Blue magoo (a hybrid strain 50% indica and 50% sativa), Marijuana flowering Grow room, Sticky Buds, Denver, Colorado USA.

Clearing Up The Confusion Over Cannabis Classification

On the first day of stoner school, students will inevitably run across the good old sativa vs. indica distinction. Although a few canna-critics contend this classification is outdated, it remains an industry standard for many reasons.

Sure, “sativa vs. indica” may be oversimplified, but it’s still widespread in the weed community. Tokers around the world recognize that sativas tend to stimulate while indicas have a sedative effect. Cultivators and botanists also use the sativa vs. indica taxonomy to distinguish physical features in the cannabis genus.

To help you better understand the sativa vs. indica system, let’s review a few crucial cannabis facts. By the end of this post, you should understand both the benefits and shortfalls of this central classification system.

The Origins Of The Sativa vs. Indica Debate

Although cannabis has been cultivated for centuries, it wasn’t until the 1540s that European scholars classified it as “sativa.” Appropriately, botanists chose “sativa” because it relates to the Latin word for “cultivation.”

All was going smoothly for about 200 years until a Frenchman spoiled the sativa party. In 1785, Monsieur Jean-Baptiste Lamarck made his la-mark (couldn’t resist) in marijuana lore when he argued for the inclusion of a second cannabis subspecies: indica.

Why did Lamarck feel this distinction was so crucial? And why did he name the second variant “indica?”

Well, when Lamarck made his observations, he was studying cannabis strains from India (hence the name “indica”). According to the botanist, these plants had many physical traits that didn’t match the standard sativa model. For instance, these newly discovered strains tended to be shorter, darker, and had larger fan leaves.

From that point onward, the sativa vs. indica system was born. Although all cannabis is technically “sativa,” growers still distinguish between sativa and indica using Lamarck’s observations.

As you could see, scientists initially used sativa vs. indica to distinguish physical attributes, not physiological effects. Even today, most cultivators cling to the sativa vs. indica paradigm to predict a strain’s physical characteristics more than its impact on users.

Don’t Forget About Ruderalis!

But wait, that’s not the whole story! Indeed, while sativas and indicas were evolving in warm climates like the Asian subcontinent and Central America, the cannabis ruderalis was having a tough time sprouting in Siberia.

Interestingly, the cannabis ruderalis variant found a way to flower without relying on a set photoperiod. It’s for this reason ruderalis genetics are used in hybrids called “auto-flower strains.”

As the name suggests, these strains are a mix of ruderalis genetics with indicas, sativas, or hybrids. These beginner-friendly strains are fast-flowering and highly resistant to mold, but they don’t produce as heavy yields as standard feminized seeds.

How Are The Terms Indica And Sativa Used Now?

Even though there’s debate over the validity of the sativa vs. indica vs. hybrid system, it’s still widely used amongst retailers and cannabis farmers. While this might be partially due to convention, there are a few valid reasons people stick to this system.

Indeed, even the fiercest critics of the sativa vs. indica paradigm admit these two subspecies have extremely different growing schedules and physical appearances. Sativas grow taller and lankier than the short, shrub-like indica variants. You’ll also notice sativa buds are thinner compared with dense indica buds, making sativas more prone to mold.

All of this information helps cannabis cultivators tailor their grow space for whatever cannabis strains they’re working with.

What About The Different Effects Between Sativas vs. Indicas?

When people discuss the differences between the sativa vs. indica high, they usually describe sativas as “uppers” and indicas as “downers.” However, keep in mind these standard distinctions in sativa vs. indica effects are mostly based on anecdotal testimonies. Indeed, there are many examples of indica-heavy strains that have sativa-like effects, and vice versa.

While the sativa vs. indica dominance might give you a rough idea of each strain’s characteristics, many other factors are at play. For instance, new research suggests aromatic terpenes might influence a strain’s effects. The cannabinoid content of each strain also determines its potency.

The more info you can gather on a strain’s chemical composition, the better you will understand its standard effects. It’s also worth investigating the conditions under which your strain was grown. Flowers raised in ideal conditions (e.g., plenty of sunshine and nutrient-dense soil) will have a far higher trichome count, which translates to more potent effects.

Four Quick Cannabis Classification Charts

For quick reference, please take a look at the crucial features in these easy-to-read sativa vs. indica charts. We’ve also included charts on hybrid strains and autos to help you better understand all of the major cannabis subspecies.

