When delving into the cannabis realm, some of the first things we encounter are the distinct types of cannabis.
Indica, sativa, and hybrid strains are the types that most people are familiar with. But there’s actually another kind: Ruderalis.
Why does any of this matter?
These particular classifications allow us to group cannabis strains according to their looks, effects, cannabinoids, terpenes and genetics.
Read on to find out why these four types are significant to your understanding of cannabis and smoking experience.
Topline Summary: Sativa vs Indica vs Hybrid vs Ruderalis
Understanding the difference between the varieties of cannabis is essential for all cannabis consumers, medical and recreational alike.
Each kind, let alone each strain, has diverse effects and advantages that are better suited for certain conditions or uses.
Medical marijuana consumers may desire cannabis strains that produce certain therapeutic effects or that have high CBD to THC ratios.
On the other hand, recreational consumers may desire an uplifting experience or a case of uncontrollable giggles.
No matter what category you fall in, discerning the difference between hybrid, indica, sativa, and Ruderalis strains will help you choose the ideal strain for you.
To get the very best out of what cannabis has to offer, let’s begin by outlining the various types.
Related Read: Indica VS Sativa
Not all sativa strains are alike, but they are typically:
- Native to: Arid and hot climates with periods of long daylight. Such places include: Africa, Central, and South America, Eastern and Southern Asia
- Looks: Thin tall plants with long skinny leaves that are usually bright green. They can grow up to 10 feet tall.
- Time to flower: Sativa strains generally take longer to flower, about 10-12+ weeks
- Common terpenes: Caryophyllene, myrcene, limonene, pinene, humulene, linalool, terpinolene
- Effects: Head high, energizing, uplifting, euphoric, stimulating, creativity, anti-anxiety
- Note – Hemp is sativa
- Native to: Middle East — Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and Tibet. South and Central America — Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela
- Looks: Short, bushy, and stocky with wider chunky leaves that are typically dark green
- Time to flower: 8-10 weeks
- Common terpenes: Myrcene, limonene, linalool, humulene, ocimene
- Effects: Body high, relaxation, sedation, pain relief, sleep, appetite stimulant
Hybrid strains are a blend of Sativa and Indica strains that are selectively bred to produce certain effects.
Some hybrids are bred with Ruderalis strain to have higher CBD contents or faster flowering times. Hybrids are usually cultivated on farms or greenhouses.
From looks to effects, hybrid strains have a combination of elements from both of their sativa and indica parents.
- Native to: N/A, hybrids are selectively crossbred by breeders to produce specific effects. They are typically grown on farms.
- Looks: sativa dominant will have more sativa appearance, indica dominant will look closer to indica plants
- Time to flower: 6-10 weeks, depending on the strain
- Common terpenes: dependent on genetics
- Effects: a combination of sativa and indica effects
- Note – hemp is categorized as sativa, so hybrids are not technically classified as hemp.
- Native to: Asia, Central, and Eastern Europe, Russia, Siberia, India
- Looks: Short bushy plants that are often 1 to 2.5 ft tall
- Time to flower: Begins flowering 20-30 days after vegetation
- Common terpenes: None
- Effects: Minimal to no effects
- Note – Hemp is different from Ruderalis
Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid Compared
These three types of cannabis may share some similar terpenes or overlapping effects but they have distinct characteristics.
Sativa, or Cannabis sativa L., is commonly referred to as daytime strains that produce a “head high.”
The plant has been used medicinally for the last 5,000 years but was officially discovered in 1753 by botanist Carl Linnaeus.
Sativa cannabis has uplifting and energizing effects resulting in exceptional laser focus.
Sativa plants are tall and skinny towering shrubs. They can reach heights of up to 12 ft. This is partly due to longer flowering periods and specific growing conditions.
Sativa tends to be light green in color and adorned with slender finger-like leaves. The plants tend to have sparse foliage compared to their indica counterparts.
Sativa buds are longer and finer than chunkier indica buds. The colorful nugs are covered in eye-catching red-orange pistils, or hairs.
Generally, sativa strains produce smaller yields than their indica cousins.
Cannabinoids In Sativa
Over 150 different cannabinoids have been found in sativa strains. The most common cannabinoids found in sativas are THC and CBD.
By and large, sativas have higher amounts of THC and lower amounts of CBD. Some of the strongest sativa strains have THC percentages above 20%. CBD percentages are often lower than 1%.
