Indica vs. Sativa vs. Hybrid: What do they mean?

If you have ever dealt with cannabis before, the terms indica and sativa have definitely come up at some point. We know that marijuana strains can be either or a hybrid of both but do we actually know what they mean? As terminology, growers use them to categorize plants based on their growth traits and resulting chemical profiles, which in turn helps retailers market cannabis by categorizing effects for consumers.

Generally it is thought that smoking indica causes a body high (ever hear people call it inda-couch?) and smoking sativa leads to a more head-rush high but that’s actually all a myth! Let’s observe the controversy surrounding indica and sativa terminology by exploring their history, setting a proper definition and looking at how we use them today.

Where do indica and sativa come from?

Since its discovery in the 18th century, botanists and biologists have not been able to fully agree on a set taxonomy for cannabis. Between the earliest researchers, Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus called the plants he found Cannabis sativa while French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck called it Cannabis indica while observing cannabis plants in India. Lamarck argued the difference in their leaves where C. sativa plants have light and narrow leaves whereas C. indica plants have dark green and wider leaves.

During the 1930s, Russian botanist Dmitrij Janischewsky made the situation worse by identifying a third subspecies of cannabis: C. ruderalis, which automatically began to flower between 20-40 days after sprouting regardless of sunlight. Into the 1970’s American biologists Loran Anderson and Richard E. Schultes recognized this and argued that all three were proper terms for different cannabis species. They however decided that the different species should be characterized based on their THC and CBD content. Strains high in THC with low CBD were C. sativa, those with high THC and CBD were C. indica and those with a high CBD to THC ratio were C. ruderalis.

Other researchers such as Ernest Small and Arthur Cronquist have even argued that all cannabis species naturally fall under C. sativa and human intervention is to blame for the creation of two different subspecies. For them, C. sativa came to refer to low-THC plants and C. indica refers to the carefully engineered plants with high-THC content meant for intoxication. Even today we are making new discoveries studying marijuana which will in turn affect how we talk about it.


So what are the actual differences between indica and sativa?

From the beginning, people who dealt with cannabis would use the terms indica and sativa to distinguish plants based on the shape and size of their main leaves, and the amount of fiber they produced. That is pretty much how the terms are still used today by botanists, separating plants into either category based on their growth traits and physical makeup.

Indica plants tend to grow short with thick stems and broad, deep-green leaves. They also have short flowering cycles and are able to grow in cold, short-season climates. Sativa plants have longer flowering cycles, prefer warm climates with long seasons and they usually grow taller with light-green, narrow leaves. In the end, distinguishing the two has become irrelevant over time as modern cannabis cultivation relies on crossbreeding a number of different cannabis plants. Pure indica or sativa strains are hard to come-by meaning every flower you’ve ever smoked has likely been a hybrid. 

Any strains labeled as indica or sativa at GreensXpress likely have a high ratio such as 90/10 or 80/20, meaning you’re still getting what you’re looking for.

So how about the effects when we smoke them? Most think the effects of smoking indica are sedating and relaxing, whereas the effects of sativa are energizing and uplifting. These distinctions do not coincide with plant classification however as you may feel “sativa”-like effects from smoking an indica plant and visa-versa. You might not even feel the same effects as your friend who is smoking the same kush. The effects of marijuana come down to how your own body reacts to the cannabinoids that you are consuming. Because of this, you may find smoking weed at certain THC levels leads to a more pleasant high.

It’s great to know the difference between indica and sativa when it comes to dropping facts about the plant itself but in order to cultivate the best smoking experience one must pay attention to the THC and CBD levels. If you don’t have access to those percentages, the best trick is to trust how your body reacts to certain strains, whether it’s the high or even just the aroma and taste, only you know what the best strains are for yourself.

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