What's the Difference Between Indica vs. Sativa?

Much of the research that does exist on cannabis shows extremely promising results for medicinal effects, but much presumed knowledge people have of marijuana is based on hearsay. Take the terms indica and sativa, for example. How much do we actually know about what makes a strain of marijuana an indica and what makes another a sativa?

What’s the Difference Between Indica and Sativa?

The general perception is that sativa strains give mainly a cerebral head high, while indica strains primarily provide a body high. The literal difference between the two is in terms of classification – Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica are two of the subspecies of the genus Cannabis.

Cannabis sativa is indigenous to hotter climates closer to the equator in areas like East Asia, while Cannabis indica is more indigenous to areas with colder climates. These differences in climates give the strains their distinct appearance, but do they result in a contrasting high?

Despite popular belief, the effects cannabis gives you are likely more accurately attributable to cannabinoids and terpenes, compounds found in the cannabis plant, as opposed to the strains. And while some cannabinoids and terpenes may be found more commonly in an “indica” or a “sativa,” none are found exclusively in one consistently enough to say an indica and a sativa will definitively cause specific effects.

What is Indica?

As mentioned earlier, the talk of what is an “indica” and what is a “sativa” is most accurate when discussing it as a subspecies of cannabis, and thus which plant is which. With that in mind, think about a pot leaf. What does it look like? If it’s on the short side and wider, you’re actually thinking specifically of indica.

Indica Effects

The lore of indica is that it is supposed to be ideal for night-time use. Indica is sold as having similar effects to a sedative, good for relaxation or trying to sleep. Part of this lore is that indica is said to have higher concentrations of CBD and lower concentrations of THC. That effect on the body can also be of great help for pain relief, and the relaxation element means it is often recommended for anxiety, important parts of the medical marijuana push. It is also said to be an appetite stimulant for some. Thus, indica strains are known for giving users more of a body high than a head high.

What is Sativa?

Think back to the pot leaf you imagined. Was it taller and more spindly than an indica? If so, you’re imagining a sativa leaf.

Sativa plants are far more indigenous to warmer climates with longer summers, and take a longer time to fully flower than an indica. The plant grows far taller than an indica plant, and the leaves much thinner than indica leaves. That height can make it difficult for sativa to be grown indoors.

Sativa Effects

Whereas indica’s reputation is one of a sedative that gives you a body high, sativa is said to cause more cerebral effects, perfect for the day time. These effects are far more invigorating, helping one to feel more alert and uplifting to tackle a physical activity or creative endeavor.

Medically, these sativa effects are said to help not only with pain but anxiety, depression, and attention disorders. One explanation for a “sativa” strain causing these effects and potential medical benefits are cannabinoids like THC and CBD – specifically, that sativa strains are said to have higher concentrations of THC. Another are the terpenes. Cannabis terpenes that could possibly produce these effects include limonene, which has shown potential for anti-depression benefits, and pinene, which has anti-inflammatory properties.

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