Indica vs. Sativa vs. Hybrid [What You Need to Know]

If you are relatively new to the world of weed, you may not fully understand the different types of marijuana. You may have heard terms such as ‘indica,’ ‘sativa,’ and ‘hybrid’ used to describe different strains.

For example, Northern Lights is an indica, Super Silver Haze is a sativa, and Blue Dream is a hybrid strain. But what’s the difference between an indica vs. sativa vs. a hybrid?

Initially, there were indica and sativa plants. However, generations of crossbreeding have led to an enormous number of hybrids. Here is a quick explanation of the three main strain types, followed by a brief history of these strains.

Cannabis Indica

Indica marijuana plants are typically short and bushy and have broader leaves than a sativa plant. Indica strains can relax the body, and some have a sedative ‘couch lock’ effect. Consequently, they are popular among people with chronic pain and insomnia.

Other common conditions that medicinal marijuana consumers use indica strains for include MS, sleep apnea, arthritis, anxiety, and Parkinson’s disease.

Cannabis Sativa

Sativa marijuana plants are taller and thinner than their indica counterparts. It is not unusual to see 20-feet tall sativas!

Sativas usually provide a stimulating head high, increase energy, and enhance creativity. They are popular amongst patients with medical conditions that cause fatigue. Recreational cannabis consumers often use sativas in the morning or early afternoon for a short-term energy boost. Patients sometimes use sativas for chronic pain, glaucoma, headaches, and depression.

Hybrid

Hybrids are a mixture of two or more cannabis strains, and they typically provide a combination of body and head high.

Breeders are busily trying to create all-encompassing strains to alleviate several medical problems. For instance, you can find hybrid strains that address inflammation and pain and that provide an energy boost.

Marijuana – Origin of the Species

Cannabis is one of the oldest crops in the world, and there is evidence that it has been grown for over 12,000 years. However, its history almost certainly goes back even further. Despite this fact, humans did not distinguish between indica and sativa strains until the 18th century. Cannabis sativa was the first species to receive a name. Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, found a strain in 1753 and called it ‘sativa,’ derived from the Latin word for ‘cultivated.’

Initially, sativas flourished in countries located near the equator, such as Thailand and Colombia, as they grow best in hot climates with plenty of sunshine. At the time, Linnaeus understandably believed it was the only cannabis plant because there was nothing to compare it to.

Hybrids are a feature of the modern era as breeders attempt to create unique marijuana strains.

However, in 1785, a French naturalist named Jean-Baptiste Lamarck discovered an entirely new marijuana type. These plants were far shorter, densely branched, and laden with broad leaves. The leaves were considerably darker than those of the sativa plant because of the higher chlorophyll concentration. Lamarck called the species Cannabis indica, a plant grown in places such as India and Turkey.

Indica plants have developed specific characteristics to enable them to grow in harsh environments. For example, they produce a sticky, organic substance known as resin, which also happens to boost potency. Hybrids were developed much later. They are a feature of the modern era as breeders attempt to create unique marijuana strains.

One More Cannabis Type: Cannabis Ruderalis

There is another marijuana strain type that is still relatively rare. D.E. Janischevsky, a Russian botanist, classified this plant species, Cannabis ruderalis in 1924. The name comes from the word ‘ruderal,’ which describes a plant capable of growing in the harshest climates. Janischevsky noticed that the ruderalis differed significantly from either indica or sativa plants.

For a start, it seldom grows taller than 0.8m and has a wild appearance without branches. Recent research has discovered that several marijuana species are not related to either indica or sativa and concluded that they must be ruderalis. These plants have a low THC concentration, which means they are not used in medical circles. Breeders now use ruderalis genetics for autoflowering strains.

Can You Tell an Indica From a Sativa?

You can simply Google the names of strains to find out whether they are indicas or sativas. However, being able to spot the difference from a quick look is a great skill to have. As you know, the most common way to purchase marijuana is in dried bud form. The best way to distinguish the two types is through close analysis of the buds. The name of a strain can sometimes be a giveaway, too.

How to Spot a Sativa

Sativa plants are tall and thin, and their buds are looser and lighter than their indica counterpart. When a sativa plant blooms, its flowers form along the branch and seem ‘stretched out.’ As a result, you end up with buds that are not particularly dense. Also, sativa plants tend to flourish in warm climates. This means they often have deep red or orange color accents on the buds.

sativa vs indica

How to Spot an Indica

Indica plants are shorter and more compact, and their buds follow suit. When you analyze an indica plant’s buds, notice how dense they are. This is because their blossoms tend to stick close to the stem’s nodes during flowering. The result is a set of buds that seem ‘fuller’ and feel firmer to the touch. As indicas usually grow in colder climates, they develop a touch of purple coloring.

What’s in a Name?

Traditionally, strains with the name ‘Haze’ are sativas, while those with ‘Kush’ are indicas. However, the proliferation of crossbreeding and the creation of various new strains means it isn’t easy to determine the type of marijuana you’re getting from the name alone.

