The history of indicas seems to be more common knowledge among stoners than the origins of cannabis sativa. Perhaps that’s because of the former’s association with the Hindu Kush mountain range, a name that’s inseparable from a foundational landrace indica in the history of cannabis genetics. Sativas are a much different plant though. The cluster of strains we refer to as sativas come from climates near the equator. Specifically, Colombia, Thailand and Mexico are credited with some of the first appearances of sativa strains. Like the cultivators in the mountains of Northern Afghanistan, locals had been growing sativas for centuries before the western world claimed “discovery”. In 1753, Swedish botanist and naturalist Carl Linnaeus released his Species Plantarum, which claimed to classify every known plant at the time. He included a single iteration of hemp in the book and called it Cannabis sativa. This was met with some contention shortly after his death when naturalist Jean Baptiste Lamarck proposed two species, adding cannabis indica. At that time, people could tell the difference between the two plants and this is obvious from the physical characteristics of the plant. Indicas are short, dense and a deep green colour, almost always covered in musty-smelling rosin. Sativas, by contrast, are thin and tall, with leaves that resemble a hand with spread fingers. This allows them to soak up more light and sometimes produces greater yields.
At this point in time, people generally identify different experiences between the plants. Sativas tend to produce a more energetic, headier experience that is more conducive to activity. While this distinction pertains to popular culture, it’s edge is “functional” while getting lifted. For this reason, we’ve outlined the best sativa options in 2019. They include fruity options, classic strains and something for any type of day you’re gonna face.
This strain is one of the most famous Sativa-dominant hybrids through underground and legal history. Titled after the cannabis activist of the same name, the Jack Herer was passionate about the use of hemp as a renewable resource until he passed away in 2010 at age 70, nearly 20 years after his strain started popping up in the Netherlands. It’s known for its intellectual mental effects that give a jolt of creativity. While some people describe it as a “head high” and “philosophical”—who talks about weed that way?—it should be noted that it soothes tension where most sativas have the potential to cause anxiety as well as curb ADHD. It’s three-way cross between Haze, Shiva Skunk, and Northern Lights #4, Herer has the happy, cerebral effects of a Sativa with a light dusting of typical Indica effects. The smell might be its most noticeable trait. When you open its container, it blasts your senses with herbal, almost sage flavors and sweet, fragrant lemon. For someones first time smoking it, you might confuse this sativa with a floral bouquet.
Named for its South African port of origin, Durban Poison is one of the few pure Sativa landrace strains in the world. Even quoted as a psychedelic strain by stoner icon Tommy Chong, Durban Poison is known to produce strong but clear-headed effects, due in part to its high levels of THCV. THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin) is a cannabinoid similar to THC in structure with slightly varying effects. THCV doesn’t give the traditional “high” effects of THC like munchies and potential sluggishness. It gives you the focus without pushing you to a place where it’s useless. Think a strong cup of coffee without the jitters but that might not even do it justice because its comedown is practically nonexistent. This was one of the first legal strains I smoked a few years back and, besides novelty, it was my most enjoyable sativa experience to date. Imagine walking all day on a conveyor belt of happiness and that describes Durban Poison.
Captain Ahab of the Pequod wasn’t able to conquer the elusive white whale, but maybe you’ll be able to capture Moby Dick at the corner dispensary. This sativa-dominant hybrid is a cross of Widow—its indica half—and Haze, a pure sativa grandchild of landrace strains like Acapulco and Colombian Gold. This created a convergence of high energy strains that also contain the medical benefits of treating depression, anxiety, and muscle spasms. The overall effect is clear-headed but relaxing, whether mental, physical or both. Like most sativas, Moby Dick is citrusy with the orange hints of a glass of orange juice. The funniest part about this strain to me is that it gets its name from the massive yields it produces when harvested, as much as 1,500 grams per square meter.
If sativas are known for their sweetness, Jillybean is like a direct injection of confectioners sugar. This sativa-dominant hybrid derives its name from the scent and flavor, often having a mango and pineapple smell that’s similar to a bag of jellybeans. Jillybean’s buds often produce a deep maroon shade on its leaves that resembles the red jelly beans in a holiday stocking. It’s not the highest THC content of sativas which is why users flock to it. Its high is less mentally intense and known to energize the consumer and enhance the mood, producing a high that’s palpable but still socially functional. It can also calm people with social anxiety and keep them engaged in activities ranging from reading and discussion to hiking and light sports.
