If you’re a novice, moderate, or veteran cannabis user, the first question you probably ask yourself every time you shop for a specific species of cannabis is whether you want the “body high” of indica, the “cerebral rush” of sativa, or the varied effects of a hybrid.
Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica are two species of cannabis. This means that they share many similar features but have specific and distinct differences.
Although anecdotal evidence and some marijuana dispensaries claim that indica is more calming and sativa is more energizing, some experts say that such statements are misleading. Many more factors are involved in creating the recreational and medical effects of marijuana than strain alone.
Having trouble figuring out whether you’re smoking an indica or sativa? Here’s a handy little guide to help you figure it out. This post will tell you the easiest ways to differentiate between cannabis sativa and indica in both live plants and in dried bud. Enjoy!
In live plants, differentiating between indicas and sativas is really quite easy. Once you know what to look for, you’ll be able to tell just from a quick glance. Botanists use physical differences — such as variations in height, branching patterns, and the shape of the leaves — to identify different strains of plants. This is where the names “indica” and “sativa” come from. Here’s what you need to know:
Origin: Cannabis sativa is found primarily in hot, dry climates with long sunny days. These include Africa, Central America, Southeast Asia, and western portions of Asia.
Typical CBD to THC ratio: Sativa often has lower doses of CBD and higher doses of THC.
Commonly associated effects of use: Sativa often produces a “mind high,” or an energizing, anxiety-reducing effect. If you use sativa-dominant strains, you may feel productive and creative, not relaxed and lethargic.
Daytime or nighttime use: Because of its stimulating impact, you can use sativa in the daytime.
Popular strains: Three popular sativa strains are Acapulco Gold, Sour Diesel, and Durban Poison.
Sativas are tall plants with super thin leaves. Sativas are a bit sparse and thin with wider spaces in between branches than their indica relatives. During their flowering phase, they quickly surpass indicas in height. If you notice that your plant starts to get super tall and bush out a little more during the flowering phase, you probably have a sativa.
When grown under perfect growing conditions outdoors, sativas have been known to reach heights of up to 20 feet. Pretty crazy, right?
To summarize, sativa plants:
- Are tall
- Feature super thin leaves
- Are less dense, a little sparse
- Have exponential vegetative growth during flowering
Origin: Cannabis indica is native to Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and Turkey. The plants have adapted to the often harsh, dry, and turbulent climate of the Hindu Kush mountains.
Typical CBD to THC ratio: Indica strains often have higher levels of CBD and less THC.
Commonly associated effects of use: Indica is sought after for its intensely relaxing effects. It may also reduce nausea and pain and increase appetite.
Daytime or nighttime use: Because of its deep relaxation effects, indica is better consumed at night.
Popular strains: Three popular indica strains are Hindu Kush, Northern Lights, and Granddaddy Purple.
Indicas are short, stocky plants native to colder climates. A surefire sign of an indica is the presence of fat fan leaves, where each leaf segment nearly touches each other or even overlaps a little. Sativa leaves look more like thin little fingers in comparison to indica leaves. While sativas can nearly resemble a tree under the right conditions, indicas are more like a squatty bush.
They tend to have dense branches and hover around four feet tall. That’s a pretty big difference when compared to sativa relatives. While sativas nearly triple in size during flowering phase, indicas often increase their vegetative growth by about 100%.
To summarize, indica plants:
- Are short
- Feature fat, broad leaves
- Are quite dense, squatty
- Double, rather than triple in size during flowering
Differentiating between sativas and indicas in dried bud can be a little more difficult, especially with all of the hybrids out there. Once you know the basic features of each type, however, you can make an educated guess as to whether or not your strain is indica or sativa dominant.
Sativa buds are longer, thinner, with bud particles that almost look like wispy hairs. Though, while the bud itself may look larger than those from an indica plant, they tend to be a bit lighter when you actually weigh them out. This is because sativa flowers are not as tightly compact as indica flowers.
When sativas bloom, the flower forms along the branch, almost like it’s a bit stretched out. This lends to the wispy, hairy nature of their buds.
Deep red or orange coloring is also a sign of a sativa. Sativas tend to grow in warmer climates, and they often express deep reddish or strong orange phenotypes. Sativas also tend to put off less of a strong, pungent fragrance. You’re more likely to find fruity, tropical aromas in sativas.
To summarize, sativa buds are:
- Less dense
- “Wispy” bud, fluffy
- Often feature red or orange coloring
- Have a sweeter or lighter aroma
Indica buds are more compact, shorter, and extremely dense. When indicas flower, their blossoms tends to stick closer to nodes along the stem. Nodes are present where new branches and the main stem meet. This lends to their short, squatty, and heavy buds.
Another thing to keep an eye out for is any purple coloring in the plant. Since indicas are native to cooler climates, they’re more likely to express purple coloration. The big purple strains are all indica dominant, but sativas will develop some purple if they’re grown in cool climates as well.
Perhaps as a survival mechanism for cooler climates, indicas tend to be more THC heavy. They also tend to produce a very thick, pungent aroma.
To summarize, indica buds are:
- Compact and dense
- Often feature purple coloring
- Have a thick, pungent aroma
These are just some quick tips to help you better identify what you’ve got. As mentioned above, with all of the hybrids out there, it can be a little tricky to determine whether you have indica or sativa dominant strains.
Many modern strains now have a good mix of both types, creating truly unique experiences and how you select it is, too. Understanding its nuances should help give you an alternative perspective on what qualities to look for in a strain. Some of you are happy to sit down with any strain, any time, and that’s okay. For others, this level of precision in strain selection is key to having a good experience—and feeling good is what cannabis is all about.
[Updated, originally published 1. 3.2017]
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