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Understanding The Differences Between Cannabis Sativa, Indica, & Hybrids

Zach Reichard June 28, 2013
Understanding The Differences Between Cannabis Sativa, Indica, & Hybrids

This week I have returned to the East Coast to my original home in the Metropolitan area of DC to visit family and friends over the holidays. Upon my return, I was bombarded with a gauntlet of questions from all of my friends about my time spent on the West Coast.

However, as soon as the conversation turned to the topic of cannabis, I realized that the majority of my friends were still stuck on the distinction between Sativa and Indica. Forget trying to explain to them the concept of concentrates or taking a “dab” (which we will get into later as well).

The main thing to remember is that cannabis strains (like humans) come from only a relatively small number of original genes that have become entwined over years of crossbreeding.

They just enjoy smoking cannabis and scoff at those who brag about their fancy named bags of, “kryto-chrono-chronolite,” as comedian Kat William’s jokingly calls it in this popular stand-up routine.  It seems as if the majority of smokers in states that haven’t legalized medical marijuana couldn’t care less if the buds they are smoking are Sativa or Indica, and many don’t even know the difference.

My friends were quick to remind me that we never had a choice in the matter, and to give them a break. They were right, we were restrained to sneaking around and grabbing whatever we could find through friends; which was unnamed and low quality nine times out of ten.

Since we moved to the beautiful state of California, our eyes have been opened to the extensive range of cannabis, both medicinally, and in variety. This has caused us to become rather picky when it comes to choosing our medicine. While that may come across as pretentious, it is purely a matter of being informed of the medicinal, and psychoactive effects of different varieties.

While we recognize the fact that most people don’t share the same luxury, we recommend becoming familiar with the different types of cannabis and their effects so that you can have some idea what you are smoking. If you do live in a state where medical marijuana is legal, this will hopefully serve as a guide when selecting your next strain.

Sativa vs. Indica Differences

When it comes to telling the difference between different samples of cannabis, there are two main types, or ‘classifications’, that make up the majority of all marijuana ‘strains’ that appear on dispensary menus. These two types are popularly known as Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica.

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Cannabis Sativa

Cannabis Sativa grow taller and thinner than Indica strains. Sativa strains originated in the equatorial countries of Columbia, Mexico, Thailand, and South East Asia and thrive in warmer weather. The leaves of Sativa are much more narrow than those of Indica, and are typically a lighter shade of green.

Sativa plants have known to stretch to extraordinary heights of up to 20 feet when grown outside, and have much longer vegetation periods. Once the plant begins to flower, it can take anywhere from ten to sixteen weeks to fully mature. Since vegetation periods are so long, these plants typically produce a much higher yield than Indica strains (3 ounces to 1 pound per plant), but possess a lower THC percentage than Indica on average (around 12-16%).

Sativa plants are known to be extremely pungent smelling, with aromas ranging from sweet and fruity, to earthy with undertones of diesel fuel. Many of our favorite sativa strains such as Cherry AK, Green Crack, Trainwreck, Jack Herer, and J-1 all have a similar sweet and peppery smell that is classic of sativa. Some strains like Trainwreck will be more peppery, while Cherry AK is extremely sweet smelling. Although these strains will all provide similar effects, the distinction lies in these differences in smell, formally known as their ‘terpene profile’. Once you are familiar with all the different terpenes that are present in cannabis, it is fairly easy to detect what strain you are smoking based on scent alone.

Cannabis Sativa are particularly effective in treating mental and behavioral issues such as stress, anxiety, depression, and ADHD.”

Sativa strains are known to produce an uplifting and cerebral high that is typically very energizing and stimulating. Sativa are known to make you laugh uncontrollably or engage in in-depth conversations about the meaning of life. These strains typically cause you to analyze the human experience and think creatively, which makes Cannabis Sativa very popular among philosophers, artists and musicians. Some Sativa even have been found to enhance lights and sounds, making music, movies, and the rest of your surroundings more vibrant than ever before.

Patients looking for the perfect morning medication or daytime relief could benefit from accompanying their breakfast or lunch with a vaporizer packed with Strawberry Diesel or Cherry AK. Both of these strains are known to give you a long lasting, clear-head (sometimes cerebral) that will leave you uplifted and energetic.