Indica: Stocky & Sleepy Sativa: Skinny & Stimulating Hybrids: The Best Of Both Worlds Ruderalis: “Fast Food” Strains
Geographical origin Asian subcontinent, Middle East, and North Africa Southeast Asia and Central & South America Varies depending on the strain Southern Siberia
Physical characteristics Short, shrub-like, dark color, dense buds, and fat fan leaves Tall, lanky, thin buds, light green color, and slender fan leaves Hybrids are usually medium height and take on the appearance of their dominant parents. Short, shrub-like, thick stems, wide leaves, and minimal trichome cover.
Typical THC content 11 – 20 percent 15 – 25 percent 10 – 22 percent 5 – 15 percent
Typical CBD content 1 – 2 percent Less than 1 percent 1 – 5 percent 1 – 5 percent
Typical effects Relaxing, sedating, and analgesic. Euphoria, energized, sociable, and creative Well-balanced hybrids usually start with a head-rush high and finish with mild sedation. On their own, ruderalis strains don’t have pronounced effects on users. However, when combined with other strains, autoflower hybrids take on the qualities of their partner strain with less pronounced effects.
Recommendation Best for chronic pain patients, people with insomnia, and people that suffer from anxiety. Recommended for experienced cannabis smokers, people who want a sociable high, or patients with a fatigue-related issue. Recommended for connoisseurs who are interested in enjoying the benefits of both sativas and indicas. Hybrids also tend to have more complex terpene profiles, which makes them ideal for flavor-chasers. Recommended for beginner smokers and growers. Ruderalis strains typically have the lowest cannabinoid percentages, which makes them ideal for inexperienced tokers.
Most popular strains Northern Lights, Blue Cheese, Afghani, Hindu Kush, Blueberry, and OG Kush. Green Crack, Thai, Durban Poison, Super Silver Haze, Jack Herer, Columbian Gold, and Maui Wowie White Widow, Headband, AK-47, Pineapple Express, Gorilla Glue, Chemdawg, and Girl Scout Cookies. Northern Lights Auto, Gorilla Glue Auto, Big Bud Auto, and Amnesia Auto.

How Can You Determine A Strain’s Effects?

To get a firm grasp on any strain’s effects, you’ll need more than the sativa vs. indica percentages. Indeed, since so many strains nowadays are hybrids, it’s almost impossible to gauge a strain’s potency with this system.

So, what data should you investigate? For starters, you should look into your strain’s average cannabinoid count. Obviously, the higher the THC percentage, the “higher” you’re going to feel. On the other hand, strains with elevated CBD levels tend to have a clearer-headed, soothing effect.

After researching the cannabinoid count, be sure to look into each strain’s average terpene profile. Terpenes are the aromatic compounds that are most responsible for each cannabis strain’s flavors. Interestingly, new research also suggests terpenes might play a significant role in influencing each strain’s mood-altering effects.

For your convenience, here’s a quick list of the most common cannabis terpenes:

  • Myrcene – Reminiscent of fresh-cut mangoes, this fruity terpene is said to have sedative properties.
  • Limonene – Naturally present in citrus fruits, limonene is a pungent terpene that often helps energize users.
  • Beta-caryophyllene – Often found in spices like black pepper, beta-caryophyllene shows excellent potential as an anti-inflammatory agent.
  • Alpha-pinene – Instantly recognizable for its fresh pine scent, alpha-pinene might have a stimulating effect on the central nervous system.
  • Linalool – This floral terpene is the distinctive aroma in lavender and usually has a relaxing effect.

How To Choose The Right Cannabis Strain For You

Since everyone has different needs and preferences, we can’t recommend the perfect cannabis strain for you. That being said, new cannabis users often do well with less intense strains either in the ruderalis or indica families. It’s also good to look for strains with low THC counts and higher-than-average CBD levels.

As you gain more experience with cannabis, feel free to move on to high-THC strains in the sativa family. Just be forewarned: high-THC strains could trigger paranoia, so please know your limits.

If you have specific questions about what strains are best for your condition, you should talk with an experienced budtender or medical marijuana doctor.

Indica vs. Sativa FAQs

Is There A Significant Difference Between Sativas And Indicas?

The traditional distinction between sativa vs. indica strains is that sativas wake users up while indicas put them to bed. In terms of physical attributes, there are many noticeable differences between these subspecies. Sativas are tall, light-colored, and have slender buds, while indicas are short, dark, and have dense buds. Sativas also tend to prefer more humid climates than indica varieties.

Is Sativa An “Upper” Or A “Downer”?

In most cases, users report that sativa strains have an uplifting effect. For this reason, most people take sativas early in the morning to help power through chores or work-related duties. Some people use sativa’s “upper” quality to increase sociability before a big party.

How Do Indicas Make Users Feel?

Contrasted with sativas, indicas usually induce deep relaxation and sedation. Many people who take indicas also report they tend to have analgesic properties. One reason for these effects might be that indicas usually have higher CBD percentages vs. THC-heavy sativas. Since indicas tend to induce sleepiness, they are best reserved for after-dinner use.

Which Strain Is Best For Medical Marijuana Patients?

Sativas and indicas could both be used medicinally, but they work best for different conditions. For example, patients with issues like muscle spasms, insomnia, or PTSD often prefer the relaxing effects of indicas. On the other hand, people with chronic fatigue, social anxiety, or depression might enjoy the uplifting qualities people report from sativas.

Are Sativas Good For Beginner Smokers?

Since sativas tend to have the highest traces of THC, they are best for experienced cannabis users. Not only do sativas have a higher THC count, they usually have minimal CBD to counter THC’s psychoactive effects. If you’re prone to anxiety or panic attacks, please carefully research your strain’s THC level before experimenting.

What Cannabis Strains Are Better For Making Users Laugh?

Since indicas tend to make users feel super chill, they are a better choice if you want a “ha-ha high.” While that doesn’t mean sativas can’t make you laugh, it’s just not as common. Indica-heavy strains like Mango Kush and OG Kush are reliable choices for those who like a good giggle.

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