Indica vs Sativa - What are the Differences?

Pretty much any kind of weed is awesome. But, when it comes to indica vs sativa which one should you go with?

Weed 101


Today, I’ll show you the difference between indica and sativa when it comes to their high, how they grow and I’ll also dive into what a hybrid strain is.

Plus, a look into the less talked about genus—cannabis ruderalis.

Is There Even a Difference?

When shopping for new buds, everything you see will be labeled indica, sativa or hybrid.

You need to know how you’ll react to each one to make an informed decision.

If you’re looking for a quick answer, cannabis Indica is more of a sedating high, while cannabis sativa is more uplifting/energizing.

Or, so we're told.

But then you have experts like, Jeffrey Raber P.h.d, that claim the difference between indica and sativa is simply morphology, and that there is no difference in the highs.

Well, which one is it?

Do the fancy names and classifications matter?

Let’s take a look at indica vs sativa vs hybrid to find out.

What Is Indica?

Indica plants are use to growing in much harsher environments than their sativa counterparts.

Having to adapt to the cold and turbulent conditions of the kush mountain regions, indica evolved to be dense, short and stubby.

They also evolved to produce thick THC resin to help protect itself from its environment.

Indicas also naturally have high levels of CBD, making them a favorite of many looking for a pain-killing cannabis strain.

What Is Sativa?

The scraggly cousin of indica, sativa, is different from indica, not only in appearance but also in the effects it has on your body, its THC to CBD ratios, cannabinoids and terpenes.

Sativa is often paired with coffee thanks to its naturally uplifting properties.

The plants grow to be tall and lean with leaves that have a thinner face, very much unlike the typical indica marijuana leaf you see plastered all over bongs and grinders at festivals.

The Difference Between Indica and Sativa

There are two camps when it comes to the differences between indica and sativa: those who boldly claim that all indica and sativa give you a certain high and those starting to test and see if it boils down to more than just the different species of the same genus.

After all, some sativa cannabis can give you the “indica” high, and the same goes vice versa.

But we’ll dive more into this research in just a bit.

For now, let’s take a look at the differences that we know.


First named in 1785 by, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Indica was named after where the plants were collected—India.

I briefly mentioned earlier that indica evolved in the kush mountains.

More specifically, it grew wild in the areas between 30° and 50° latitudes.

This climate is susceptible to intense, cold winter and warm summers.


Sativa was named earlier than indica, 1753, and was first thought to be the only species of cannabis.

It originates from areas that are between 0° and 30° latitudes.

Namely, equatorial regions of Mexico, Colombia, Thailand and Southeast Asia.

Being subject to the harsh heat of these areas, sativa evolved to be long and lanky to conserve water.

Leaf Shape

Thankfully, you don’t have to do chemical composition tests to tell the species apart.

You can easily tell the difference between indica and sativa by their leaf shape.

Indica leaves are broad and thicker.

More akin to the prototypical marijuana leaf you see everywhere.

Sativa leaves, on the other hand, are skinny and scraggly like the rest of the plant.

You won’t have any luck using this method to identify a hybrid, though.

They can have a mix of the two or one or the other.

Sativa vs Indica High

The biggest reason we want to compare the two most important cannabis genus is to help get the kind of high or symptom relief we are looking for.

And, while the debate is still ongoing about whether it’s the species of the plant or the terpenes/cannabinoid make up of a plant that determines this, we can still look at the ways we commonly categorize the two different plants.

The Effect


Cannabis indica will generally give you a more relaxed, body high.

The calm, sedating effects are ideal for when you're looking to chill out after a long day, binge-watch Netflix or sleep.

It’s also known to enhance sensations such as sound, taste and touch.


Sativas tend to be more of a cerebral, energized high that can lead to an increase in creativity and a more psychedelic high.

This high is perfect for anyone looking to smoke early in the day without feeling like a zombie the rest of the day.

It’s also a great high for reading, writing and making art.

Symptom Relief

Just wanted to drop another disclaimer here before we look at the symptoms a particular genus can help with.

The result will vary from strain to strain, and this should just be used as a general guideline to help you in the right direction.


  • Relieving pain
  • As a muscle relaxer
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures


    • As an energy boost
    • Problems focusing
    • Mood disorders such as depression
    • Mild aches and pains

    Which one has more THC?

    Now, thanks to the advancement in breeding were able to achieve cannabis plants with up to 51% THC.

    That’s crazy.

    But what about when we just look at pure strains?

Well, one study has, and they found that, on average, indica strains tend to be significantly higher in not only THC but CBD as well.

The big flaw with this study is that it only looked at six different strains. has over 720 indica strains and 1177 sativa strains as of 2017, and the number is only going to keep on growing.

We need a bigger picture and thanks to data that’s being collected by cannabis testing labs I’m sure we’ll get it.

Indica vs Sativa: Flavor

With the rise of legal marijuana, breeders have been able to really hone in on their skill.

Not only do they focus on THC levels and CBD levels, but they also consider flavor.

Of course, you have your famous strains named after their flavor such as, Blueberry, but most distinctions in flavor are very subtle.

Cannabis flavor comes down to one thing and one thing only, and that’s terpenes.

You can see exactly how they affect flavor by looking at this graphic by, Leafly.

To generalize for the sake of simplicity, indica flavors tend to fall into the sweet category (blueberry and strawberry) while sativa plants produce an earthy, pine flavor.

The Differences in Growing

Where you are really able to tell the difference between indica and sativa is when you are growing them side by side.

Never will you be able to see such definitive differences.

Indica vs Sativa Buds

Indica buds are dense, and they also tend to condense themselves in clusters around the nodes.

The buds internodal gaps are almost non-existent.

