You probably know about the different types of cannabis – Sativa, Indica, and hybrid strains. The two dominant strains, Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica, are subspecies of the genus Cannabis, with Sativa generally coming from climates closer to the equator and India coming from areas with colder climates. Heat lamps have closed the distance, and mixing the subspecies has given us hybrid strains.
The regions of origin have given these subspecies distinct appearances, but above all else, you probably know Indica and Sativa for providing different highs. To understand, we will have to get down to the science!
The Difference In Appearance
Indica has broader leaves and shorter stature, and these came from the shorter flowering season of their climate zone. This short season makes them a more popular choice for growing, and a much easier choice for growing marijuana in an area with a less hot climate – like Canada, for instance. The buds look like dense bulbs, making it easier for budtenders to tell them apart after harvest.
Sativa comes from places with longer growing seasons, and thus takes longer to flower than an Indica plant. Sativa plants grow much taller than Indica plants, with much thinner leaves. That height can make it difficult to grow Sativa and its long, sausage-shaped buds indoors.
The Role Of Cannabinoids
Beyond appearance, Indica and Sativa have different effects when consumed. Indica delivers a lazier high that one can feel in the whole body, whereas Sativa’s high is more energetic and “heady.” What creates these different reactions?
The intoxicating effects of cannabis come from two classes of natural chemicals found in marijuana: cannabinoids and terpenes. Cannabinoids are the most famous of the two, as they interact with the human body’s endocannabinoid system on our central nervous system to create a high feeling. While there are hundreds of cannabinoids in a marijuana plant, the two most important ones are THC and CBD.
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, creates the psychoactive high associated with marijuana. Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, delivers anti-anxiety and pain-relieving effects, which is why researchers focus on it for medicinal products. One explanation for the effects of ingesting Sativa is the higher levels of THC, as Sativa strains have higher concentrations of THC. In Indica strains, the higher levels of CBD are thought to create the lazy, full-body high.
The Role Of Terpenes
The other chemical in cannabis is terpenes. They are better known for giving marijuana its distinctive aromas; some strains have a floral scent, others an aroma of citrus, and still others the smell of pine. Terpenes can reveal what strain of marijuana you have, but they might also determine the effects of cannabis, much like cannabinoids.
For example, Indica strains have higher levels of the terpene myrcene; this gives many of them an earthy aroma, but it might cause the sedentary effects, too. Another terpene common to Indica is linalool, which is known to sedate and relieve anxiety. Cannabis terpenes like limonene could produce the opposite effect while providing anti-depression benefits; there’s also pinene, which research suggests has anti-inflammatory properties.
What About Hybrids?
Many popular strains of cannabis are hybrids of Indica and Sativa, and some strains labelled Indica or Sativa are likely to be hybrids. There are many different growing combinations, influencing the amount of THC, CBD, and terpenes in the final product. This varies based on how the strains are crossbred, and you can ask the budtender or clerk what makes the hybrid unique.
Most hybrids are a balanced combination of the effects of Indica and Sativa. Some hybrids will be more of one or the other, and these should be labelled to reflect the dominating strain. Indica-dominant strains will have more of the properties of Indica, whereas Sativa-dominant strains… well, you probably can figure that out!