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Medical cannabis close up with trichomes in site

Get Familiar with the Different Types of Cannabis

The legalization of cannabis is well underway in the United States and Canada. The United States have fully legalized cannabis in nine states, with another 11 welcoming medical cannabis, and a handful that are expected to fully legalize it (it is completely illegal in 18 states). Meanwhile, Canada has legalized cannabis all over the country.

Small business marijuana dispensary in Oregon.

People should realize that cannabis isn’t just one plant. In fact, the reality is much more complex—and much more interesting. There are actually three main categories of cannabis plants: indica, sativa, and hybrids. Each of these categories has very particular traits and characteristics.

Before we go further, it should be noted that due to decades of intense breeding and cultivation activity, the categories of indica, sativa, and hybrid are not as sharply differentiated as they once were. However, these categories are still an effective way for consumers to identify the types of cannabis that will give them the experience they’re seeking.

If you’re new to weed, or if you’re a veteran cannabis consumer looking to mix things up, the best starting place is to determine what you want out of your cannabis experience, and then match that with the proper cannabis type. To get you started, here are the three main types of cannabis you need to know about.


Indica strains are identifiable by their wide, short leaves and their tight, densely-packed flowers. In general, indica strains tend to be much higher in THC—the psychoactive chemical produced by cannabis plants—than in CBD—the chemical compound that gives cannabis most of its therapeutic properties. As a result, indica strains are known for increasing appetite, providing a high degree of brain and muscle relaxation, and are often recommended as nighttime strains.

As a handy mnemonic device to help you remember that indica strains produce highs more heavily grounded in your body, keep in mind the phrase: “Indica, in da couch.”


Sativa strains are, in many ways, the counterpart to indica strains. For starters, sativa plants tend to grow taller and lankier, with longer and thinner leaves. Similarly, sativa flowers are longer and less densely packed than indica buds, and have a more wispy appearance. Sativa plants also take longer to grow, and require more light than indica strains.

While the highs you get from indica strains are mostly bodily, the highs you’ll experience from consuming a sativa strain are much more cerebral. In particular, sativa strains are commonly recognized as giving consumers a heady and energizing experience. In some cases, people find themselves feeling a bit foggy mentally, but the right sativa strain in the right dosage can actually make you feel mentally sharp, outgoing, talkative, and less inhibited. That’s why many people suggest consuming sativa strains during the day, or as a social lubricant. Additionally, sativa strains are frequently used to help manage feelings of anxiety and depression.


Technically speaking, most cannabis strains on the market today are hybrids, as a result of heavy cultivation and breeding activity. In fact, some experts believe that 100% pure indica or 100 percent pure sativa strains don’t really exist anymore. Instead, these experts argue, nearly all cannabis strains currently in existence have been crossbred with some other strain at one point or another.

In any case, a strain specifically marketed as a hybrid will exhibit a blend of indica and sativa qualities. Typically, a hybrid will fall slightly more on one side or the other, and this is frequently marked by the terms “indica-dominant” or “sativa-dominant.”

Ultimately, hybrids allow for more variety, allowing consumers to fine tune their product selection to a more precise experience. For example, a person who wants to feel more uninhibited, but who also wants to feel some of the bodily relaxation typically linked to indica strains, could benefit from a sativa-dominant hybrid. Similarly, somebody who wants to feel calm and relaxed, but doesn’t want to end up completely locked to the couch and dozing off should probably look for an indica-dominant hybrid.

Further, hybrid strains have also given medical marijuana patients a great deal of flexibility, allowing them to pinpoint strains that will produce very specific medicinal effects or that have the right balance of therapeutic CBD to psychoactive THC.

One Final Category: Hemp

As a final consideration, hemp plants occupy their own special category in the world of cannabis. The defining feature of hemp plants is that they produce very little, if any, psychoactive THC, while still producing many of the other chemicals found in regular cannabis plants, most notably the therapeutic compound CBD.

In 2018, as part of the federal Farm Bill, hemp plants with less than 0.3% THC were removed from the list of federally banned substances. Now, a broad range of hemp-derived products—including hemp-derived CBD, CBD oil, and other CBD products—can legally be produced and sold in the U.S. Additionally, hemp plants are very fibrous and are regularly used to manufacture textiles.

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