Cannabis enthusiasts commonly categorize cannabis strains as being indicas, sativas, or hybrids. Anytime you visit a cannabis dispensary, you’ll see strains labeled — often even color-coded — according to these designations. However, given how much cross-breeding occurs, how useful are these designations? How reliable is it to use these designations to generalize the expected effects of each? In this article, we’ll explore the differences between indicas and sativas, while debunking the most pervasive indica vs. sativa myths.
Let’s get started!
While stoner lore is rich in indica vs. sativa myths, here are the two most persistent:
We’ve heard everything. “Indicas are higher in THC.” “Sativas are higher in THC.” “Indicas are higher in CBD.” “Indicas must be higher in THC!! After all, only indicas give you couch lock!”
These are myths.
Before hundreds of years of international commerce followed by 50 years of underground breeding, you could maybe make claims of predictable characteristics among indicas vs. sativas. Maybe. But those days are long gone.
With today’s highly genetically manipulated strains, there’s no direct relationship between THC or CBD content and whether a strain is an indica-dominant or sativa-dominant. Case in point, you’ll have no trouble finding sativas or indicas with high THC content, nor will you have difficulty finding sativas or indicas with low or high CBD content.
You’ve got sativa strains like Durban Poison that have THC levels running in the mid-20 percent range. Conversely, the iconic Harlequin strain is an example of a sativa-dominant strain that’s low in THC and high in CBD. Among indica-dominant strains, Nepalese Kush and Pure Haze are two (of many) popular highly potent strains with THC levels exceeding 20 percent. Pennywise, another popular indica-dominant, has between 7 and 15 percent THC and a robust 12 percent CBD.
So when you think of indicas and sativas, disregard any assumptions you may have that the designation is a reliable indicator of THC or CBD levels.
[Sidenote: If you want to try some strains that are true indica or sativa (known as “landrace strains”) — or are at least pretty close to being purely indica or sativa — NuWu carries a wide selection of goodies you may want to check out. A few of our favorites include Nepalese Kush INDICA and Durban Poison Syringe SATIVA from Matrix, ATF Dab Syringe SATIVA from Lucid Oils, and Durban Poison SATIVA pre-rolls. Visit our menu for current inventory.]
While it’s true that an indica-dominant strain tends to produce a heavy body high, while a sativa-dominant strain is more likely to provide an invigorating cerebral high, this isn’t an absolute. It really comes down to the mix of cannabinoids and terpenes.
Generally speaking, indica-dominant strains have higher levels of a terpene called myrcene. Indica-dominant strains regularly clock myrcene content at 0.5 to 3 percent, while sativa-dominant strains typically have zero to 0.5 percent myrcene. Most cannabis experts believe it’s myrcene that gives indica-dominant strains their signature sedative “couch-lock” properties.
Why sativa-dominant strains tend to produce more uplifting effects is less clear, but it likely has to do with other terpenes and cannabinoids. Durban Poison which many affectionately refer to as the “espresso of cannabis” tends to be high in a cannabinoid called THCV. Research suggests THCV is not only highly stimulating but can actually reduce hunger, hence why you’re much less likely to get the munchies on strains like Durban Poison.
While (as noted), relying on designations such as indica and sativa to predict their effects is far from perfect, the list below will provide you with general guidelines. However, we’ll go into more detail later in this article on how to better identify what the best strain is for you based on a stain’s overall chemical profile.
(Disclaimer: The statements below are for informational purposes only. They have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Our products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.)
- Produces a heavy body high
- Promotes sedation and sometimes “couchlock”
- Boosts appetite (e.g. gives you the “munchies”)
- Relaxes the mind and body
- Alleviates nausea or vomiting
- Relieves physical pains and aches
- Promotes sleep
- Reduces inflammation
- Relieves spasms and seizures
- Best for nighttime use
- Produces a stimulating cerebral “head high”
- Alleviates depression
- Reduces anxiety (although in some users it can actually increase anxiety)
- Boosts focus, and creativity
- Promotes an overall sense of well-being
- Can subdue appetite (depending, of course, on the cannabinoid and terpene profile)
- May relieve headaches and migraines
- Appropriate for daytime use
Indicas and sativas hail from different parts of the world, with distinctly different climates. Indicas originally came from the Middle East and Near Asia, including Afghanistan, Turkey, Nepal, and Morocco. These areas tend to be hot, dry, and arid. Consequently, indicas tend to be short, wide, and bushy. To most effectively capture sunlight, their leaves tend to be thick and broad. They also mature much more quickly than sativas, have shorter flowering periods, and have higher yields than indicas.
