THE UNTOLD STORY
Once upon a time, choosing a strain of marijuana was as easy as picking an indica or a sativa from your friendly neighbourhood pot dealer. Generally, the thinking was that if you felt like turning up, you would choose a sativa. Those who weren’t looking for the same trip and wanted to wind down at the end of the day, for example, may opt for an indica instead. This basic understanding of Sativa vs Indica vs Hybrid strains make it real simple for people to digest, which is why it has worked for so long: Indica = couch lock; Sativa = energizing; Hybrid Strains = a mix of the two.
Cannabis culture is largely founded on these generalized distinctions because the two main classifications are assumed based on region and origin of the plant’s unique characteristics. Over the years there has been much debate about whether sativa vs indica are truly separate species. Back in the day, if you were picking up from a back alley dealer who was skirting the law, you would have had to take him at his word on what the product contained. But the abundance of legal choices available today means customers can make informed decisions on the strain they are buying based on normalized product names and potency information.
As North America (and the world) has slowly moved towards decriminalizing marijuana use, some types of plant have seen more common and accepted use – reduced stigma – than others. Fast forward to the present day, thanks to a huge amount of research, we know more about the chemical makeup of cannabis than ever before. We now know that the plant type has little impact on the levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol – the psychoactive component of cannabis) and other cannabinoids inside. At the same time, this education, along with the growing move towards legalization means that consumers have more information than ever before. But despite all this progress, a significant number of cannabis users still base their buying decisions on the type of plant. So what makes Sativa vs Indica different and where do they come from?
Times are a’changing. As more and more strains of cannabis are developed, there is a growing discussion over whether the current sativa vs indica paradigm accurately distinguishes between all of the strains that are currently available. As we mentioned, it has long been thought that the strain of plant was what influenced levels of THC and CBD and ultimately the effect on the user. Although this is still very much perceived among cannabis users, research has shown that there is no correlation between plant type and effect.
Lab tests on numerous strains of indica, sativa and hybrid strains do show differences in THC and CBD content, although they are typically negligible. From the tested strains, indica’s contained on average 0.4% more CBD, while sativa’s contained on average 0.4% more THC. In an interesting turn of events, hybrid strains contained more THC and CBD than both indicas and sativas. But this only goes to show how outdated and irrelevant it is to classify sativa vs indica.
This separation has been great for the black market. It’s a simple distinction that quickly categorizes the two. For the most part, these labels have resonated with buyers. But in reality, the profiling of cannabis strains is not that simple; cannabis seeds and plants are actually on a spectrum, defined in part by the amount and types of cannabinoids contained in them. For example, in order to create a hybrid strain, you would need a female Indica to catch pollen from a male Sativa (or vice versa) and then collect the female’s seeds. This will effectively reduce the amount of bud produced by the female and create hybrid seeds for the next crop.
Indica seeds initially made their way to North America via India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Whereas Sativa plants originated in the equatorial countries of Colombia, Mexico, Thailand, and South East Asia. The plant tends to grow short and bushy, whereas Sativa’s can be 20 feet high! Their leaves are different too. Indica strains tend to have wide, short leaves, whereas Sativa strains have long leaves with thin, long blades. Based on the descriptions of their leaves, you can probably guess that their buds look different as well. The buds of Indica strains tend to be wide, dense and bulky, while Sativa strains are likely to be long, dangly shaped flowers. But these outward physical characteristics have no say over what kind of high you’ll get.
The Cannabinoid Profile of the hybrid will take varied characteristics from its parent’s genetics, and will either produce Sativa-dominant hybrids, Indica-dominant hybrids, or balanced hybrids (50/50 Indica/Sativa genetics). While isolating the chemical compounds from the composition of these strains is doable, predicting the effects after extrapolating that information is tricky. So utilizing these lab results doesn’t make sense for consumers. It’s one thing to know what’s in it, another to know what it does (especially when the effects are subjective).
To move away from Sativa vs Indica vs Hybrid categorizations, we’ve created an interactive Ratio Bar that simplifies our weed selection to your exact preference. Think of it as a “RATIOS GUIDE.” It breaks down finding your golden high using CBD: THC ratios.
