Cannabis Indica VS Sativa: what’s the difference?

Cannabis has long been categorised as two different ‘categories’, and the discussion around the benefits of Indica vs Sativa have been on-going for years.

Both are the two primary sub-groups of cannabis, and they are classified as such due to the similarities in the effects each group has. 

  • Indica strains are said to be physically sedating, and thought to be perfect for relaxing in the evening. 
  • Sativa strains tend to provide a more cerebral effect which pairs well with daytime. 

These groups are often thought to help influence what effect cannabis will have on a person, and typically affect the choices experienced users make when determining which product to go for. 

Generally this is when people are in search of a particular effect over a strain per se, although as we will discover later, there is much more to the effects felt than just if the strain is an Indica vs sativa. 

Sensimilla - what is it and why does it matter?

First things first, let’s iron out some basics: Cannabis has both female and male varieties.

However, in commercial operations, male cannabis plants are frowned upon due to their inability to produce high amounts of flower, which the female produces in spades, in addition to the potential males can alter plant genetics. 

You might be feeling a little confused now, so before we dive into why this is, let’s quickly recap how things occur in nature:

  • Male cannabis plants produce pollen which passes through the wind and fertilises females
  • Females produce seeds which fall off the plant and end up on the top of the soil
  • These seeds germinate, producing random crossbred strains

Commercial growers are often looking to grow particular strains, with a specific profile in line with customer demand. 

Strains are only kept ‘pure’ in situations where there are no male plants, avoiding any genetical diversity which might alter the chemical make up on the plant. 

These primary components: terpenes, cannabinoids, flavonoids would change in quantity and type at the mercy of nature.

When female cannabis plants are grown in the absence of males, they are called sensimilla.

Sensimilla is preferred by both grow operators and consumers alike as it has three notable advantages.

  • Higher cannabinoid content
  • Larger than average flowering buds
  • The flowers contain no seeds
Most cannabis flower sold today.(also commonly known as skunk weed) is sensimilla, and when you check in with someone who has been using cannabis for multiple generations they will often comment weed used to have seeds and stems in it, whereas now it’s just flower. This is a direct result of commercial breeding practices focusing on sensimilla.

What is Cannabis Indica?

Indica cannabis flower

Cannabis Indica is famous for its more body focused effects.  

The a typical picture of a stoner, laying comatose in front of a TV, is probably originally related to an Indica strain. 

Indica strains originated from Central Asia and the subcontinent, and are found abundantly in the Afghan and Indian mountain regions. 

Cannabis Indica plants have some common characteristics, which make identifying them relatively easy to the trained eye. 

  • Often short and bushy, with the females growing more buds than their sativa cousins.
  • Dark and dense green foliage, with broad leaves. 
  • Shorter flowering cycles than sativas, and well suited to colder climates.
  • Popular Indica strains include Grandaddy Purple, Blueberry, Northern Lights and Hindu Kush. 

How is Cannabis Sativa Different?

Cannabis Sativa plants

Sativas are energy drivers, associated with cerebral head highs, and less of a body heavy effect.

These strains originate from hot climates with short seasons, such as Central America and Southeast Asia. Sativa genetic markers are identifiable through a number of key characteristics:

  • Sativa plants are tall and have thin leaves in comparison to Indicas
  • Light green vegetation, growing up to 12 feet tall 
  • Long flowering cycles
  • Popular sativa strains include Jack Herer, Durban Poison and Lemon Haze.

Indica vs Sativa vs Hybrid

In nature, plants breed as they please. 

Cross breeding results in commonalties from both strains. This includes the way the plant grows and the effects it produces once harvested.

This has been on-going for thousands of years, leading to hybrid strains, which have now been bred with other hybrid strains on multiple occasions. 

Hybrids can be roughly grouped as following:

  • Indica dominant: More than 50% of the plant profile is attributed to Indica characteristics. Examples include OG Kush and White Widow
  • Sativa dominant: More than 50% of the plant profile is attributed to Sativa characteristics. Examples include Stardawg and Amnesia Haze

Hemp is always Sativa

sativa hemp plant

Hemp is a subspecies of sativa, while marijuana strains can be either sativa or indica.

In respect to CBD, you might notice some brands label certain products as indica, and the related packaging usually suggests the product has soothing or sleep-inducing properties. 

CBD in Europe is derived from hemp, and consequently it’s always sativa. 

However, there is a lot of confusion from consumers, searching for indica based CBD products, usually due to seeing indica on an incorrectly labelled CBD product.

In the US, CBD can originate from marijuana (indica or sativa) or hemp (sativa). Although, it is almost always extracted from hemp due to the economics and illegality (across many US states) of CBD extraction from marijuana.

Right...So is CBD stimulating?

While CBD originates from hemp and hemp is a sativa, it doesn’t necessarily mean the CBD you buy is going to be stimulating. 

CBD has different effects on different people, and this varies again dependent on dose and the overall plant profile.

People frequently find CBD lightly stimulating in small doses, but other factors including depending on the time it is taken, total cannabinoid and terpene content is thought to cause different effects.

The environment is a pivotal factor in determining the physical characteristics of the hemp plants which are harvested for CBD. Some may naturally be higher in certain cannabinoids or essential oils over others, and this can adjust the effect felt when using CBD.

These effects are thought to be determined by the cannabinoid makeup in addition to terpenes. Together giving a more rounded picture of why strains differ in therapeutic value. 

Aligning with the fact most indica strains contain terpenes which are thought to promote ‘couch lock’, whereas sativas frequently contain terpenes which are presumed to promote wakefulness.

Thus, all in all, consumers should look at the cannabinoid and terpene make up over the so-called sativa or indica versions of CBD products.

CBD products sold in Europe which are genuinely from indica cannabis plants are illegal, in the EU CBD can only legally originate from hemp when sold as a food supplement. 

More likely, is that the terpene profile mirrors that of an indica cannabis plant and thus is thought to have relaxing effects.

What are terpenes?

Essential oils in the cannabis plant called terpenes act synergistically with cannabinoids. 

Altering the effect compounds like CBD might have on their own.

As a result, products containing multiple cannabinoids and a full terpene profile, such broad spectrum and full spectrum products, are favoured by the CBD community.  For example,  two of the most common terpenes are pinene and myrcene:

  • Pinene, commonly found in pine trees, is thought to promote wakefulness. 
  • Mangos are rich in myrcene, which is believed to induce sedative effects. 

Depending on the exact content and mix of terpenes, products are thought to have different effects.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Nature & Bloom and its staff. This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention for any disease. Nature & Bloom products have not been evaluated by the MHRA.