Indica buds are known for being the buds with the strongest odor too.

With sativa buds, It’s pretty common to have a reddish hue when grown in warm environments and purple when grown in colder climates.

They also are far more spread out on the branches.

You can expect them to weigh less than indica after drying because they are less dense buds.

Plant Height

Indica strains are the best cannabis strains to grow indoors.

Commonly growing to be 3 to 6 feet tall they make the perfect plant for closets or grow tents that have a defined ceiling.

You can grow Sativa indoors, but be prepared to fight it and do some extensive plant training.

Believe it or not, sativa cannabis can grow up to 20 feet tall.

Many breeders like to mix indica into sativa strains to try and tame this height.

Flowering Time & Yield Size

Indica cannabis has a much faster flowering time than sativa coming in at between 8 to 9 weeks.

This is even faster than autoflowering plants that are usually around ten weeks.

It’s not just the fast flowering time that makes indica a favorite of many growers.

They also boast larger yields.

Sativa plants will usually flower between 12 to 14 weeks making them the longest flowering species of all.

The fact that most sativa plants take longer to grow and yields less has made breeders insert some of those traits into indica strains to get a better-growing plant while maintaining a sativa high.

And that brings us to our next topic—hybrids.

Indica vs Sativa vs Hybrid

When browsing the local dispensary, it’s not just indica and sativa you’ll see behind the glass.

Hybrids will also be proudly on display, and the brings us to our next question.

What is a Hybrid Strain?

Hybrid strains aren't new to the cannabis scene.

As master breeders began the search for the perfect cannabis, they started to selectively pick traits from various indica and sativa strains creating hybrids of the two.

Hybrids can fall into any of three categories:

  • Sativa-dominant Hybrids
  • Indica-dominant Hybrids
  • 50/50 Hybrids

Hybrids can be the best of both worlds.

Let’s look at one of the most popular hybrid strains of all time—Blue Dream.

Blue Dream is a sativa-dominant strain forged from mixing Blueberry indica with sativa Haze.

This combination gives you a relaxed body while also giving you a light head high—creating a perfect, calm euphoria.

A hybrid strain like this can provide quick symptom relief all while avoiding the sedative side effects.

Popular Hybrid Strains

Hybrids are a lot of smokers favorite because you can blend the many effects from different cannabinoid profiles.

Here are some of the most popular hybrid strains:

  • Blue Dreams
  • OG Kush
  • Pineapple Express
  • White Widow
  • AK-47

Indica Strains 

Although there’s a lot of strains with no rhyme or reason to their names, a lot of indica strains take up the moniker, Kush, after the Kush Mountains from which they were born.

Here are a few of the popular Indica strains:

  • Grandaddy Purp
  • Northern LIghts
  • Purple Kush
  • Blue Cheese
  • Afghan Kush
  • White Rhino
  • Hindu Kush
  • Super Skunk

Sativa Strains

Sativa strains are all over the place with their names.

The only real common thread you’ll see is that a lot are named haze (I’m not sure why, if you do let me know!).

Here are a few of the most popular sativa strains:

  • Sour Diesel
  • Green Crack
  • Jack Herer
  • Strawberry Cough
  • Purple Haze
  • Lemon Haze
  • Alaskan Thunder Fuck
  • Lamb’s Bread

What are Ruderalis?

Wait, there is a third species of cannabis?


Ruderalis is never talked about thanks to its low THC levels.

But, it’s thanks to them and breeding that we’ve made huge strides in growing cannabis.

First identified in 1924, cannabis ruderalis was discovered in southern Siberia by the botanist, Janiszewski.

While studying cannabis, he happened across these plants that showed a more weedy growth compared to other strains.

This new species was smaller than the others—hardly ever growing taller than two feet.

And it reached flowering much quicker than either indica or sativa—only 5-7 weeks after seed.

Sativa and indica lean on a photoperiod to determine when it starts flowering, while ruderalis depends solely on the maturity of the plant.

This means while you can keep an indica or sativa plant in vegetative stage indefinitely by keeping your grow lights on long cycles, ruderalis will ignore the light cycle completely and start flowering.

Master growers have taken advantage of this to create autoflowering seeds that dramatically reduce the time it takes to harvest a particular strain.

More weed in less time is never a bad thing.

It’s not just the flowering time breeders use ruderalis for.

They are hardy and shorter than the other species, so they are often used to help curb the crazy heights of sativa.

But, that’s not all ruderalis is good for.

While they may be low in THC, they make up for it in CBD.

Some medical cannabis users grow ruderalis for the CBD, and some breeders use this genetic trait to create CBD heavy strains.

We Need More Research Done

The fact of the matter is, we just don’t know what makes the highs different, yet.

Thanks to the federal prohibition, we just haven’t had the chance to study it properly.

That is all starting to change, though.

Now, in states where it is legal, universities, such as the University of Colorado, are now giving scientist the green light to study marijuana properly.

This is huge for cannabis.

We need these studies to help lead the drug policy reform.

We do know that THC alone produces an energetic high that we often associate with sativas.

But, many indica strains have much more THC than a lot of sativas and still produce that couch-lock high.

So, can it be so cut and dry as indica vs sativa?

Or should we be looking strictly at the cannabinoid levels and various terpenes in strains to make distinctions between cannabis?


When it comes to indica vs sativa a lot is still unknown.

We need more studies done on the different effects of the two, so we can provide a better experience for recreational users and better medical care for medical users.

Hopefully, with states legalizing marijuana, we will start to see real progress made that will tell us if it’s the strains or the cannabinoids and terpenes that we need to focus our attention on to make the best cannabis we can.

Did I miss any differences between indica and sativa?

Can you tell the difference in highs?

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