Cannabinoids are natural compounds occurring in the cannabis plant. Following the consumption of marijuana, the cannabinoids react with cannabinoid receptors in cells that then alter the release of neurotransmitters in the brain and control things like thinking, memory, pleasure and time perception. There have been over 113 cannabinoids isolated from the cannabis plant, although some are better understood than others. The two main ones of focus are:
THC – Tetrahydrocannabinol is the major psychoactive component in cannabis. Basically, this is what gets you “high.” In order to get this sensation, the cannabis is typically smoked or ingested. It stimulates cells in the brain to release dopamine, which creates the feeling of euphoria many experiences when consuming cannabis.
CBD – While similar to THC in many ways, CBD or cannabidiol interacts differently with receptors in the brain and does not result in a “high.” Because of this, CBD and CBD oil is gaining popularity across North America and the world for its therapeutic uses including pain relief and treatment of anxiety conditions.
Less understood than cannabinoids but just as important are terpenes and their entourage effect. Basically, terpenes are responsible for the unique flavor and taste of every plant. In strains of cannabis, there are over 100 different types of terpenes. These terpenes are thought to work with the cannabinoids in the strain to dictate just how intensely the strain will affect you. The best way to judge which cannabis is right for you based on the terpenes it contains is by simply smelling different strains.
There is much debate about the strength of marijuana and whether it has increased over the years. While some reports show tests conducted on cannabis strains in the 1960s containing much less THC than strains available today, there are just as many theories debunking this. What’s for sure, is that growers have been cross-breeding strains for over 30 years with the intention of creating “quads” (really, really strong weed). These new strains are thought to contain higher levels of THC because the grower had the intention of doing so, but there are many other factors that can influence the strength of cannabis such as plant genetics, harvesting time, and growing conditions.
Female cannabis plants are known to have significantly higher levels of THC compared to male plants and are the only sex that can successfully produce the weed you want to smoke. When growers wait longer before harvesting their crops, the plant matures and will naturally produce higher levels of THC. But where your marijuana was grown can dictate the THC content as well. Studies have shown that while cannabis plants grown outside tend to produce higher yields, plants grown inside have a higher THC content.
When purchasing marijuana in dispensaries or other sources, taking note of the potency of THC and other cannabinoids is an effective way to help judge the effect it will have on you. If you are looking for something to chill you out without the trip, go for something with a higher CBD content. If you are looking to get buzzed, try something with a higher THC concentration. But with a massive variety in the modern, legal, market, simply choosing between Sativa vs indica is no longer an effective way to predict the effect a strain of cannabis will have on you.
Smoking vs. Eating
Ah yes, edibles. Many a first-time marijuana user has been terrified by misjudging the effectiveness of an edible. But is cannabis actually stronger when ingested rather than smoked? As it turns out, yes. While this is partly caused by the tendency to “overdose” when eating cannabis, the way marijuana is absorbed and passed by the body is different when it is smoked and eaten.
While smoking marijuana gets THC into the body much faster, eating it means the effects last much longer. This coupled with a lack of standardization in the edibles space means you might want to take it slow next time you reach for that brownie.
Keep track of the strains name and it’s cannabinoids when you enjoyed it. These days, popular strain names are fairly universal. Chances are, if you try Sour Diesel in Miami, it should be pretty similar in Seattle. So if you find a strain you like, take note of the THC content so you can ask for something similar when stocking up next time. There are so many new strains (hybrids) popping up abundantly across Canada and the USA, which means there’s plenty of knowledge and opportunity to ask critical questions – no excuse to smoke shitty weed, or weed that doesn’t agree with your biological system. Moreover, with legal marijuana a reality in much of North America and on the horizon across the world, you can now buy cannabis from more reputable sources that give you greater control over what you are buying. Take your time, ask questions, and use this advice to find the best bud for you.
Plant Forms: Indica plants and Sativa plants look different but it’s the cannabinoids inside that count.
Hybrid Plants: Produced by mating an Indica with a Sativa or vice versa.
Chemical Composition: According to Ethan Russo, “You cannot tell the effects a plant will have based on its shape—the shape of its leaflets, its size, or how tall it is,” Russo said. “What we really should be homing in on is the chemical composition of the plant.”
BUYING SATIVA VS INDICA VS HYBRIDS
Choosing a cannabis strain to suit your needs or mood doesn’t mean choosing based on the shape of the bud or the area in which it was originally grown. The rise in acceptance of cannabis use means those in the industry are more knowledgeable than ever before. I’ve mentioned some key ways to choose the correct strain for you, but it can be summed up below.
