Since day dawn, cannabis was separated into two camps: Indica and Sativa. One made you feel all cosy and sleepy, and the other one could make you feel like dancing. It’s pretty fascinating how one plant can make you feel two different ways.
Just to make things more complicated, as breeders got clever, a new variation came out of the weed: Hybrid. This, to many, is the best of both worlds.
These 3 categorisations do make organising cannabis strains easier, but as science has developed, they are quickly becoming obsolete and the lines are becoming very blurred. So, let’s talk for a little while about what makes each different, and some examples where these rules are not completely accurate.
Typically, Indica and Sativa plants look very different. We’ll ignore Hybrids for a second because then things get all weird and hybrid-y.
Stereotypical Indica plants are fairly short with large broad leaves. The buds themselves are similar, where they are coned in shape, very dense and short. A nice compact chunk of delicious resin and sticky trichomes. For those with green fingers, the fact that the Indica variety of cannabis has shorter flowering cycles and are (very generally) better suited to a colder climate.
Sativa is almost the exact opposite. The Sativa plant is much taller (sometimes can tower over your head) with narrow leaves. The buds are usually branchy, long, leafy and loosely packed. You’re often more likely to find a long bud that is clustered than a tight cone. Again, for those cultivators, you’ll be interested to know that Sativa has a little bit of an affinity for warmer weather and has long flowering cycles. This is not always the case but, as we say, in a general way.
Hybrids are a bit all over the place. There is no hard or fast rule for identifying a hybrid plant – other than if you write down what it is before planting it.
Back in the days when life was shot in black and white, the way to identify a strain was by its effects. Some strains were best for before bed, while others could keep you up all night. It was the luck of the draw.
These days, the rules get complicated, mostly thanks to breeders mixing and matching genetics. But for the curious of you, we will explain each in as much detail as is needed.
A classic Indica will give you a great night’s sleep. Or day sleep, depending on when you smoke. These are the ‘couch lock’ strains that make you feel as though you’re sinking into the crevice of your couch or floating in Outerspace while being blasted by a warm fan.
There are a few big Indica strains out there including Granddaddy Purple and Nothern Lights
Sativa, once again, likes to be the opposite of Indica. You should expect a much more cerebral experience that can be uplifting, energetic, chatty or creative. Most Sativa lovers have a few puffs to start their day, at social events or to be creative. A solid Sativa strain can make just about anything fun- washing the dishes or hanging up your clothes can be exciting. Not quite, but you understand.
Again, a Hybrid is a mix of all things. Modern cannabis strains are so complex and interbred that they cannot really be categorised into Indica or Sativa camps. Breeders focus more on the flavours and effects of the strains – and hybrids often give a user a mixture of experiences within the same high. A classic OG Kush, for example, starts with a heady Sativa high and mellows out into something more chilled. Otherwise, Zkittlez is a real heavy high with a very euphoric head like you’re poking out from the clouds.
Breeders can be as sophisticated as to map out the full effects of strains and specifically target particular ailments – for instance, a euphoric day strain without the risk of mind race, or paranoia, is very achievable.
Why are Indica and Sativa Different?
Most assume that the reason why each strain has differing effects is down to the ratios of cannabinoids in the flowers. This is, however, largely incorrect. If we are going to be understanding the main difference between Indica strains and Sativa strains, we need to talk about terpenes. They are at least 3/4 the reason for the difference in effects.
Terpenes are often overlooked as simply there for the flavour, but they have their own therapeutic effects and can change the way our body uses the cannabinoids we are consuming. The science behind the synergistic role that terpenes play in cannabis is not fully fleshed out so it is hard to give conclusive evidence, but it is not far away.
What we can say for sure is that Terpenes have been used in aromatherapy to induce feelings for centuries. It is why lavender makes your bath that tiny bit more relaxing, or the smell of citrus fruits in the morning makes a sunny day that little bit more enjoyable. The same chemicals exist in cannabis, so go figure.