Sativa Terpene Concentrations
Sativa strains tend to have higher concentrations of limonene, pinene, myrcene, terpinolene, and valencene.
These terpenes are believed to be responsible for creating a euphoric, uplifting and cerebral experience. However, scientists are unsure of the exact effects terps have on the endocannabinoid system in silo.
Popular Sativa Strains
- Blue Dream
- Green Crack
- Pineapple Express
- Maui Wowie
- Sour Diesel
- Strawberry Cough
Indica, also known as Cannabis indica L., is a subgenus of cannabis that was first classified in 1785 by French botanist John-Batiste Lamarack. It likely originated from Asia, Afghanistan, or India.
Indica is often considered a nighttime strain. It produces a “couch-lock” or “body high” that has relaxing, sedating, and calming effects.
Indicas are short, stout plants that are smaller in stature than sativa strains. They grow up to 5 ft in length with faster growth rates than their sativa cousins.
Indica strains are bushy in appearance and typically sport darker green and sometimes purply hues. The leaves and buds are broader and fatter in comparison to sativa strains.
Growers often prefer indica strains due to their larger yields and faster grow times.
Cannabinoids In indica
Generally, indica cannabis tends to have a higher concentration of CBD than sativas. This essentially means that most indicas tend to have a more balanced THC:CBD ratio.
Indica strains can have THC percentages above 20%. Some have upwards of 24 to 27%.
Indica Terpene Concentrations
Indica strains tend to have higher concentrations of myrcene, caryophyllene, pinene, linalool and limonene.
These unique terpene profiles account for the different aromas associated with indica strains and the relaxing body high. For example, the terpene myrcene is believed to have sedative and anxiety-reducing properties.
Common Indica Strains
- Afghan Kush
- Bubba Kush
- Girl Scout Cookies
- Grape Ape
- Grandaddy Purple
- Purple Erkle
- Sensi Star
Yup, you guessed it. Hybrid cannabis strains are a blend of indica and sativa strains. Thus, they have a mix of indica and sativa characteristics, based on their specific genetics.
You’ll often find that most hybrid weed is advertised as an indica or sativa-dominant hybrid. This indicates whether the strain tends to lean one way or another in terms of genetics, effects, looks, and so on.
Oftentimes, breeders create hybrids to have the best of both (sativa and indica) worlds and produce certain effects.
There are four distinct types of hybrid strains:
- 50/50 indica/sativa strains (equal hybrids)
- Indica-dominant strains
- Sativa-dominant strains
- Hybrid autoflower strains (Ruderalis bred with a sativa or indica strain)
Due to crossbreeding, hybrid strains do not have a one size fits all appearance.
In line with other characteristics, sativa dominant hybrids have more sativa traits. And indica heavy strains have more indica traits.
Cannabinoids In Hybrid Strains
The types and amounts of cannabinoids in hybrid strains fluctuate according to genetics. Its parent strains will no doubt affect what chemical compounds a hybrid is rich in.
Hybrids come in a variety of CBD and THC percentages. For example, Kush Mints can contain THC percentages as high as 25% and CBD percentages of <2%.
Certain strains, such as Royal Highness, have balanced cannabinoid concentrations with a 1:1 CBD to THC ratio.
Hybrid Terpene Concentrations
Hybrid strains’ terpene profiles vary according to their genetics. An indica dominant strain tends to have more terps associated with its indica parents.
For instance, Kush Mints’ dominant terpenes are caryophyllene, limonene, and linalool.
On the other hand, Mimosa, a sativa leaning strain, has myrcene, limonene, and beta-caryophyllene.
Common Hybrid Strains
- AK-47 – sativa dominant strain
- Cherry Pie – indica dominant
- Gelato – indica dominant
- Gorilla Glue – 50/50 hybrid (sometimes 60% indica / 40% sativa and vice versa)
- OG Kush – 70/30 indica dominant
- Runtz – 50/50 hybrid
- Skunk #1 – indica dominant
- Tahoe OG –indica dominat
- White Widow –50/50 hybrid (varies according to phenotype)
Ruderalis is technically a subspecies of cannabis. Due to its short growing cycle, it is crossbred with other strains to make autoflowering cannabis strains with shorter grow times.
Autoflowering alludes to a plant that automatically switches from vegetative to the flowering stage without sunlight. Strains with autoflowering abilities grow much faster than sativas or indicas.
Ruderalis strains have been around for centuries. They’re typically found in northern regions such as Russia and Asia.
