabinoid profile.


    Do they contain different terpenes?

    It has also been suggested that the difference in indica and sativa highs is strongly linked to a difference terpene profiles. For example, some assert that indicas contain higher quantities of myrcene, which has a sedative effect.[4] While it is true that terpenes influence the quality of the high you get from any given strain, terpene profiles are not subspecies-specific. In fact, data gathered from Cannabis Cup entries showed the sativas actually containing more myrcene on average than the indicas.[5]


    Why should I care whether my strain is an indica or a sativa?

    As a consumer, you should look at indica/sativa/hybrid labels only as broad categories that may give you some general indications about the type of psychoactive and medicinal effects the strain could offer. You will get more specific information by purchasing lab-tested marijuana and looking at the THC and CBD concentrations in the strains you’re considering. 

    Knowing whether a plant is indica or sativa is most valuable to growers, since sativa varieties need a longer growing season and grow taller and sparser than indicas. For that reason, indoor growers typically favor indicas, and those who do their cannabis gardening outdoors generally cultivate sativas.


    Nature’s Gift Shop, a retail dispensary in Pueblo West, carries many strains of lab-tested marijuana. We display the percentage of many cannabinoids, including THC, CBD, CBG, CBC, and CBN, next to each jar so you know just what you’re getting in your bud. Our marijuana is also inspected for moisture, mold, and other contaminants so you know you’re getting the safest product possible. If you ever have any questions or would like recommendations to suit your particular needs or preferences, our knowledgeable budtenders are happy to help.


    Would you like to make your own cannabis edibles at home? Download our free guide to learn how to control dosage and THC activation while making delicious marijuana treats.


    Free eBook: Nature's Gift Shop's Guide to Homemade Marijuana Edibles

    [1] Monterey Bud. "Sativa vs. Indica: Five Major Differences For Cultivators To Consider" Marijuana., 12 Sept 2014. Web. 28 May 2015.

    [2] "Indica vs. Sativa: Understanding the Differences." LeafScience. n.p., 19 June 2014. Web. 28 May 2015.

    [3] "Which Marijuana Strains are Best: Indica vs. Sativa." Greenly Online Collective. n.p., n.d. Web. 28 May 2015.

    [4] "Indica vs. Sativa: Here's How to Know." Steep Hill Lab. Steep Hill Media, 14 Sept. 2013. Web. 28 May 2015.

    [5] Sirus J. "Indica vs. Sativa: What Gives Indica Its Sedative Properties?" High Times. High Times, 3 March 2015. Web. 28 May 2015.

    The Nature’s Gift Shop blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be legal advice or a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice a qualified health care provider if you have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of anything you read on this website.

    Image sources:


    Topics: marijuana strains