Indica vs Sativa: Differences, Effects, Side Effects and Best Strains

Exploring strains is one of the most fun aspects of consuming cannabis, but it’s even better when you know your stuff. In this post, we explore 5 essential differences between the two most popular strains of cannabis — indica and sativa.

Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa are actually subspecies of a plant that is called Cannabis sativa L. which belongs to the Cannabis genus, and as you probably know, they have been used by humans for thousands of years, be it for medical or industrial use.

Now, even though they are the closest of relatives, the differences between Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa are vast: they don’t look the same visually, they produce different range of effects, they have different taste and smell and they’re even usually consumed in different periods of the day.

That’s why I decided to do a fun but comprehensive guide in which you’ll discover:

  • The 5 biggest differences between Indica and Sativa
  • Pros and cons of each for medicinal and recreational users
  • The most popular Sativa and Indica strains

Good to go?

Activate Three Little Birds.

Difference #1:

Sativa is tall and thin while indica is short and bushy

indica and sativa height differences

Sativa and indica are very different in their appearance.

Sativa usually grows up to 4 metres and is much less dense. It has an appearance that is best described as narrow and its leaves are on the lighter side of green.

Indica is short, bushy and dense. It grows up to 2 metres and its leaves are dark green, especially when compared to sativa.

One of the major anatomical differences is in the density of their buds: indica buds are dense and wide and Sativa buds are elongated and less dense.

Difference #2:

Sativa originated in Asia while indica originated in Afghanistan and India

origins of indica and sativa

There are actually many theories regarding the origins of both Indica and Sativa, but the current consensus is that one strain came from southern Asia and the other from Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.

Geographically speaking, it all began in the steppes of Asia (current Mongolia) and it spread to southern Asia. We know about the origin of Cannabis sativa through the ancient Chinese scriptures where their use of cannabis was very well documented.

Cannabis indica, on the other hand, originated in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which is how most of the strains actually got their names (for example Purple Kush).

The differences in geographical origin of these two strains can also be seen in their growing cycles and chemical profiles.

But more on that later.

Difference #3:

Sativa has a lot of THC and no CBD while indica has moderate levels of both THC and CBD

indica vs sativa cannabinoids

One of the most interesting differences between Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica is in their chemical composition.

To us, the most interesting is the cannabinoid profile, which is a great indicator of the potency and effects of each strain.

With that in mind, Cannabis sativa flowers usually pack large percentages of THC with little, to no CBD at all. We’re talking 15-26% of THC and up to 0,5% CBD at the max.

Pure indica strains, tend to have less THC and more CBD than sativa strains, which suppresses the effects of THC and produces a different high. Indica strains usually have around 12% THC and up to 1% of CBD.

Which leads us to the fun part.

Difference #4:

Sativa produces a cerebral high while Indica produces a body high

indica vs sativa the type of high

We just mentioned THC and CBD content of the two most popular strains. But it all means just one thing:

Sativa and indica produce different high effects when consumed.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s not just due to the different cannabinoid profile.

Terpenes play a big role in that as well, as they are essential oils that differ from strain to strain. Sativa strains, for example, have a lot more myrcene than indica strains. All of these subtle differences account for the difference in effects.

However, the most interesting part for you is this:

When you consume a pure sativa strain, you get that trademark sativa high — cerebral buzz that is euphoric, uplifting, creative and energized.

Indica high is the exact opposite — couch-lock, relaxation, lethargy and sedation.

The difference in the suggested time of use is reflected in the most ancient sentence of cannabis wisdom ever:

“Sativa during the day, Indica at night.”

For medical users, Cannabis Sativa produces an increase in appetite, focus and relief from depression and nausea.

Cannabis indica is effective at treating anxiety, pain and generally every condition that is reduced by being relaxed and calm.

Difference #5:

Indica flowers after 8 weeks while Sativa flowers after 12 weeks

indica vs sativa flowering differences

Cannabis growers love indica strains, as they have a shorter flowering time. The reason for that is something we mentioned earlier:

Different geographical origin equals different exposure to sun, which is why sativa and indica have different growing cycles. They just had to adapt to their location.

