Sativa vs Indica Strains: Is There Any Truth To The Dichotomy?

Sativa vs Indica

How Different Are Sativa vs Indica Strains?

There’s no doubt that you have heard that there are major differences between Sativa vs Indica. Is there any truth to this split? Is this diverse plant really that simple? Many say that “Sativas provide a head high”, while “Indicas provide a body high”. Maybe classifying cannabis is not so black and white. It’s a well-known principle of mathematics that if you can divide a large dataset in half, you’ve done the most efficient operation. Could it be the case that

Read below to get the down low on the real differences between Sativa vs Indica.

What Are Sativa vs Indica Strains?

With thousands of cannabis strains, all with unique cannabinoid and terpene profiles, it is difficult to know which strain is best for you. Fortunately, all strains are typically designated as a Sativa, Indica, or hybrid, which makes the strain selection process much simpler. There is also the lesser mentioned, Ruderalis, bringing the total variations of the cannabis plant to a count of four.

Sativa vs Indica vs Hybrid vs Ruderalis
There are 4 varieties of cannabis: a true Sativa, a true Indica, a Hybrid (Indica and Sativa mix), and the much lesser known Ruderalis

Rather than memorizing hundreds of strain names, users can simply find out if a strain is a Sativa, Hybrid, or Indica. But what are the actual differences? Let’s start by comparing the size and shape of the leaves. The image below shows a Sativa on the left, with an Indica on the right. Do you see a difference? Notice how the Indica’s leaves are broader where the Sativa’s are skinnier? Most growers can recognize a Sativa vs Indica on this distinction alone.

Sativa vs Indica plant differences

Essentially, Sativas provide more of an uplifting head high. These strains can provide a creative, yet calming burst of energy. Indicas, on the other hand, are notorious for their body relaxing effects. As a sedative, Indicas are great for pain relief and insomnia. Okay, so why did the earth give us these two options?

Historically, different landraces were grown all around the world. As many different cultures stayed somewhat separated, so did the cannabis strains. This led to different strains, which are now called Sativa, Indica, or Ruderalis.

Indicas are named after their origins in regions like Northern India. It is generally thought that sativas originated in South Asian areas as well as the Americas. Thai and Hawaiian are two landrace Sativas, for example. Ruderalis is another less important variety, which originated from central Asia.

Sativa vs Indica India Map
As modern society developed, these strains started to get crossbred, which created a vast array of hybrids. Hybrids are simply strains that have mixed Sativa and Indica genetics. Today, almost all strains are technically a hybrid. However, if a strain is dominated by about 70% Sativa genetics or more, then the strain may still be called a Sativa.

As of today, most strains have both sativa and indica genetics, making them hybrids.

Sativas and Indicas a bit like the two party system. Almost everything gets labeled as a Sativa, Indica, or hybrid, just as a politician may be democratic, republican, or moderate. In reality, cannabis is a much more complex plant than these two or three distinctions, as there are hundreds of cannabinoids and terpenes, all affecting the quality of the high.

As more and more people are getting frustrated with the two-party system, some marijuana users are also starting to feel the same way. What if strains were optimized for people’s specific needs, rather than simply labeled as a Sativa or Indica? Nevertheless, distinguishing between Sativa and Indica is a great first start for any cannabis user.

Sativa vs Indica: The Differences

Pinpointing the exact difference between Indicas and Sativas is actually quite simple, once you become familiar with the plant. As we will show, knowing about the harvest, flower shape and size, smell, and terpene profile all help with determining if a plant is a Sativa Indica, or Hybrid.

The first way to tell the difference between an Sativa vs Indica is to start with the growing cycle of the plant. Typically, Indica plants have short harvest times, ranging from about 6 to 10 weeks. Sativas, on the other hand, take anywhere from 10 to 16 weeks to flower. Similar to the leaves, the indica plant itself is typically shorter and fatter, as seen below.

Sativa vs Indica Plant
An example of a bushy cannabis Indica garden

Indica plants grow to smaller heights, ranging from 3 to 4 feet, as shown above. Sativas, on the other hand can grow up to 10 feet high. This is one reason why sativas can be difficult to grow inside. The image below shows a picture of a sativa, which is much more slender and taller. It is tyically thought that sativas have higher yields, since they are larger in size. However, many hybrids have been optimized to have medium sized plants that can be grown indoors with extremely high yields. This probably leads to hybrids having the best yields, given the fact that sativas would require more time and resources.

Sativa vs Indica Plant
An example of a tall, skinny Cannabis Sativa plant

Many pure Sativas, such as Neville’s Haze, are known for having relatively low yields. Haze enthusiasts would claim that while the yields of the flower is lower, the overall quality of the high from the bud is better, as it gives a strong psychoactive high. At the end of the day, everyone’s preferences are different.

Hybrids are the most popular, since they can combine the best aspects of indicas and sativas into one plant. The high yields of properly grown hybrids also creates good profit margins for growers and dispensaries.