Sativas trace their origin to Southeast Asian regions and Latin America (e.g. Colombia and Mexico). Sativas flourish in climates near the equator which tend to be humid. Sativas are known for their slender leaves. They also grow much taller than indicas due evolving under humid conditions. In fact, when they’re grown outside, they can reach extraordinary heights, up to 20 feet. Their tall stature helps protect them from becoming infected with mold.
Sativas take a lot longer to mature than their indica cousins, taking as long as 10 to 18 weeks. They also need a lot more light.
As we mentioned, due to continuous cross-breeding over the years, and the fact there are very few truly pure sativa or indica strains, you shouldn’t rely solely on these designations for predicting the effects of strains you buy. Instead, you should consider each strain’s specific chemical profile. Likewise, due to our unique physiologies, everyone’s experience is unique. For example, you may find Durban Poison makes you feel great and reduces your stress, while your partner may find it does the exact opposite. Consequently, consider your previous experiences, your tolerance, and of course, the chemical profile.
Let’s talk about cannabinoids.
For years people equated cannabis with THC, its most prominent cannabinoid. In recent years, consumers have come to know CBD as THC’s non-intoxicating cousin. However, CBD and THC aren’t the only two cannabinoids in town. There are hundreds of different compounds in cannabis, including more than 100 cannabinoids and dozens of terpenes. This symphony of cannabinoids working together synergistically — characterized as the “entourage effect” — give every strain unique properties.
While THC and CBD are the most well known and most prominent, we shouldn’t discount the potential effects of other cannabinoids (and terpenes). Nonetheless, you don’t need to become an expert in every cannabinoid and terpene. For most consumers, familiarizing yourself with the basics is just fine. But rather than thinking in terms of indica, sativa, hybrid, think in terms of a THC-CBD spectrum first and foremost (as these are the two compounds that drive most of marijuana’s effects).
A helpful (and simple) way to categorize strains is as follows:
Recreational users who are looking for as much potency and euphoria seek out high-THC strains. As the primary intoxicating compound in cannabis, the higher the THC, the more potent the strain. However, some medical marijuana users (particularly those suffering from chronic pain or symptoms associated with cancer treatment) find high-THC strains are the most effective for them.
Keep in mind, though, that for most patients more isn’t better. Some studies suggest lower doses of THC are more effective, even for chronic pain. It really depends on one’s physiology. Also, the higher the THC, the more likely it is that the strain will cause anxiety.
CBD has been touted as a wonder drug, given its ability to deliver significant therapeutic benefits without producing a “high.” These strains are especially useful for people who don’t like the side effects of THC (namely intoxication and anxiety) or who want clear-minded symptom relief. CBD has also proven to be particularly helpful for those suffering from epilepsy-related seizures.
Balanced THC-CBD strains provide the best of both worlds. While balanced strains will still produce intoxicating effects (for the vast majority of users), the high is more subdued. They’re great for medical users who stand to benefit from the synergy of THC and CBD, and they’re also great for lifestyle users looking for health benefits and a less intense “high.” They’re even great for novice users who may not want to experience an overly potent high, as well as users who are sensitive to THC’s potential to induce anxiety.
Once you’ve found your preference between these three categories of cannabis, start learning about and experimenting with strains that are rich in different terpenes. Dozens of terpenes can be found across the broad spectrum of cannabis strains available, but generally, you’ll find no more than a few in any sort of appreciable amount.
Myrcene is probably the best-known terpene; this is the terpene scientists point to as giving indica-dominant strains their highly sedative properties. However, don’t limit yourself. Not only do terpenes carry a wide variety of therapeutic properties, they also give strains their unique scents. Some of the most popular (and interesting) terpenes to start learning about include limonene, myrcene, linalool, caryophyllene, alpha-pinene, beta-pinene, and eucalyptol.
As you’ve probably noticed, classifying cannabis strains as indica, sativa, or hybrids can be imprecise and overly simplistic. While these categories are still useful, as cultivators continue to hybridize innovative new strains, don’t be surprised if we ultimately develop a better taxonomy. While cannabis may be more complicated than we’d like, that’s also part of what makes it so fascinating!
Now that you’re an expert on the indica vs. sativa debate, be sure to stop by NuWu Cannabis to find your favorite indica-dominant, sativa-dominant, and hybrid products. We’ve got the largest selection of cannabis in Nevada, including strains like Jenny Kush, Jack Herer, Sunset Sherbert Star Dawg & Grape Fruit Durban by Smoke Signals, Triple G & Pure Haze by Virtue, Bro-G & Purple Punch by Growers Circle, and Black Afghan by DGF.
You can also find (and order) products including flower, pre-rolls, concentrates, vapes, edibles, and topicals through our online menu. Order online and pick up at the store or our 24-hour drive-thru!