Sativa vs Indica Marijuana: Know the Major Differences!

You’ve probably heard the terms indica, sativa, and hybrid before. But what do these terms really mean? Most of all, how can you quickly learn to tell the difference between them (short of being a professional cannabis cultivator), while also understanding how each impacts you in a physical and/or cerebral way?

Here at WayofLeaf, we understand that these concepts might seem new and complex, but by the time you’ve finished reading this article, you’ll (hopefully) know the difference between sativa and indica cannabis strains, and more importantly, how each one may affect you.

Sativa and Indica Plants: It’s All About the Looks

Believe it or not, those who have seen a lot of marijuana in their lives can identify different cannabis strains just by the way they look. With hybrids, this can sometimes be complex, but with pure indica and sativa strains, there truly are some pretty distinct differences in appearance. Let’s take a look at a few of the most obvious ones.

Sativa Marijuana Plant Appearance

If Mowgli from The Jungle Book was a marijuana connoisseur, he might describe sativa strains as being the King of the Equatorial Forest – reigning supreme over vast expanses of temperate foliage, and enlightening the various creatures who tread beneath its damp, life-bearing canopy.


In other words, sativa marijuana is native (at least in a geographical sense) to temperate, somewhat tropical regions close to the equator. Also, its effects are generally regarded as uplifting, creative, and even energetic – hence the reason it is commonly used as relief for things like depression and stress.

In terms of the physical plants themselves, sativa strains are known to grow giant – sometimes as tall as 12 feet high when cultivated outdoors! The leaves, buds, and colas of a sativa marijuana plant are spread far apart and tend to grow in an upward direction with the branches stretching themselves into the sky.

Additionally, very few sativa buds grow toward the stalk of the plant, with the majority (if not all) of the usable plant material sprouting out about halfway up. This type of cannabis strain often requires a lot of room to grow, due to its sometimes enormous size and branches that need space to reach towards the heavens (another reason why sativa generally does better than indica when grown outdoors).

Lastly, a sativa’s leaves are much thinner than that of an indica strain. You’ll notice scrawny, almost pencil-like leaves that collect together at a point on the bottom, giving the leaves its classic ‘marijuana leaf’ look. In other words, you know the iconic image of a pot leaf that you see all over the world on t-shirts and smoking paraphernalia? That’s what a sativa leaf looks like.

Indica Marijuana Plant Appearance

The indica cannabis strain might be described as a “hidden hero” of sorts. Much smaller than its sativa relative, indica weed typically grows about half the height of sativa – usually no more than 6 feet tall. Even though its size pales in comparison to the Equatorial King (i.e. sativa), indica cannabis is no doubt a fan favorite among pot-growing professionals as its dense, hardy nature usually makes for few health problems and excellent yields.

You might think of sativa leaves like basketball players – tall and skinny – while indicas are more like football running backs – short, burly, and stocky.

The general plant shape of indica marijuana is actually pretty similar to that of an evergreen tree, with its branches starting from a point at the top and becoming denser as they reach the bottom. The usable plant material typically begins flourishing almost at the root of the stalk, with not much space from the bottom of the plant to the top of the soil. Additionally, indica buds tend to be thicker and heartier than sativas, producing incredibly high-yielding colas and flowers.

The easiest way to recognize an indica strain? By its fat, wide, and flat-leaf shape. Compared to a sativa’s leaves, the indica typically has the same pattern but it seems almost as if the leaves have swollen to double – if not triple – their usual (sativa) width. You might think of sativas as a stereotypical basketball player (tall, lanky, and thin), and indicas as football running backs (short, stocky, and super tough).

indica marijuana plant appearance

Indica vs. Sativa Effects

If you asked the average cannabis user to describe indica vs. sativa effects, you’d likely get an answer along these lines: The main difference between these two types of cannabis is that indicas are best-suited to evening use to induce relaxation and sleep. On the other hand, sativas are a better daytime option as they provide uplifting, stimulating, and in some cases, energizing effects.

They may even identify clear differences between the side effects of the two types of cannabis. For indica side effects, they might say, you may experience couch-lock and feel drowsy. As for sativa side effects, they might say you may experience adverse reactions like paranoia or anxiety.

In reality, these side effects have much more to do with the cannabinoid content and the terpene profile of the particular strain you are consuming. Experiencing heightened paranoia or anxiety after consuming a strain is a reaction to its THC content. It can be due to several reasons, with overconsumption being one of the most common.

As for indicas causing couch-lock and drowsiness, this has more to do with their terpene profile. Research shows that several terpenes, such as myrcene, pinene, and linalool, promote and improve sleep.

Addressing the Indica vs. Sativa Effects Myth

In an interview published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, Dr. Ethan Russo, a neurologist, and a psychopharmacology researcher, addressed the indica vs. sativa effects myth. He said:

“The sedation of the so-called indica strains is falsely attributed to CBD content when, in fact, CBD is stimulating in low and moderate doses! Rather, sedation in most common cannabis strains is attributable to their myrcene content, a monoterpene with a strongly sedative couch-lock effect that resembles a narcotic.”

Furthermore, Dr. Russo added:

“I would strongly encourage the scientific community, the press, and the public to abandon the sativa/indica nomenclature and rather insist that accurate biochemical assays on cannabinoid and terpenoid profiles be available for cannabis in both the medical and recreational markets. Scientific accuracy and public health demand no less than this.”

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Indica vs. Sativa Marijuana: How Do They Affect Patients Differently?

