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April 21, 2020
Cannabis 101: What’s the Difference Between Indica Versus Sativa?

By DEANNE DEBARA

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

Cannabis can provide a variety of experiences and the more you know about the plant, the better you can predict what kind of experience a particular strain will provide. And a great place to start? Understanding the differences between two words you might hear thrown around a lot: sativa and indica.

So what, exactly, do “sativa” and “indica” mean? What are the benefits of sativas vs. indicas? And what can these terms tell you about your cannabis strain and the kind of high you might experience? Read on, below. 

What do sativa and indica mean?

Sativa and indica are classifications that describe a cannabis strain’s structure and physical characteristics.Technically, they’re terms used by the people who grow the plant: Cultivators use them to identify a particular strain based on its growth traits and patterns, the size and shape of its leaves, and other physical characteristics. For example, indicas typically have wide, dark green leaves while the leaves of a sativa are more narrow and a lighter shade of green. 

But for you, sativa and indica are more commonly used to describe a particular strain’s effects—and what kind of high you can expect when you consume. So, what are the differences between the two and what are some of the benefits of each?

The benefits of sativas

Traditionally sativas are known for providing a more uplifting, stimulating high. You’ll often hear them described as “cerebral,” meaning you’ll experience more of a head or mind high than a body high.

There are a number of potential benefits to sativas, including:

  • Increased energy: If you’re feeling tired or unmotivated, they can be a good strain to incorporate into your day. Many people who consume cannabis before physical activity use sativas to give them a boost of energy for their workout. The added energy can also help you feel more productive—and taking a few hits can help you knock things off your to-do list.

  • Inspires creativity: The cerebral high you get can also help spark creativity, making it a go-to choice for more artistic or creative endeavors, such as music or writing. 

  • Can provide a mood boost: For some sativas provide a euphoric, happy high that instantly elevates their mood, making it a favorite for people who struggle with depression or other mood disorders.

Clearly, sativas have a number of benefits but they aren’t without their potential drawbacks:

  • Increased anxiety. For some people, the classic sativa head high feels less euphoric and more anxiety-inducing—potential side effects such as increased anxiety, nervousness, and paranoia.

  • Can be too energizing. While the boost you get can be helpful when you consume during the day, it can be too stimulating for some during the evening (and may mess with your sleep schedule). 

The benefits of indicas

If you’re looking for a more chill cannabis experience, you may want to explore indicas. These strains are all about promoting relaxation, both physical and mental. While sativas tend to inspire an extremely active mind, indicas inspire an extremely relaxed body (hence the term “couch lock”).

Indicas can provide a variety of potential benefits, including:

  • Relaxed muscles and body tension: Thanks to their body effects, indicas can be great at reducing muscle tension—so if your shoulders feel tight after a long, stressful day, definitely consider going this route.

  • Better sleep: All the chill-inducing effects can make you extremely sleepy— making these strains a clear choice to consume before bed.

  • Relieves stress and anxiety: They don’t just have the potential to relax the body, they can also calm the mind. If you’re feeling anxious or dealing with stressful thoughts, indicas can help to slow the spiral so you can actually unwind.

Indicas have a ton of benefits. But, just like sativas, indicas aren’t the right choice for everyone or every cannabis experience. Some of the potential downsides include:

  • Increased sleepiness: These strains can promote a better night’s rest, which is great in the evening — but if you consume too early in the day, you could feel tired at an inopportune time.

  • Decreased motivation: Because it can be so physically relaxing, indicas can make it hard to get up, get motivated, and get things done (again, it’s not called “couch lock” for nothing).

  • More munchies: Sativas have a higher concentration of THCV, a cannabinoid that suppresses the appetite while indicas will stimulate the brain into thinking you’re hungry. Of course, if you’re using cannabis to help with your appetite this isn’t a downside.

Other factors to consider when choosing a strain

A strain’s classification as an indica or a sativa can give you a broad, general idea of what to expect when you consume. But there are other indicators you can use to get a more in-depth, accurate idea of what to expect from a strain, including:

  • Cannabinoid profile: There are at least 113 cannabinoids, which are the natural chemical compounds found in the plant. Some promote relaxation, others can help with inflammation, and others have an effect on appetite. The unique combination of these compounds can give you keen insights into the type of experience it may provide. For example, if you want the benefits of cannabis without the intoxication, you would want to look for a CBD strain (since CBD is non-psychoactive). 

  • Potency: Some strains have higher THC content than others and the higher the content (or the more potent the strain), the more intense the high will be. So, if you’re looking for a more intense high, you’d want to go with a potent, high-THC strain, while if you were looking for a more mellow experience, a low-THC strain would likely be a better fit. 

  • Terpene profile: Terpenes are naturally occurring compounds in the cannabis plant. And not only do they impact a strain’s flavor and aroma, but they can also influence the experience. For example, if you were looking for a more relaxing high, you might try a strain containing the terpene linalool, which is known for its stress-relieving effects. If you’re looking for something more uplifting, try a strain with limonene, which interacts with the brain’s serotonin and dopamine receptors and has a more euphoric effect.

Using multiple indicators to evaluate a cannabis strain can help you get a clearer picture of what kind of experience you can expect—which can help you make a more informed decision about whether that strain is the right choice for you.

Choose the cannabis strain that works for you

Both sativas and indicas have a variety of benefits—and when it comes to choosing the “right” type of strain, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. But now that you know the differences between sativas and indicas, the benefits (and potential downsides) of both types of cannabis plants, and the other key indicators you can use to evaluate a strain, you have everything you need to choose the cannabis strain that’s the right fit for you.

Ready to try a sativa? Here are three favorites:

MedMen Red Tangie Dream Pre-Roll: Not sure if you want to try a sativa due to its head high? This pre-roll, with its candy and citrus flavors, has anti-anxiety properties, courtesy of peppery caryophyllene so you will enjoy your experience.

Ember Valley Now & Laters Flower: If you’re looking for a mood booster, try this strain. It features both myrcene (found in mangoes) and limonene (found in citrus), which both are uplifting terpenes. Limonene and pinene (which is also in this strain) offer anti-anxiety benefits to temper the euphoric effects.

Humboldt Farms Orangeade Flower: Like its name, this smells like tangerines and offers up a happy high. It features peppery caryophyllene for anti-anxiety effects, euphoric citrus-limonene, and humulene, a terpene found in grapes that has anti-inflammatory and appetite suppressing benefits.

Indica more your speed? Here are three favorites:

[statemade] zzz Flower: Have issues getting to bed? Try this indica flower that has notes of cocoa and hash. It features linalool, the terpene you’d find in lavender, for ultimate relaxation.

Northern Emeralds Moonstone Kush: A combination of myrcene (found in mangoes) and peppery caryophyllene gives this potent strain its anti-anxiety and euphoric effects. Try it when you want to sit on the couch and quiet your mind.

Sundae School Night Cap Bullets: Don’t let its small size fool you — this is a favorite for its feel good properties. The little pre-rolls combine linalool (found in lavender), humulene (found in grapes), and peppery caryophyllene for a mix that has anti-anxiety, anti-depressive, and sedative properties.

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