That is exactly why:

  • Cannabis Sativa matures relatively late and flowers after 12-14 weeks.
  • Cannabis Indica matures early and flowers after 8-9 weeks.

These differences fit together to form an idea that changed the cannabis industry — let’s combine indica and sativa and get the best of both worlds.

That is how hybrid strains came to be.

What about their effects and side effects?

When I first started learning about cannabis strains, I was dumbfounded.

I’ve read 3 books on cannabis and then I just sat there, in my room, not knowing with which strain to start. Information overload is real…

But what I soon learned is that I don’t have to choose between sativa and indica, because I can use both. It’s really as simple as that.

However, when you buy pure sativa and indica strains, you quickly realize that, even though they produce different effects — they can also produce different and, sometimes undesirable, side-effects.

So I decided to lay out my findings for your convenience but please be aware of the fact that each of these effects can vary from strain to strain and from batch to batch.

Cannabis sativa effects and side effects

Cannabis sativa effectsCannabis sativa side effects
Cerebral effectsCan promote anxiety
Promotes creativityIncreases blood pressure and heart rate
Euphoric highInduces restlessness
Boosts appetiteCan make you paranoid
Boosts energyInduces cottonmouth
Makes you chatty
Improves your focus
Treats depression & ADHD

Cannabis indica effects and side effects

Cannabis indica effectsCannabis indica side effects
Body-oriented highCan make you too sleepy at times
Makes you relaxedInduces laziness
Induces a couch-lockLowers blood pressure
Treats chronic pain & spasmsInduces cottonmouth
Also boosts appetite
Reduces anxiety

Now, one of the things that you will soon realize (if you haven’t already) is that a lot of cannabis’ effects are subjective: what one person experiences is not necessarily the same as the other.

The reason for this is simple:

Every single cannabis strain is different…and every batch of that strain also differs in its chemical profile.

That is why you’ll see people talking about how pure indica makes them euphoric or how their favorite sativa strain makes them super relaxed.

Since we’re into the power of the people, let’s now explore some popular sativa and indica strains that you can try out right now.

40 most popular Sativa and Indica strains

Here’s something I’ve wanted to tell you from the start:

Pure Indica and Sativa strains are rare.

That’s right — the majority of flowers you can buy in dispensaries are actually hybrids. Hybrids are crossbreeds of two strains, usually one Indica and one Sativa.

They’ve been invented for two purposes:

  1. Hybrids produce bigger yield much faster
  2. Hybrids combine the best effects of both strains

That’s why you will most often see a “sativa dominant” hybrid. You already know what that means: it’s usually a cerebral high, due to its sativa genetics, coupled with mild sedation when it starts to wear off (coming from its indica origins).

But that’s perfect, if you think about it. When you choose a well-developed and appropriate hybrid you get perfectly tailored range of effects but with significantly reduced side effects.

It’s all about finding your perfect match.

But how do you do that?

You try out as many strains as you possibly can.

Here are some top rated sativa and indica strains to get you started.

Popular Sativa strainsPopular Indica strains
Amnesia HazeGrandaddy Purple
Sour DieselIce Wreck
Laughing BuddhaNorthern Lights
Strawberry CoughAurora Indica
Moby DickBlue Mystic
Lambs BreadPineapple Kush
Maui WauiSensi-Star
ChocolopeWhite Cookies
Green CrackPurple Kush
Willie NelsonCritical Kush
Jack The RipperStrawberry Banana
Ghost Train HazeGolden Lemons
CinexGod’s Gift
ChernobylKosher Kush
Durban PoisonCritical Mass
Super Silver HazeBubba Kush
Cinderella 99Death Star
Haze BerryBubble Kush
Royal MobyO.G. Kush
Dance WorldBubbleGum XL

You can save this to your phone and just show it to your budtender the next time you’re visiting a dispensary. He’ll tell you which ones they have in-stock and then you can just grab a couple and go from there.

Eventually, you will find your top indica and sativa strains that just feel good and bring you the most bang for the buck.

Categories Basics

Editor in chief at Greencamp. Into all kinds of technical tutorials and topics related to cannabis culture. Professional at postponing workouts.

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