Ignore Sativa vs Indica vs Hybrid distinctions. These classifications of weed will not help you find your proper dose. Instead, find out what the ratio of THC to CBD is and other cannabinoid properties are preserved in the strain. What’s the percentage? What kind of terps are at play? Keep track of all this information and eventually, you’ll find your perfect high.
Popular Sativa strains in North American include:
- Sour Diesel: While some people aren’t into SD’s distinctive flavour, it remains a cult classic. Expect a killer head high and feelings of creativity, euphoria, and happiness.
- Jack Herer: This is your classic Sativa. Popular for a reason, Jack Here will deliver feelings of creativity, happiness and a dose of happiness.
- Green Crack: Curiously rare in parts of North America, Green Crack is known to deliver a mega cerebral high and a jolt of energy. You can expect to feel focused, happy and energetic.
Traditionally, Sativa has been thought to contain higher levels of THC, giving users a more cerebral experience full of creative energy and a ‘head high’. Because of these effects, Sativa has gained a reputation as being great for daytime use. While it is used medically to treat conditions such as depression, migraine, and chronic pain, its reputation as containing higher THC levels mean Sativa faces greater stigmatization with some still viewing it as a “party drug.”
First being classified in 1753, the Sativa plant has spread widely from its origins in eastern Asia and is now commonly cultivated worldwide. Visually, the plant is taller and thinner than its relative, indica. Sativa plants have adapted to thrive in warm, tropical climates and have long, narrow leaves with sausage-shaped buds.
Popular Indica strains in North American include:
- Bubba Kush: Hailing from California, this ultimate indica has gained a huge following. Expect feelings of relaxation, sleepiness, hunger, and happiness.
- Granddaddy Purple: This one is widely available and hugely popular with insomniacs and those that just want to chill out. Expect to feel happy, sleepy and relaxed.
- Afghan Kush: This is some powerful stuff. Expect some serious body relaxation as well as feelings of relaxation, sleepiness, and hunger.
Indica is classically used for its sedation purposes, associated with sleeping and a strong body high. Sativa is generally associated with feelings of euphoria, creative inspiration, and mood elevation. The two were originally profiled based on the area they grew and the physical characteristics of the plants.
According to folklore, if you use Sativa to hype you up, you reach for indica when you want to chill out. There’s a reason it gained the nickname “Inda-couch” and is famous for couch lock. This is due to the perceived lower levels of THC and a higher concentration of CBD compared to sativa, making it great for relaxation; more of a “stoned” feeling from indica and less of a high.
Medically, indica can be effective for those with conditions such as anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia, muscle spasms, and tremors. As some Indica’s can contain more CBD and less THC than Sativa’s, many users like to consume indica strains at night to take advantage of the feelings of sleepiness and heaviness.
Originally native to mountainous parts of India, indica species have spread far and wide and can now be found all over the world. Visually the plant is shorter and bushier than the Sativa as it has adapted to grow in harsh, mountainous climates. Indica buds tend to be denser and bulky and wider than those from Sativa’s.
Popular Hybrid strains in North American include:
- Blue Dream: This hybrid has proven to be a hit with users across North America, with many reporting feelings of happiness, relaxation, euphoria, and creativity.
- GSC: Native to California, GSC is a dark horse that has come out of nowhere to become a favourite with users. You can expect feelings of happiness, relaxation, creativity, and euphoria.
- OG Kush: It’s called OG for a reason. This is a user favourite from way back. Expect to feel relaxed, happy, uplifted and hungry
Hybrid strains are the result of decades of cross-breeding by farmers around the world and are designed to give users the best of both worlds. Some hybrids have been developed to deliver a more balanced combination of Sativa vs indica, providing the benefits associated with each plant without an overwhelming rush. Because of this, hybrids have proved to be a popular choice for beginners who don’t necessarily know how cannabis will affect them. On the other hand, some hybrids are developed to deliver a powerful indica or Sativa effect by cross-breeding multiple plants from the same family. Choose wisely.
We made a buying guide that lists the best Indica strains on the market. If you want to learn more about Indica strains specifically or get just some quality suggestions, click here!