Ghost Train Haze
In 2012, High Times claimed Ghost Train Haze was the most potent strain in the world. Given how much marijuana breeding has advanced in the last seven years, that’s probably an outdated claim. Still, the average THC reading from breeders Rare Dankness clocks in around 28% so if you’re not experienced in heavy sativas, be careful with this strain. Paranoia and anxiety can happen quick if you’re not prepared to handle it. Ghost Train Haze is one of those sativas that has that standard, pungent funk of dank weed with the velvety finish of a rose bouquet. The most important word about GTH though is…..use caution! It’s strong and not for everybody. But if you’re down with it, take a plunge into the waters.
Similar to Moby Dick, Skunk #1 is a cross of landrace, or unaltered, sativas with a sprinkle of indica for good measure. It’s theorized Skunk #1 originated in the outskirts of Atlanta in the 1990s and has influenced popular strain genetics since, like Green Crack, Grape Ape and another entry on this list, Jack Herer. You probably knew this from the name but Skunk #1 is a musty outlier in the sugary world of sativas. It’s easy to get heavy indica smokers put on with Skunk #1 because it resembles the scent they love. When I’ve had it, it tastes a bit sour and earthy but leaves an unexpected and welcome, citrus aftertaste. It can be hard to find this strain, I’ve only smoked it a handful of times, but it’s worth the hunt if you need the taste of a skunky indica with the zing of a sativa.
In the 2006 dystopian film Children of Men, Clive Owen’s character has a scene with Michael Caine where they make jokes about the infertility crisis that is the film’s main plot point. Michael Caine mentions the rampant prescription of antidepressants before lamenting that pot, in this horrid vision of the future, is still illegal. He tells Owen to take a hit of his joint with dozens of plants growing behind him and urges him to cough and “taste the strawberries”. That’s the first time I learned about Strawberry Cough and it’s gained a reputation as a strain that’s more famous in name than it is in use. This doesn’t detract from the strain itself, which is a nice, medium strength sativa with full flavor, it’s just been elevated to pop culture status. Berries dominate its smell and taste and it’s THC levels make it suitable for level-headed highs that can be productive or contemplative.
Since the 1960’s, Maui Wowie has been an exotic and coveted strain for cannabis samplers. Its history is muddled since we don’t have a genetic lineage of it, but it was cultivated on the island of Maui before it spread to the other Hawaiian Islands. The smooth, citrus-pine and lavender taste are common of strains from those islands and it’s pleasant mid-level sativa makeup give it an edge over others. A good morning smoke, it’s flavor is mostly tropical fruits and a faint hint of musk. People describe it as electric because it gives you a buzzing effect that you can feel in your fingertips. Maui Wowie is also good for patients who suffer from stress, chronic pain and depression. This strain is my go-to when I’ve had a bad day and need a pick-me-up in that 3 p.m. range.
Super Lemon Haze
Known for its lively smoke and mindful high, Super Lemon Haze cannabis is designed for people that suffer from fatigue and exhaustion, especially working-class individuals that sacrifice their physical and mental health for “productivity”. This branch of the Haze family is a healthier alternative to drinking 12 citrus Red Bulls and tastes much better too. It’s balanced cannabinoids make it less likely to have the downfall effect when the high wears off. The taste is almost like candy, similar to a lemonhead without the pucker sour effect of course. If you want the pop of candy without the sugar crash, keep Super Lemon Haze on hand.
Harlequin is the weakest sativa on this list with THC levels fluctuating around 4-7%. It’s gaining momentum as an efficient usable sativa because of this though. Some people are looking for large percentages of THC to get lifted as high as possible, but others react different to cannabis and prefer the low-key buzz of Harlequin. First produced in the early ‘70s, Harlequin is unique because of its benefit to cannabis users. It contains an uncommon combination of CBD and THC—a 5:2 ratio—meaning that the CBD content of this cannabis strain is much higher than usual. This untraditional balance makes Harlequin a versatile strain for medical patients that need help managing anxiety, chronic pain, headaches, fatigue and stress.