Dispelling the Myths

Over the years, I have heard a lot of people claim that they know what the difference between sativas and indicas are, yet a lot of people still get it wrong. Most of this confusion comes from people taking the definitions too literally.

Sativa vs Indica Comparison
Traditional interpretations of the different subjective experiences caused by Sativa vs Indica are a good start, but leave out other crucial factors.

For example, Sativas are known to give a head high, while indicas give a body high. While this is partially true, it would not be correct to say that indicas do not provide a euphoric head high. Many indicas are highly euphoric and psychedelic, which some might expect to be more of a sativa, or head high, effect.

There is still a lot of disinformation floating around the internet about the differences between sativa and indica. Wikipedia claims that Sativas have higher CBD-to-THC ratios, while indicas have higher levels of THC. It is pretty clear that the writers of the Wikipedia page and the article that they cite have not smoked weed before.

A lot of the scientists like to attempt to classify cannabis strains into different categories based on their cannabinoid ratios. This works well for distinguishing between medical cannabis and industrial hemp, as hemp is typically much lower in cannabinoids.

Simply looking at a few lab tests will show that sativas and indicas could have comparable levels of THC and CBD. This shows that the difference between sativa and indica is not solely due to the cannabinoid ratios.

Are Terpenes the Answer?

The terpenes in cannabis are what determines the smell and aroma of the plant. It is not surprising that sativas and indicas generally have different smells. Since there are so many different aromas that cannabis can have, this distinction is less exact.

In general though, many sativas may have a citrus or piney smell. This is mainly due to their expression of the cannabis terpene pinene. Tropical aromas are also usually associated with sativas. Indicas can have their own fruity aromas, as many of the berry and blueberry flavored strains are indicas. Many indicas will also have an earthy smell as well.

Sativa vs Indica Trichomes
Terpenes are concentrated predominantly in the trichomes (pictured above) of all cannabis plant varieties

Our current hypothesis is that the terpene profile of a strain can be used to identify if a strain is a sativa or indica. Myrcene is the most common terpene, which is known to be a sedative that allows for THC to bind to the CB1 receptors at a faster rate. Linalool is another terpene with sedative effects. Our analysis of lab testing results has shown that indicas typically have more myrcene and linalool.

Fun fact: Terpenes also give beer it’s smell!

While almost all strains contain decent levels of myrcene, indicas typically have more. Sativas will often have more of other terpenes, such as alpha- and beta-pinene, limonene, and possibly others like alpha-terpinolene, eucalyptol and cineole.

The pinenes are known to help with memory, which may contribute to the head high effect of sativas. Limonene is also known to have calming effects, helping with the unique sense of euphoria that sativas can give.

Many are hopeful that learning more about terpenes in cannabis will lead to a better classification of cannabis.

In general, sativas may be a bit more diverse than indicas, as they seem to have a wider variety of terpenes that dominate. Indicas are predominantly dominated by myrcene, which makes many of them somewhat similar.

Beyond Sativa vs Indica: The Strain Genie

As the cannabis industry continues to grow, it is clear that the diversity of strains and products will also increase. At WoahStork, we wanted to create a new way to classify strains that gets a little deeper than the Sativa vs Indica paradigm, yet is still simple and easy to use.

This is why we created six activity groups. We separate all of our strains into the following categories: Energize, Create, Elevate, Medicate, Chill, and Sleep.

The Energize strains are mostly sativas great for mornings. These strains are great for wake and bake, as they will make you jump out of bed ready to go outside and explore. These strains are highly recommended for activities such as hiking.

The Create category is also mostly sativas, but focuses more on providing a sense of mental clarity and focus to get your creative juices flowing. These strains are great for artists as well as people looking to have philosophical conversations with friends.

Elevate contains mostly hybrids, which are specifically picked to elevate your mood. Calming, but not too calming, these strains are sure to provide a light euphoric buzz that is sure to put a smile on your face. These strains are great for just about anything, whether it be a smoke sesh with friends, or a night out at a concert.

Sativa vs Indica Strain GenieThe strains in Medicate are hand picked to be high in CBD content. High CBD strains are typically defined to have more that 4% CBD, so many patients looking for a well-balanced cannabinoid profile can look to these for medical relief.

The Chill category takes mostly indica-dominant hybrids that are great for relaxation and pain relief, but do not completely knock you out. These strains are great for unwinding, whether it be playing video games or watching TV or a movie.

Sleep strains are the heaviest of indicas that are sure to knock you out for a good night’s sleep. Providing a full-body relaxation, atients with insomnia are sure to enjoy these strains. Readers might also enjoy the best strains for insomnia.

WoahStork recently launched a new version of the Strain Genie that allows you to send in a DNA sample and receive specific product recommendations most likely to yield the experience you are looking for. So, if you’re looking for a much more previse method than just Sativa vs Indica,  let the Strain Genie help you find the perfect strain for your needs. We also will show you which dispensaries carry those strains and let you order online from the convenience of your home.