The Real Difference Between Sativa and Indica Cannabis


Ever since you took your first hit of a joint, you were taught one thing; sativa strains are euphoric and uplifting, while indicas will leave you glued to the couch and sleepy. Right? Well, not really.  The terms indica and sativa tell us a lot about a plant’s genetics and morphology. However, for years cannabis users have been using these terms to generalize the effects of different strains. In this article, we’ll show you what indica/sativa really tell you about your weed.

Classifying Cannabis – A Brief History Of Weed Taxonomy

To better understand what the terms sativa and indica really tell us about cannabis, it helps to take a brief look at the history of cannabis taxonomy. 

Cannabis was first classified in 1753 by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus. Linnaeus was working with plants grown in Europe that were tall, had narrow, bright green leaves, and took up to 3 months to flower. They also grew particularly well in warm, tropical climates close to the equator. Linnaeus eventually classified this species as Cannabis Sativa L. 

Roughly 30 years later, French biologist Jean Baptiste Lamarck investigated cannabis samples brought back from India. These plants were notably different from those Linnaeus first classified; they were short, bushy, had wide, dark green leaves, and flowered very quickly (usually in under 2 months). They also originated from colder, mountainous regions with harsher climates. Lamarck eventually classified this species as Cannabis Indica Lam. 

In the 1920s, a third species of cannabis was identified in Southeast Russia. This variety, now known as Cannabis Ruderalis, is much smaller than sativa and indica varieties, and flowers automatically based on maturity rather than due to changes in its light cycle.

What Sativa And Indica Can Really Tell You About Your Weed

Carl Linnaeus and Jean Baptiste Lamarck used the words sativa and indica to describe two varieties of cannabis with very unique physical traits. Today, we can still use these terms, for example, when buying seeds and growing cannabis at home to have a better understanding of what type of plant we’re going to end up with in our grow room. 

Sativas can grow to large heights, easily reaching over 200cm. These plants have bright green foliage with narrow leaves and tend to stretch vigorously when they start flowering. Sativas produce big, airy, and whispy buds, and can take over 12 weeks of flowering to be harvest-ready. 

These plants are native to warm, tropical areas close to the equator. You can find sativas growing naturally in countries like Vietnam, Mexico, Colombia, and even parts of Africa. They likely developed their unique physical structure to deal with the long, hot, and humid summers in these areas and protect themselves against the molds and pests that also thrive in these conditions.

Indicas, on the other hand, are native to mountainous regions of Nepal, India, and Afghanistan, where the summers are naturally short and cold. They grow shorter with smaller internodal spacing, wide foliage, and dense buds. Indicas also produce a thick resin and can be ready to harvest after just 6-8 weeks of flowering. Like sativas, they likely developed these unique traits to deal with the harsh climates from where they originate.

What Sativa/Indica DOESN’T Tell You About Your Weed

It’s high time we realize that whether a strain is indica or sativa won’t dictate a specific kind of high. What affects the specific effect of a strain is the chemical makeup of that plant, your own body chemistry, and your tolerance/sensitivity to the chemicals in what you’re consuming. 

Strains with a high amount of myrcene, for example, are more likely to produce that kind of relaxing, body stone we associate with indicas. However, there’s no conclusive evidence to show that indica strains produce more myrcene than sativas.

When buying cannabis, use the terms indica and sativa to get an idea of the genetic lineage and physical properties of a particular variety. To anticipate its effects, on the other hand, look for lab reports that analyze the chemical profile of that specific strain. If you can’t find that information, consider researching the strain online or try it to gauge its effects for yourself.

Steven Mike Voser  

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