Matters aren’t helped by the fact that companies create their own names for strains. Furthermore, growing conditions change the characteristics of a plant. Therefore, if two companies are selling Girl Scout Cookies, for example, you won’t necessarily get the same effects.

Medical Effects

We can fall into the trap of assuming that an indica or sativa plant only produces a specific type of effect. This is fundamentally untrue. A cannabis plant’s cannabinoids and terpene content are responsible for the different effects produced.

Cannabinoids

At the time of writing, researchers have identified over 110 cannabinoids in the marijuana plant, and some experts believe there are probably over 200. These cannabinoids significantly impact the body and mind because of their effect on the human endocannabinoid system (ECS), which scientists discovered in 1992.

The ECS consists of a series of receptors located in the glands, cells, organs, and brain. They produce substances akin to marijuana cannabinoids, which affect inflammation, pain, mood, memory, and a host of other functions. If you have even a vague familiarity with weed, you will have heard of the cannabinoids THC and CBD. They are the most abundant cannabinoids in marijuana plants.

THC is the best-known cannabinoid because of the intoxicating high it provides. However, CBD has gained global attention in recent years because it is associated with a variety of medical benefits and does not cause a ‘high.’ Other important cannabinoids include CBN and CBG.

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Indica and sativa plants contain all of these cannabinoids, and it is the cannabinoid and terpene content that determines a plant’s effects. For a long time, people believed that indica plants had higher levels of THC, while sativas had more significant amounts of CBD. High THC strains are popular amongst patients who need a robust euphoric experience to combat pain, anxiety, and depression.

Strains high in CBD contain minimal THC and are typically used by patients seeking relief for their symptoms without the intoxicating effects. Strains with a balanced THC/CBD level offer symptom relief and mild euphoria. Of course, it isn’t this simple!

Terpenes

Have you ever tried aromatherapy to relax your mind and body? If so, you have already experienced the effects of terpenes, the aromatic compounds found in marijuana, fruit, and other plants. The fantastic smell of citrus or pine you get from your favorite strain is due to its unique terpene content. To date, researchers have identified well over 100 terpenes, and there are likely hundreds more.

Terpenes are capable of stimulating or relaxing an individual. A plant’s terpene type and content also help dictate the strain’s effects. For instance, linalool provides relaxation, whereas pinene offers a mental and physical boost. We advise you to become familiar with a strain’s terpene content to help you choose the right strain for your needs.

Different terpene contents mean some strains are more potent others and could provide unexpected effects.

Terpenes potentially alter the effect of THC on your body and have an impact on potency. For instance, you could have two strains with a THC content of 18% apiece. However, if they have different terpene content, one strain could be more potent than the other and provide effects that you don’t expect.

Initially, people believed that indicas tended to have sweet fruity flavors such as grape and blueberry. In contrast, sativas typically had pine and earth aromas. However, increased awareness of terpenes has shown us that a strain can have any flavor or smell, regardless of whether it is a sativa or an indica.

What About Hybrids?

A hybrid is a combination of two or more marijuana strains. It is a great way to mix the power of an indica with a sativa.   is a prime example of a strain capable of providing the ‘best of both worlds.’ It offers the uplifting euphoria of a sativa and the body relaxation of an indica. Generally speaking, there are three types of hybrids:

Indica-Dominant

They usually provide a sedated feeling along with a powerful body high. You will feel relaxed without necessarily having the desire to sleep.

Sativa-Dominant

These strains offer a relaxing body feeling and an invigorating head high. They allow you to unwind without succumbing to couch-lock.

Balanced

Also known as 50/50 hybrids, these strains provide an all-over effect on the body and mind.

More on Indica, Sativa and Hybrid Differences

Indica

Origin

Indica plants are native to Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and Turkey. These robust plants have developed a resilient nature, having adapted to the harsh extremes of these climates and growing conditions.

Plant Description

As mentioned, indicas typically are short and bushy with broad leaves and dense buds. They are a popular choice for indoor growers, given their more compact structure.

Typical THC to CBD Ratio

The vast majority of strains, be they sativa, indica, or hybrid, have a THC level that is many times that of its CBD content. Most strains contain less than 1% CBD and often significantly less, i.e., 0.1%. Given that the average THC content for an indica is approximately 12.5% and most strains contain minimal CBD (e.g., 0.1%), this represents a THC to CBD ratio of 125:1.

However, this ratio can vary significantly depending on the THC level and CBD content of a given indica strain. Furthermore, it is important to note that certain strains are bred to be high CBD strains and contain much lower levels of THC as a result.

If you are curious about finding out about the THC and CBD content of a specific strain, type the strain name into the search bar of our website for a comprehensive strain review.

Effects

A common fallacy about what determines a strain’s effects is whether it is a sativa, indica, or hybrid. However, as previously discussed, what determines a strain’s effects is its cannabinoid content and terpene profile.

That said, many indica strains do share common effects, most notably relaxing or sedating full-body effects. For example, the dreaded couchlock sensation is typically associated with heavily sedating indicas. Furthermore, many go-to strains for insomniacs are indicas.

Daytime or Nighttime Use?