These hearty strains have low to nonexistent levels of THC. So they are strictly used for breeding and seldom used for other purposes.
Ruderalis strains are small and shaggy in appearance. This variety of cannabis reaches a maximum height of 1.5 to 2 ft.
The buds of a Ruderalis plant are tiny but markedly chunky. Grown on stocky stems, the foliage tends to be light green in color.
The plant produces leaves with three distinct wide fingers surrounded by two leaflets. The leaves more closely resemble those of indica plants.
Cannabinoids In Ruderalis
While Ruderalis strains have negligible amounts of THC, they are naturally rich in CBD.
Certain strains can contain CBD levels upwards of 20%. Most Ruderalis cannabis contains about 3% of THC or less.
Ruderalis Terpene Concentrations
Ruderalis strains have very slight aromas. Unsurprisingly, they also contain very low terpene concentrations. When smoked, Ruderalis emits unremarkable smells in contrast to other cannabis varieties.
Common Ruderalis Strains
- Amnesia Haze Autoflower
- Do-si-dos Automatic
- Grapefruit Autoflower
- Haze Berry Automatic
- Royal Blue Automatic
- Ruderalis Indica
- Ruderalis Skunk
So, does hemp fall into the category of subspecies of cannabis?
Nope. Unlike Ruderalis, hemp is not a variety or subspecies of cannabis. Cannabis plants and hemp plants actually belong to the same exact species.
Where the two differ is their THC percentage. Legally, Hemp must contain less than 0.3% of Delta 9 THC. If a plant has more than 0.3% of D9 THC it is automatically categorized as marijuana, a Schedule I substance.
Landrace cannabis refers to a strain that is native to and grown in a specific region. Strain names almost always signify where the strain was grown.
Landrace strains are among the oldest types of cannabis. They are often dubbed the pure cannabis strains. This type of cannabis occurs naturally with minimal or no human interference.
However, these landrace strains are becoming increasingly harder to come by due to crossbreeding and hybridization.
Common Landrace Strains
- Acapulco Gold – sativa, native to Mexico
- Afghani (aka Pure Afghan) – indica, native to Afghanistan
- Chocolate Thai – sativa, native to Asia
- Hindu Kush – indica, native to Pakistan
- Lamb’s Bread – sativa, native to Jamaica
- Malawi – sativa, native to Africa
- Panama Red – sativa, native to Panama
Heirloom cannabis strains are technically landrace strains. They are cultivated outside of the native environments from which they originated.
Heirloom cannabis maintains the same genetic characteristics as they are preserved and is not subject to hybridization. So they are also considered pure strains since they have never undergone crossbreeding.
They are essentially the precursors to any modern-day cannabis strain.
Look Deeper To Find Your Favorite Strains
When looking for cannabis strains, use cannabinoids and terpenes instead of strain classifications to find what works for you.
Strain classifications are broadly based on chemical makeup. So they aren’t as nuanced as diving into the actual makeup of the plant
We want to look at cannabis via its chemical profile (or chemovars) to understand it clinically. This way we can find the types of cannabis that give us the effects we desire.
You can easily do this by looking at what strains you already have a natural affinity for.
Next, find the cannabinoid profiles and terpene profiles of the strains you prefer vs the ones you avoid. Now you’ll have some context to narrow down the choices immediately.
By looking at the chemical profile, you can better determine the right cannabis strain for your needs.
The 3 Common Splits
When you go to purchase weed, there are three common types of cannabis you’ll encounter.
Type 1: High THC: Low CBD
- This is the most common type of marijuana on sale nowadays.
- Strains that are type 1 contain larger amounts of THC and smaller amounts of CBD.
- Type 1 is often used for recreation purposes and is not considered medical cannabis.
- Popular High THC/Low CBD strains:
- Chem dawg
- Fat Banana
- Girl Scout Cookies
- Gorilla Glue
- Godfather OG
Type 2: Balanced THC:CBD (1:1 strains)
- This is another common ratio found in cannabis strains.
- Type 2 weed is considered balanced because it contains equal quantities of THC and CBD.
- It is sometimes used as medical cannabis due to its therapeutic benefits. Type 2 has the potential effects: relieving stress and chronic pain, treating insomnia and reducing muscle spasms.
- Popular 1:1 THC/CBD strains:
- Shark Shock
Type 3: High CBD: Low THC (20:1, 5:1, etc. strains)
- This type of cannabis has a higher CBD content and a smaller THC percentage.
