When cannabis consumers think of “indica” vs. “sativa” marijuana strains, they generally think that indica strains are physically sedating, perfect for relaxing with a movie or as a nightcap before bed, and sativa strains are energizing with uplifting cerebral effects that pair well with physical activity, social gatherings, and creative projects. Hybrid strains are thought to have a mix of indica and sativa effects.
But indica doesn’t always mean “in da couch,” and sativa doesn’t necessarily energize all of its consumers. As research opens up and we learn more about the cannabis plant, it turns out the chemical compounds in each strain—the cannabinoids and terpenes in it—determine the effects you’ll feel, not whether it’s an indica or sativa. In fact, the origins of those two terms are rooted in botany, not effects.
However, even today, the belief that indicas, sativas, and hybrids deliver distinct effects is still deeply rooted in mainstream cannabis culture. If you’ve ever been to a dispensary, you’ve likely heard a budtender begin a strain recommendation by asking which of those three types you prefer.
Let’s look at where the terms “indica,” “sativa,” and “hybrid” actually come from, and how a cannabis strain’s chemical profile interacts with your unique body to make you feel effects.
Origin of indica and sativa
The words “indica” and “sativa” were introduced in the 18th century to describe different species of cannabis: Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. The term “sativa” described hemp plants found in Europe and western Eurasia, where it was cultivated for its fiber and seeds. Cannabis indica refers to the intoxicating varieties discovered in India, where it was harvested for its seeds, fiber, and hashish production.
Here’s how terms have shifted since their earliest botanical definitions:
- Today, “sativa” refers to tall, narrow-leaf varieties of cannabis, thought to induce energizing effects. However, these narrow-leaf drug (NLD) varieties were originally Cannabis indica ssp. indica.
- “Indica” has come to describe stout, broad-leaf plants, thought to deliver sedating effects. These broad-leaf drug (BLD) varieties are technically Cannabis indica ssp. afghanica.
- What we call “hemp” refers to the industrial, non-intoxicating varieties harvested primarily for fiber, seeds, and CBD. However, this was originally named Cannabis sativa.
Although the cannabis varieties we consume largely stem from Cannabis indica, both terms are used—even if erroneously—to organize the thousands of strains circulating the market today.
What impacts strain effects?
So if indica and sativa aren’t the best predictors of effects, what is?
The effects of different strains of weed depend on a number of different factors, but mainly on the cannabinoids and terpenes in the strain, or the chemical compounds in it.
The cannabis plant is composed of hundreds of chemical compounds that create a unique harmony of effects, which is primarily led by cannabinoids. THC and CBD are the two most common cannabinoids and are the main drivers of cannabis’ therapeutic and recreational effects.
- THC (9-tetrahydrocannabinol) makes us feel hungry and high, and relieves symptoms like pain and nausea.
- CBD (cannabidiol) is a non-intoxicating compound known to alleviate anxiety, pain, inflammation, and many other medical ailments.
Cannabis contains dozens of different cannabinoids, but start by familiarizing yourself with THC and CBD first. Instead of choosing a strain based on its indica or sativa classification, consider basing your selection on these three buckets instead (both indica and sativa strains exhibit these different cannabinoid profiles):
- THC-dominant strains are primarily chosen by consumers seeking a potent euphoric experience. These strains are also selected by patients treating pain, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and more. If you tend to feel anxious with THC-dominant strains or dislike other side affects associated with THC, try a strain with higher levels of CBD.
- CBD-dominant strains contain only small amounts of THC and are widely used by those highly sensitive to THC or patients needed clear-headed symptom relief.
- Balanced THC/CBD strains contain similar levels of THC and CBD, offering mild euphoria alongside symptom relief. These tend to be a good choice for novice consumers seeking an introduction to cannabis signature high.
Different types of strains
According to user reviews on Leafly, here’s what people might expect from a few of the most popular marijuana strains.
Originating from Acapulco, Mexico, Acapulco Gold is a well-known and highly praised strain of cannabis. It’s noted for its euphoria-inducing, energizing effects. It’s said to reduce fatigue, stress, pain, and even nausea.
Blue Dream is relaxing and soothing, but it isn’t a total sedative. This makes it perfect for easing pain, cramps, or inflammation for when you can’t afford to fall asleep. Plus, it’s said to lift your mood and give you a feeling of euphoria.
Purple Kush is great for inducing a state of bliss so that you feel relaxed, happy, and sleepy. It’s often used for reducing pain and muscle spasms. Its sedating effects means it can be used to reduce insomnia.
A highly energizing, mood-lifting strain, Sour Diesel is great for giving you a burst of productive energy. It also has notable destressing and pain-relieving effects.
Bubba Kush is a relaxing, sleep-inducing strain. It’s perfect for helping you fight insomnia and get some shut-eye. It also offers pain-reducing, stress-relieving results.
Granddaddy Purple is another highly relaxing strain. It’s often praised for its insomnia-fighting and stress-reducing results. Users also note that it can make you feel euphoria and increase hunger, which is great if you’re experiencing a lack of appetite.
Originating from the Hindu Kush mountains near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, Afghan Death is super relaxing and sleep-inducing. This, too, can help you feel hungry if you’re experiencing a lack of appetite, and can relieve pain.
LA Confidential is another relaxing and sleep-inducing strain that is often used to soothe insomnia. It’s also said to have noticeable anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing effects, which makes it a favorite among people with chronic pain.
Maui Wowie can help you feel super relaxed, yet energetic and creative. It reduces fatigue, too, making it great for days when you need to be productive.
Golden Goat is notable for making users feel euphoric and creative. It’s also great for reducing fatigue and stress while lifting your mood.
Northern Lights is another relaxing, sleep-inducing strain. It’s also known for its mood-lifting effects, and it can be used to relieve insomnia, pain, stress, and depression.