Unsurprisingly, based on the typical effects we just described, indicas are generally best-suited to late evening or nighttime use.

Popular Indica Strains

Some of the most popular indica strains include:

Sativa

Origin

Sativa plants originate from regions of the world with warm, dry climates, such as Africa, Central, and South America, Southeast Asia, and parts of Western Asia.

Plant Description

Sativas are much different in appearance from indica plants. They typically grow tall and thin and have finger-like leaves. Generally, sativa plants are better suited to outdoor cultivation due to the sheer heights they can grow to.

Typical THC to CBD Ratio

Again, this will vary depending on the specific cannabinoid content of the particular sativa strain. Some sativas have THC levels that can reach 30%. However, based on an average THC content of 13.5%, and a CBD content of 0.1%, this represents a THC to CBD ratio of 135:1.

Effects

Sativas are renowned for their uplifting high and energizing effects. For this reason, they are popular with cannabis users who like to wake and bake.

However, not all sativas will have the same effects, so it is essential to find out about a specific sativa strain’s cannabinoid and terpene profile before using it.

Daytime or Nighttime Use?

Due to their stimulating effects, sativas are best suited to daytime use.

Popular Sativa Strains

Some of the most popular sativas of all time include:

Hybrid

Origin

Rather than being native to any particular geographical region, hybrids are the result of cannabis breeding. They are a fusion of two or more different strains to combine the desirable traits of each into one cannabis hybrid.

Plant Description

Hybrids vary in their physical characteristics depending on their lineage and genetic profile. A hybrid, therefore, can have an indica or a sativa-type appearance depending on what parent strains were used to create it.

Typical THC to CBD Ratio

Some hybrids are bred to have a high THC level, while others are crossed to accentuate their CBD content. Therefore, the THC to CBD ratio of each hybrid will vary significantly depending on their cannabinoid profile.

Effects

A hybrid strain’s effects are entirely down to its cannabinoid and terpene content. Some are stimulating, while others are relaxing.

Daytime or Nighttime Use?

Again, it depends on the hybrid strain. If its effects are stimulating, it is better suited to daytime use. If it causes consumers to feel relaxed or sedated, it is best suited to evening or nighttime use.

Popular Hybrid Strains

Picking the Right Marijuana Strain for You

A highly-rated marijuana strain is not necessarily the right option for your specific needs. Overall, your choice of weed depends on your experience and tolerance level, coupled with your requirements. Here is a brief snapshot:

Beginners: You should always dip your toe in the water with caution. We recommend using a high-CBD, low-THC strain regardless of your needs. Strains such as Harlequin and Sour Tsunami usually have a reasonable level of THC. While you should feel mild euphoria, the high-CBD content ensures the experience is not too intense.

Relaxation/Unwinding: Hybrids are usually the right option here as they prevent you from completely collapsing while ensuring you slowly but surely relax. Fire OG is a good option. It can help you calm down while still being able to enjoy your favorite TV programs.

For Energy: If you are sluggish in the morning, look for a pure sativa such as Durban Poison. A combination of high-THC and low CBD hits you hard and is like drinking a cup of strong coffee.

Sleep: If you are an insomniac, a pure indica such as Hindu Kush should be your ‘go-to’ strain. You don’t have to worry about a slow, lingering high that keeps you couch-locked for hours. Instead, you should drift off to sleep pretty quickly.

Pain: It depends on whether you want to relax or if you have to power through the day. For those in need of sleep, an indica-dominant strain such as Blackberry Kush is a good option. It potentially offers a euphoric high and improves your mood. If you have to work, Harlequin could soothe the pain and provide a feeling of euphoria but keeps your mind clear.

Final Thoughts on Indicas, Sativas, and Hybrids

It is probably best if you don’t associate indica, sativa, and hybrid strains with specific effects. In reality, it is the cannabinoid and terpene content of a marijuana plant that dictates its effects. Although sativas tend to have more CBD and indicas usually have a higher level of THC, this is not always the case.

The development of hybrid strains has only served to muddy the waters even more. Ideally, it is best if you go to a dispensary and tell the budtender the effects you are looking for. If you want to get buzzed, choose a high THC strain with limonene. If you’re going to try and combat pain, opt for a high-CBD strain with lower THC that is rich in the alpha-pinene terpene.

Furthermore, the method of consumption also dictates how you feel after using any marijuana strain. Smoking weed burns off numerous terpenes and cannabinoids and provides a high that may last for 20-30 minutes.

Vaporizing is easier on the lungs and retains more cannabinoids and terpenes, so you could get a more satisfying high. Edibles take up to two hours to work, but the effect is more intense and longer-lasting. Topicals are rubbed on the skin and are best for pain and inflammation.

Finally, there is a big difference between dry herb and concentrates. Most dry herbs have a maximum THC content of 30%. However, there are concentrates with up to 99% pure THC, and these typically come in the form of wax or shatter.

All you need is a tiny amount of concentrate, and you should feel intense effects almost immediately. Be very careful when using a powerful concentrate from an especially potent marijuana strain, regardless of whether it is a hybrid, indica, or sativa.

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