Many people now use cannabis daily to manage medical symptoms. Particularly now that cannabis has gained more widespread legalization as a medicine, more reliable and consistent reports are starting to emerge in terms of the actual therapeutic effects of each strain. It used to be generally regarded that sativas were good as mood-lifting, energizing strains while indicas were good for sleep and sedation. While this largely remains the case, we now know that the effects are much more complex than this. Let’s take a look at some of the most prominent medical effects of indica vs sativa marijuana strains.

Medical Effects of Sativa Strains

Unless you are planning on working in the cultivation industry, this is the part you most likely care about. Cannabis sativa typically has a more uplifting high that brings energy to the consumer; this is the type of marijuana strain you’d want to smoke while out on social gatherings or events with your friends, or if you want to be productive around the house.

Sativas can be wonderfully suited for daytime use, and can often produce a creative cerebral high that will bring your mind pure energetic bliss. Generally speaking, these strains in pure form have a higher concentration of THC in comparison to their ratio of CBD.

Potential Therapeutic Benefits of Sativa Weed

Both sativa and indica marijuana strains have medical benefits, but each has different effects on its users. Sativa tends to be more stimulating and is known to be more effective in addressing things like:

  • Migraines
  • Chronic Pain
  • Nausea

Sativa cannabis strains also tend to have a positive uplifting effect on its patients, which typically results in a stimulating, creative, psychoactive high. Most patients prefer to consume sativa strains throughout the day.

*Wayofleaf’s Must -Try Sativa Strains: Sour Diesel and Jack Herer

Medical Effects of Indica Strains

Indica marijuana strains generally produce a classic couch-lock high that makes them a wonderful choice for relaxation, or to help with falling asleep if you suffer from insomnia or other sleep-related issues. These cannabis strains work their magic especially well during the night, or during periods of the day when you don’t need to be super active. They can offer an immense feeling of calmness and serenity, with complete body and mind-numbing levels of psychoactive intoxication

Indica in its pure form usually (but certainly not always) has a higher concentration of CBD in comparison to sativa varieties, with CBD acting to counteract the mind-altering properties of THC. This is why generally speaking, the indica high is slightly more of a “body experience” than it is a cerebral one. Of course, there are always radical exceptions to this general rule.

Potential Therapeutic Benefits of Indica Weed

Those of you that have been smoking weed for a while probably know that indica strains work wonders during the evening time, or before bed. Indica strains are known to be sedatives and are becoming increasingly popular among medical patients for addressing things like:

  • Insomnia
  • Muscle spasms
  • Chronic pain
  • Anxiety

Some have said that indica weed is the “perfect natural sleeping pill,” and that it tends to bring on a kind of “heaviness in the body” and a “lightness in the mind,” which is both comforting and relaxing at the same time.

*Wayofleaf’s Must -Try Indica Strains:BlueberryandNorthern Lights

sativa vs indica

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Is there Really a Difference Between Indica and Sativa?

So far, we’ve looked at the difference between indica and sativa strains and concluded that the main differences lie in the physical characteristics of the plants themselves. We mentioned that sativa plants are typically tall and thin, and indica plants are short and bushy.

Also, the geographical origins of the two cannabis plant species are different. Sativa plants flourished in countries near the equator, such as Colombia and Thailand. Indica plants, on the other hand, originated in more mountainous regions, such as the Hindu Kush mountain range of Central Asia.

Sativa vs. Indica vs. Hybrid

In modern times, selective breeding has led to the proliferation of numerous hybrid strains. Hybrids are a cross of two or more cannabis strains and commonly involve crossing an indica and a sativa strain.

The Most Common Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid Strains

Choosing a strain that’s right for you can seem like a daunting task, particularly when comparing a sativa vs. indica vs. hybrid. With so many strains to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start.

That’s why, in this section, we have provided a shortlist of our five favorite indica and sativa strains, as well as our top 5 hybrid strains. Hopefully, after checking out our shortlist, choosing a strain will seem a whole lot easier.

If you want to know more about any of the strains below, simply click on the strain name for a comprehensive strain review.

Indica Strains

  1. Afghani
  2. Hindu Kush
  3. Northern Lights
  4. Afghan Kush
  5. Purple Kush

Sativa Strains

  1. Durban Poison
  2. Colombian Gold
  3. Highland Thai
  4. Panama Red
  5. Lamb’s Bread

Hybrid Strains

  1. Blue Dream (50/50 indica/sativa)
  2. Granddaddy Purple (Heavily indica-dominant – 80/20 indica/sativa)
  3. Sour Diesel (Almost entirely sativa – 90/10 sativa/indica)
  4. OG Kush (55/45 sativa/indica)
  5. Jack Herer (55/45 sativa/indica)

Sativa vs Indica Weed: A Basic Summary

No matter what kind of high you prefer, there is likely some type of cannabis strain out there that can offer relief from the troubles that brew up in your life. Cannabis is indeed a complex plant and can produce feelings of calmness, sedation, and relaxation just as well as it can enhance energy levels and uplift the spirit.

Next time you have your moment with the cosmic green, feel awesome knowing that you can now identify indica vs. sativa marijuana if it were growing in a field and that you know how your body is going to react to each specific type.

Settle down with a calming indica if you’re trying to relax and enjoy a peaceful night in, or maybe try an uplifting sativa if you’re going out with friends and want a little shot of spunk, creativity, and energy. And of course, if you want something in-between there’s a whole world of hybrid marijuana strains (crosses between indicas and sativas) out there for your pleasure and enjoyment.

Now that you understand the difference between the different types of strains let’s find out which strains were voted the best by our readers.

  1. 5 Most Popular Sativa Strains of All Time
  2. The 5 Best Indica Marijuana Strains Of All Time
  3. 5 Best Hybrid Cannabis Strains on the Market
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