Indica vs. Sativa

By: Kannabia Seed Company Culture

When looking for marijuana seeds at a gene bank, you’ll notice that varieties commonly fall into three groups: indica, sativa, or hybrids. Most consumers and growers use these categorizations of weed to predict their effects, but are they really accurate? What’s the difference between them?

The terms “indica” and “sativa” are widely used but highly controversial. Whether you’re new to marijuana, or have been using it for a long time, you’ve probably heard about indica’s supposedly more physical effects, in contrast to the cerebral high of a sativa, and the balanced effects of a hybrid strain. We’ve also all heard that indica plants are more compact, and have broad leaves; and that sativas are taller, with narrow leaves.

These terms are difficult to ignore, but can be misleading, especially since trying to define the variations of a plant species like cannabis, which has been evolving together with humanity for no less than 12,000 years, is a very complicated task. So, it’s important that we understand how to define these subspecies exactly.

The origins of indica and sativa

The scientific name Cannabis sativa was first published in 1753 by the Swedish botanist Carlos Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, in his book Species Plantarum, which classified all cannabis plants into a group: Cannabis sativa L., with Cannabis as a genus, sativa as a species and L indicating Linnaeus’ system. Sativa comes from the Latin sativum, meaning “cultivated,” and describes the common hemp plant grown in Europe and western Eurasia, where it has been used for thousands of years to harvest its fiber and seeds.

The French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck updated the name in 1785 with two distinct species: Cannabis sativa, a taller, more lanky and fibrous plant, and Cannabis indica, a lower, robust and psychoactive plant, whose name means “from India,” where it was thought to be from, since this is where the first plants that arrived in Europe came from; the entire Indian subcontinent, from Southeast Asia to Africa.

Thus, “indica” and “sativa” were terms that were originally used to distinguish between cannabis varieties based on their place of origin, and were intended to distinguish the plants’ different appearances. But, at some point, popular culture began to draw distinctions between the effects of indica versus sativa when consumed, even though there is no evidence for this. For better or for worse, this indica, sativa, and hybrid classification system is still rooted in the world, so let’s take a look at what the main differences are.

Indica vs. Sativa
Illustration of Cannabis sativa L: a flowering male plant and a fruiting female plant

What does “indica” mean?

Indica varieties are a vague class of cannabis plants normally associated with relaxing and sedative effects. Here’s what you need to know about indica strains:

  • Origin: They are believed to come from regions with colder climates and shorter growing seasons, such as the Hindu Kush mountain range in Central Asia.
  • Shape: they are characterized by their short stature, density, and their wide dark-green leaves. They usually have shorter flowering cycles than sativa varieties, which allows them to complete their life cycles faster.
  • Effects: They are believed to have soothing and narcotic properties, making them popular choices for consumption in the evening or for possible pain and discomfort relief.
  • Terpenes: The terpenes commonly found in indica strains include myrcene, which has an earthy, musky aroma, and promotes relaxation. They may also be richer in linalool, a terpene with a floral aroma with soothing and anxiety-reducing properties.

What is sativa?

Sativa varieties are, likewise, a vague class of cannabis plants, but they are most commonly associated with uplifting and energetic effects. Here’s what you need to know about sativa strains:

  • Origin: Believed to have originated from tropical and subtropical regions, such as Central and South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia, they typically grow best in warmer climates.
  • Shape: They tend to be tall and thin with elongated leaves in relatively light-green color. They generally have longer flowering cycles compared to Indica varieties, which is an adaptation to longer growing seasons in their native environments.
  • Effects: they are usually prized for their potentially cerebral and invigorating properties, which spark greater creativity, concentration and energy, making them popular for daytime consumption and in social situations.
  • Terpenes: Sativa varieties tend to have the citrus-scented terpene limonene, which produces a sense of pleasure and stress relief. They may also be richer in pinene, which features a pine scent and is thought to improve concentration and alertness.

What is a hybrid strain?

If you’ve ever grown marijuana, you’re probably already familiar with hybrids. This is because most of the marijuana varieties available on the market are hybrids; that is, a cross between indica and sativa varieties. As a result, classifying a particular genetic as indica or sativa generally means that it is more on one side or the other of the indica-sativa spectrum, i.e.:

  • Hybrids that are indica-dominant: higher percentage of indica genetics, resulting in, potentially, more relaxing and sedative effects.
  • Hybrids that are sativa-dominant: higher percentage of sativa genetics, which produces, potentially, more uplifting and energetic effects.
  • Balanced Hybrids: A uniform blend of indica and sativa genetics, offering a potential combination of relaxing and stimulating effects.

In addition, hybrids can exhibit a wide range of appearances and growth patterns, depending on the specific lineages of their parental strains.

Are indicas and sativas really different?

Indica and sativa varieties are somewhat different because indica plants, after adapting to the consistency and intensity of the sunlight in their regions of origin, tend to be short and dense, while sativa plants tend to be taller and have narrower leaves. In recent years, the idea that indica varieties are more relaxing, and sativas more energetic, has been questioned.

Moreover, the effects you feel are more related to the chemical composition of the individual plant (specifically, its balance of cannabinoids) than to its indica or sativa label. When we realize that most of the varieties available today are hybrids, the line between them becomes even blurrier.

Regardless of their genetics, cannabis interacts with our body in very complex ways. Depending on the type, an indica variety can be more energizing than a sativa, and vice versa. Individual human physiology, biochemistry, mood, genetics, etc. further shape the overall experience.

Focus on the terpenes

When it comes to cannabis, the lack of resources available for research over the past few decades has resulted in a deeply-rooted popular taxonomy that oversimplifies the complex composition of cannabis and overlooks what scientists consider to be what is really the key indicator of cannabis’ effects: terpenes.

These compounds could provide better guidance when it comes to choosing a variety or marketing their effects, as they determine the plant’s taste and aroma, and also influence the effects of other cannabis compounds, playing an important role in the “entourage effect.” This is a unique and wonderful characteristic of cannabis that makes its compounds work together in harmony.

So, when you consume marijuana, it’s not just THC or CBD, indica or sativa, but rather a symphony of cannabinoids, terpenes and many other components that interact like musicians in an orchestra, each contributing their own sounds to create a beautiful and balanced melody. This is how cannabis can have a wide range of effects, and what makes it such a formidable plant species.

Kannabia Seeds Company sells to its customers a product collection, a souvenir. We cannot and we shall not give growing advice since our product is not intended for this purpose.

Kannabia accept no responsibility for any illegal use made by third parties of information published. The cultivation of cannabis for personal consumption is an activity subject to legal restrictions that vary from state to state. We recommend consultation of the legislation in force in your country of residence to avoid participation in any illegal activity.

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