Cannabis Indica

On the contrary, Cannabis Indica are short and stout in composure (2-4 feet tall), and typically yield smaller (1.5 to 2.5 ounces per plant), higher quality crops  (~18% THC) than cannabis sativa. The plants are believed to of originated in the Middle East (Pakistan & Afghanistan), and thrive in cooler environments. Indica strains are typically darker green than sativa and have shorter, fatter leaves.

Since the plants grow so short they are ideal for indoor growing. The buds are thick and dense, flowering in anywhere from eight to twelve weeks. The flavors and smells of Cannabis Indica include; pine, pungent skunk, earth, hash, or a sweet and sugary fruit flavor.

“However, most people use Cannabis Indica after a long day at work to relieve stress, provide full-body pain relief, and help them fall asleep at night.”

The effects produced by Indica strains are very relaxing and narcotic-like, typically providing a full-body, or “couch-locked” effect. Indica are perfect for those days spent curled up on the couch watching TV, or surfing the web. However, most people use Cannabis Indica after a long day at work to relieve stress, provide full-body pain relief, and help them fall asleep at night.

Indica strains are ideal for chronic pain, muscle spasms, anxiety, nausea, appetite stimulation, and sleep deprivation. Individuals who suffer from diseases like multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, lupus, sleep apnea and insomnia tend to benefit from the effects of Cannabis Indica. Patients looking for the ideal Indica to put you straight to sleep should consider trying any strain with OG or Kush in its genetics; our favorite night-time strains include GDPPure Kush, and God’s Gift. All of which provide significant pain relieve coupled with heavy sedative effects.

Hybrids Explained

There are a wide range of cannabis strains in between Indica and Sativa.  These strains are known as “Hybrids” and show traits directly related to the genetics in its lineage. Hybrids can be broken down into three basic categories:

  1. Sativa-dominant Hybrids: Cerebral high with a relaxing body effect. Provides physical and mental relief. Here are some examples of strains that are Sativa-dominant hybrids: Mars OG, Neptune OG, Headband, Juicy Fruit, J1, Sour Diesel, Purple Trainwreck
  2. Even Hybrids (50/50): Ideal strains for people seeking a perfect balance of head and body. Here are some examples of strains that are 50/50 Hybrids: Cheese, White Widow, Blue Dream, Blue Widow, XJ-13Purple Diesel, Super Silver Haze
  3. Indica-dominant Hybrids: These strains provide a full-body pain relief, with a relaxing head high. Recommended for nighttime use to go to sleep, or daytime relief from minor pain. These strains are perfect for patients who suffer from all types of autoimmune diseases as well as insomnia or depression. Here are some examples of strains that are Indica-dominant Hybrids: Tahoe OG, SFV OG, Kosher Kush, Skywalker OG, Purple Urkle, Girl Scout Cookies, Blackberry Kush

The interesting thing about cannabis is that even when you compare strains across the, “pure Indica” and “pure Sativa” genres, there are clear differences in effects. For example, Durban Poison is a pure Sativa from Africa with an uplifting high. On the contrary, our recently reviewed Panama Red (also a pure Sativa) is known to create a mellow, relaxing head-high. These two plants originated from different continents and have different effects, but are both classified as pure Cannabis Sativa. This means that the classification of cannabis is far more intricate than most believed.

Other Types of Cannabis

Cannabis Ruderalis is another type of cannabis whose potential benefits have only begun to be explored. The genus of cannabis grows wild in parts of Eastern Europe and Russia, so it is accustomed to colder weather. Ruderalis contains lower percentages of THC, but is frequently cross-bred with sativa strains to produce plants that grow short like Ruderalis, and can bear the weather of outdoor grows up north where Cannabis Sativa can not usually flourish. These hybrids are known as auto-flowering strains, because of the short flowering period that Ruderalis carries with it (2-3 weeks after germination).

The strains are typically more resistant to insect infestation and disease pressures, and are thought to have high CBD content. The whole life span of these plants can be as short as 7 weeks long, and are relatively simple to grow, which has made them more popular among home growers.

Marijuana is a complex plant with endless possible strain combinations that are nearly impossible to classify. While we do our best, it is clear that it is far more complex than simply classifying strains as Sativa or Indica. Nevertheless, we hope this guide will at least provide some insight on the topic, and allow you to recognize the differences in the buds you are medicating with.

Helpful links & resources regarding the classification(s) of cannabis:

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