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WARNING: Vaping products contain Nicotine, a highly addictive chemical - Health Canada
WARNING: Vaping products contain Nicotine, a highly addictive chemical - Health Canada

Indica vs. Sativa - What's the Deal?


Christopher Fournier


Feb 4, 2021

Indica cannabis vs. sativa cannabis infographic

Records from all over the world indicate that cannabis has been in use for thousands of years. Yet, despite that much history, much of this plant is still a mystery.

Although there have been entire books written at length about cannabis, this article aims to make sense of just one predominant question: What does “Indica” and “Sativa” mean?

The Coles notes version would be “Indicas are good at relaxing you and Sativas do the opposite.” But even that’s not entirely accurate, and barely touches the surface of what Indica and Sativa really mean in the world of cannabis. Read on to learn more!

Cannabis Sativa

Cannabis was first “discovered” in 1753 by Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus. In his case, the plant he found was Sativa, and he dubbed this Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis from the Latin word for “cultivated.”

As you can see on the map above, Sativa's (in red) originated primarily near the equator, in hotter climates with more sunshine. Colombia, Mexico and Thailand are countries where Sativa's grow natively.

Sativa's are known for their height, and typically grow between two and four metres tall. If grown correctly, in the right environment, this type of Cannabis can reach heights of up to six metres! The height and “lankiness” of Sativa is translated into the rest of the plant as well; long, thin leaves, large inter-nodal spacing (the distance between branches) and even the buds are often long and thin.

At the time, Linnaeus thought Cannabis was a single species of plant, with no subdivisions. But that changed 30 years later thanks to a French naturalist named Jean-Baptiste Lamarck.

Cannabis Indica

Lamarck discovered another type of Cannabis, originating from the harsh Hindu Kush mountains. Unlike the tall, lanky plants found near the equator, these were short and squat, around one metre tall, with dense branching and broad, thick leaves, which were a much darker green due to a higher level of chlorophyll.

The reason for the difference is that these plants had to adapt to the harsh environment found in countries such as Afghanistan, India, Turkey and Morocco. One of the ways in which Indica's were able to defend against the windy turbulent conditions was the production of resin, a sticky substance that forms on certain plants. Not only does resin protect the leaves and flowers from the harsh elements, it also contains a large number of cannabinoids, which accounts for the powerful high produced by Indica's.

Ruderalis What?

Most Cannabis strains are from Indica and Sativa species, but there is a third type of Cannabis that was first denoted by Russian botanist, D. E. Janischewsky, in 1924. Due to the very low levels of THC it is not very sought after. However, it does have fairly high CBD content, so is becoming more prominent in the field of Medical Cannabis. Ruderalis strains are also “auto-flowering,” meaning they begin their flowering phase based on the plant’s maturity, not the light cycle, and are very short - even shorter than Indica's.

So, What's in the Bag?

Once it’s dried and packaged, how do you tell them apart? And why would you need to?

For most recreational users, weed is weed, and as long as it gets them high, they don’t worry too much about what they’re smoking. However, there are a multitude of effects that you can get from Cannabis, so knowing the exact strain and its particular effects can be very helpful in treating nausea or lack of appetite, alleviating pain or anxiety, increasing focus and energy, or helping you fall asleep.


Sativa's increase focus and energy and boost creativity, making it a favourite of artists the world over. It can also boost your mood, increase laughter and talkativeness, making it great for socializing.

In more general terms, Indica's are considered night-time strains and Sativa's are better for use during the day.


Indica, on the other hand, usually create the opposite effects of relaxation and sedation. Although not all Indica's will send you off to dreamland, they are used primarily for sedative effects, such as relaxing the muscles, relieving headaches, and calming the mind.

The term “Couch-Lock” comes from this heavy feeling of deep relaxation, during which you are more than happy to just sit on the couch and do nothing.

Hybrid Varieties

Today, the vast majority of cannabis that you find is a mix of two or more other strains combined in what is called a Hybrid. Cannabis plants are either male or female, and seeds are produced when a female plant is pollinated by a male plant. Using parents from different strains will create a new strain with the qualities of both parents. If one parent is sativa and the other is indica, the result is a hybrid.

Growers all over the world have been doing this for decades, creating some very potent and beneficial strains. For example, Jack Herer is a famous Sativa that combines a Haze hybrid with Northern Lights #5 and Shiva Skunk. This cross produces the nice mental boost associated with Sativa's and the heavy resin production of Indica's. Let's look at the types of Hybrids available:

Three Types of Hybrids
  • Sativa Dominant: The effects from this type of hybrid tend to lean more toward an increase in mental alertness and energy, with some relaxation effects as well for combating anxiety and stress.
  • Indica Dominant: These generally produce a more relaxed sensation, both mentally and physically, and are very effective in treating sleeping disorders, stress, anxiety, nausea, pain and many other physical ailments.
  • Balanced: These hybrids produce a--you guessed it--more balanced effect. With these you can expect a somewhat even blend of physical relaxation and mental boost.

Keep in mind, these are only generalizations. Actual effects can vary depending on the plant’s genetics, method of growing, and many other factors.

Medicinal Uses

With Cannabis becoming more and more prominent as a medicine, producers are faced with the need to create effects in a particular strain that are as consistent as possible from one plant to another. The easiest, and most effective way to do this is, to create a hybrid that has the desired properties, then continue to grow that exact hybrid in a controlled environment, such as a greenhouse.


Cannabis has been used recreationally and medicinally for over 6000 years. But in the last 60 years, our knowledge and use of this plant has skyrocketed, and natively growing in nearly every region of the world, Cannabis is quickly growing in popularity. Whether a plant is Sativa or Indica bears heavily on the type of effect you can expect when using it.

Generally speaking, Sativa's will boost your energy, increase your creativity, make you more talkative and outgoing, and are usually considered best for day-time activities.

Indica's, on the other hand, tend to relax you, calm the mind and body, relieve stress and anxiety, and are used to treat such things as nausea and sleeplessness. Because of this, Indica's are best used at night or when trying to relax.

Pure Indica's and Sativa's, however, are very rare. Hybrids make up the vast majority of the strains on the market today. Crossing an Indica with a Sativa allows the grower to create a new strain that combines the desired qualities of both parents.

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