- Strains with high CBD: low THC ratios are often categorized as medical cannabis.
- The effects of a type 3 strain depend on the exact CBD to THC ratio. According to science, such strains have effects associated with anxiety reduction and pain.
- Popular High CBD: Low THC strains:
- ACDC – 20:1 CBD/THC
- Charlotte’s Web – 10:1 CBD/THC
- Harle-Tsu – 10:1 CBD/THC
- Ringo’s Gift -– 24:1 CBD/THC
- Remedy – 14:1 CBD/THC
- Sour Tsunami – 13:1 CBD/THC
Pick Your Primary Cannabinoid
If you’re looking for certain psychoactive effects or medicinal benefits, picking certain cannabinoids will be vital to your experience.
Here are the primary cannabinoids you should consider:
Good for those seeking a strong high. THC is the main psychoactive cannabinoid that produces the quintessential stoney effects.
Ideal for novice CBD users. This ratio will provide balanced effects. So you can have a mix of intoxicating effects and therapeutic benefits such as chronic pain or anxiety relief and stress reduction.
A great option for those seeking purely or predominantly medicinal benefits. High CBD ratios deliver a minimal to nonexistent high. They are often used to treat conditions such as insomnia, multiple sclerosis, and inflammation.
Combine With Terpenes
In line with different cannabinoids, each terpene has its own unique effects.
Terpenes and cannabinoids are partly responsible for creating the entourage effect. This simply means that in our bodies they work together synergistically by way of the endocannabinoid system.
Locating which terpenes offer the synergistic effects you desire can help you choose a cannabis strain that is right for you.
The entourage effect is ignited by consuming cannabis edibles, smoking weed, or taking sublingual tinctures or capsules.
Our Favorite Cannabis Strains
If you’re overwhelmed by the plethora of sativa and indica strains flooding the market, keep calm. We got you covered.
Below we outline our top three sativa and indica strains available today. There’s something on our list for both newbies and experts.
Durban Poison originates from landrace sativa strains grown near Durban, South Africa. A pure sativa, it’s a fantastic daytime strain that is mood-boosting and will spark creativity.
- Aroma: Pine, earthy, spicy
- Terpenes: Terpinolene, ocimene, limonene, myrcene
- Effects: Uplifting, increased focus, energetic, stress-relieving, happiness
Named after the cannabis activist and author Jack Herer, this sativa strain is a great start to your day.
It’s created from a cross of Haze, Shiva Skunk and Northern Lights. It’ll make you productive and uplifted all at once, making this strain a perfect starting point for exploring the world of sativas.
- Aroma: Woodsy, pine, spicy, earthy
- Terpenes: Terpinolene, caryophyllene, ocimene, myrcene
- Effects: Creative, sociable, energizing, uplifting, relaxation
Sour Diesel, aka Sour D, is a sativa strain with legendary status. Chances are you’ve heard of it. And for good reason. Sour Diesel is a cross between Chemdawg x Super Skunk. This full sativa is powerful and one of our favorites.
- Aroma: Diesel, skunk, citrus, sour
- Terpenes: Caryophyllene, Limonene, Myrcene, Humulene
- Effects: Energizing, sociable, uplifting, euphoria
Granddaddy Purple (GDP)
Grandaddy Purple is the quintessential indica. Complete with beautiful purple buds, this strain delivers a powerful full-bodied high. GDP is a pure indica strain made from a cross between Afghanistan, Mendo Purps, and Skunk.
- Aroma: Grape, sweet berry, violet, earthy, notes of citrus
- Terpenes: Myrcene, caryophyllene, pinene, linalool, limonene
- Effects: Euphoria, drowsiness, relaxation, pain relief
Hindu Kush originates from the Hindu mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan. One of a few pure indica strains, Hindu Kush is heavily sought after for its stress, pain, and nausea relieving properties.
- Aroma: Spicy, sweet, earthy, herbal, sandalwood
- Terpenes: Limonene, caryophyllene, carene, myrcene, humulene
- Effects: Relaxation, sedation, couch-lock, pain relief, hunger
A beloved indica dominant strain, Blueberry is a mix of Purple Thai and Thai. It’s an award-winning strain that has amassed major popularity since DJ short created the strain in the 1970s.
- Aroma: Berry, floral, sweet, vanilla
- Terpenes: Myrcene, humulene, caryophyllene, pinene, linalool
- Effects: Sleepiness, relaxation, tranquility, happiness