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Sativa Vs. Indica – What’s the Difference?

sativa indica cannabis plant

Sativa Vs. Indica – What’s the Difference?

Since the mid-1700s, the terms Sativa and Indica have been commonly used by cannabis consumers across the world while referring to the type of weed being used. But what do these terms mean, and what is the difference between the two strains of cannabis? Here is a quick overview of the difference between sativa and indica.   

The Basic Difference 

Before we touch upon the more modern research on Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica, let us take a look at the traditional differences between the two strains of the plant.  

Cannabis Sativa

The Cannabis Sativa strain of the cannabis plant was originally found in hot and dry regions that had long and sunny days. Western Asia (Eurasia), Southeast Asia, Africa and Central America is where the sativa plants were found.  

The Sativa plant is tall, thin and has long, finger-like leaves. They take a longer time to grow but can grow to heights of as much as 12 feet.  

Cannabis Indica 

The Cannabis Indica strain was originally native to the harsher, drier and more turbulent climates found in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey and Northern India – basically the Hindu-Kush mountain region.  

These plants are short and bushy with thick and broad leaves. They grow fast and produce more buds than the Sativa strain.  

Differences in THC and CBD 

Over the centuries, the clear differences between the two strains have blurred. As the cannabis industry has grown, mass production of the plant, cross-breeding and hybridisation has led to the original strains almost being non-existent. Today, it is extremely rare to find a pure strain of either sativa or indica.  

The difference now has shifted from the physical to the chemical composition of the two strains of the cannabis plant. Now, the difference between Sativa and Indica is based other factors such as the cannabinoid levels in the plant. The two cannabinoids that are mainly used to differentiate between the two strains are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).  

Cannabinoids are naturally occurring chemicals in the cannabis plant. Of all the cannabinoids found in cannabis, THC and CBD are the most abundant. THC is what gives a person that high – the psychoactive intoxication. CBD, on the other hand, is a non-intoxicating relaxant. So, when a person uses marijuana or weed for recreational purposes, they are looking for that high that is given by THC, but when it is used for medical purposes, then a higher ratio of CBD is preferred.  

Thus, today when we speak of sativa and indica, we are actually referring to the effect that plant has on us rather than the strain of the plant that we are using. Because of this, it is common to hear terms such as energizing, heady and cerebral when referring to cannabis sativa and terms such as sedating, relaxing and stoney when referring to cannabis indica. 

Sativa plant grown outdoors

New Research – the Impact of Terpenes 

As research into the cannabis plant gains more momentum, researchers have realized that the physical properties matter even less. And that cannabinoids aren’t the only chemicals that have an impact on the effect of cannabis.  

Terpenes are aromatic oils that occur naturally in cannabis and many other plants. The amount of terpene in a plant has a direct impact on its smell or aroma. And new research shows that it can also impact the effects produced. Thus the presence of different terpenes can change the effect that a cannabis product has on an individual.   

So, some terpenes like mycrene are found to enhance relaxation, while terpinolene is found in those strains of cannabis that energise.  

While modern researchers agree that terpenes do have an impact on the effect that a strain of cannabis has, there is not enough information yet to reach definitive conclusions.  

So, Does the Difference Really Matter? 

The debate about the difference between sativa and indica rages on as hotly today as it did when the terms were first coined. Scientific researchers today say that the physical differences between the two species of cannabis do not really matter.  

What really matters are other factors – the chemical profile of the cannabis product, a person’s biological tolerance to weed or marijuana or any other cannabis-based product, the method of consumption and the dosage. Another factor that is taken into consideration is the technique that was used to grow the cannabis plant.  

So, if you are looking for a specific type of cannabis product, choosing between sativa and indica is only the starting point. Call it a broad categorisation, if you will. Attention must also be paid to the CBD/THC ratios as well as the type and amount of terpenes present in that strain. It is the combination of these compounds that deliver the relaxation, the medicinal benefits or the high that a person is looking for.  


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