Sativas vs. Indicas – What Customers Should Know About The Most Common Cannabis Subspecies

To the untrained eye, all cannabis plants look the same. Sure, some strains may be taller than others, but they all follow the same pattern…right?

Well, in the world of botany, not all cannabis plants are interchangeable. In fact, there are now three widely recognized subspecies in the cannabis kingdom: sativa, indica, and ruderalis. Of these three, sativas and indicas are the most important for customers to understand.

Although increased hybridization might blur the lines between these subspecies, customers could tell a great deal about a strain by researching its sativa-to-indica ratio.

Where Did Sativa vs. Indica Distinction Emerge?

Just like the origins of man, there’s a lot of mystery surrounding the evolution of cannabis. However, evidence from the University of Kansas suggests humans were cultivating cannabis as far back as 12,000 BC. Most of these original cannabis strains were probably in Siberia and Mongolia.

Unfortunately, the “original” cannabis strain has been lost to the sands of time. However, we still have a few landrace strains like Kush, Afghani, and Thai, each of which preserves key features in the sativa or indica lineage.

So, when did humans first note the differences between indica and sativa variants? Well, people might have noticed differences a long time ago, but the 18th-century French botanist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was the first to formalize the sativa vs. indica system.

Before Lamarck appeared, scientists only recognized the Cannabis sativa genus. However, Lamarck noticed that strains from India looked nothing like a standard sativa. In addition to darker fan leaves, these Indian strains were shorter and had a denser bud structure. Lamarck felt these distinctions were enough to create a separate species we still refer to as “indica.”

Do Mainstream Scientists Agree With The Sativa vs. Indica Distinction?

Nowadays, most cannabis researchers don’t believe sativas and indicas should be classified as separate species. However, that doesn’t mean scientists have entirely thrown away Lamarck’s contributions. Mainstream researchers simply believe the differences between indicas and sativas aren’t significant enough to create a new species.

Most scientific literature classifies “indica” strains as a subspecies under the Cannabis sativa genus. So, weirdly, indicas are technically sativas. However, it’s best to keep these two variants separate in your mind to avoid canna-confusion.

What Are The Key Differences Between Sativas vs. Indicas?

By now, you might be wondering, “How could the sativa vs. indica distinction help smokers?” Sure, it’s nice that botanists can put these plants into different boxes, but what does it mean for the average CBD consumer?

Well, there are two key reasons hemp shops continue to publish their strains’ sativa-to-indica ratios: physiological effects and flower appearance. Let’s explore each of these features in greater detail.

“Shake & Bake” vs. “In-Da-Couch” – Typical Effects Of Sativas vs. Indicas

From the 20th century till today, tokers have used the sativa vs. indica system to distinguish different “highs.” Traditionally, indica strains have been associated with sedating effects that often lock users to their couches. By contrast, sativa-heavy cultivars tend to give users an energizing and euphoric high.

Even though many cannabis users swear by these different effects, there’s no scientific evidence supporting these claims. Remember: scientists created the indica vs. sativa distinction when looking at the plant’s physical traits, not its physiological properties. Take these distinctions with a grain of salt as you experiment with different CBD cultivars.

Appreciating Appearances – Do Indicas Look Different From Sativas?

If you were to see a sativa and indica side-by-side, chances are you’d recognize the same physical differences Mr. Lamarck observed. On average, indica strains have darker and fatter fan leaves, denser buds, and a shorter stature. By contrast, sativas grow tall with thin, light-colored fan leaves.

But not only do these variants look different, they also have distinct growth patterns. Since most pure sativas evolved in hot, tropical regions, it’s no surprise they perform better in humid and sunny conditions. By contrast, indicas developed in mountainous areas like the Hindu Kush range, which means they perform better in moderate Mediterranean zones.

On average, indica-heavy strains take between 8 – 9 weeks to flower. Sativas, however, could take anywhere from 10 – 12 weeks to reach the harvesting stage.

Do Sativas And Indicas Have The Same Cannabinoid Counts?

There has been a persistent rumor that sativa strains contain higher traces of THC. Some smokers believe these elevated THC counts could explain why sativa strains tend to be more potent (and paranoia-inducing) versus indicas.

To date, there hasn’t been a ton of evidence to support this theory, although some scientists beg to differ. For instance, Loran Anderson and Richard E. Schultes suggested sativas tend to be THC-dominant while indicas have more CBD.

There’s still a great deal of debate over Anderson and Schultes’s findings, but it could help explain these subspecies’ different effects. For instance, most studies now show CBD could block THC’s psychoactive properties, which could explain why indicas aren’t as intense as sativas.

In reality, we don’t know enough about the cannabinoid differences between these two subspecies. For the most accurate cannabinoid figures, it’s always best to look at your chosen strain’s lab reports. Also, please remember that all of the hemp strains in Organic CBD Nugs’ catalog have ≤ 0.3 percent delta-9 THC.

Do Sativas And Indicas Have Different Flavors?

If you consider yourself a cannasseur, you may have noticed certain flavors are more pronounced in indicas vs. sativas. For instance, the indica-heavy Kush lineage is well-known for its musky, earthy, and hashy notes. By contrast, many sativa-heavy families (e.g., Haze, Sour Diesel, or Skunk) have citrusy, spicy, and skunky flavors.

These flavor variations are caused by volatile chemicals known as terpenes. While terpenes aren’t unique to cannabis, they are responsible for each strain’s unique flavors. Plus, there’s emerging evidence that terpenes might have physiological effects.

On average, indica strains have large amounts of the fruity terpene myrcene. Naturally present in mangos, myrcene might also be responsible for the fruity and “musky” notes in many indicas. There’s also emerging evidence that myrcene has sedative qualities, which may contribute to indicas’ “sleepy” reputation.

On the other hand, many sativa strains have strong traces of the terpene limonene. As you could guess from the name, limonene is closely associated with citrus fruits like lime and lemon. Limonene might also contribute to gasoline aromatics in popular strains like Sour Diesel.

Since terpenes play such a crucial role in your smoking experience, we always recommend looking into a hemp cultivar’s terpene profile. Terpene percentages give users a fantastic preview into a strain’s flavor and potency.

Does The Sativa vs. Indica Distinction Matter With Smokable Hemp?

Up to this point, we’ve been discussing the indica vs. sativa distinction for cannabis as a whole. While these distinctions still exist in hemp flowers, the contrasts aren’t as sharp as between marijuana strains.

Of course, hemp flowers naturally have low traces of THC, which means you won’t notice any psychotropic effects when smoking high-CBD buds. Instead, most users report a clear-headed sense of calm no matter what hemp strain they choose.

However, that doesn’t mean the indica or sativa lineage can’t influence a hemp strain’s effects. On average, most users find that sativa-leaning strains have a more uplifting effect that’s better suited for social occasions. By contrast, indicas tend to have a slightly sedating effect.

How Do I Choose Between Sativa vs. Indica Hemp Strains?

In general, people who are looking for a “pick-me-up” will have a greater chance of success with a sativa-dominant strain. On the flip side, people who need help de-stressing after a long day should start with indica cultivars. Of course, you could also opt for a 50:50 hybrid if you’d prefer a “middle-of-the-road” experience.

Just remember that the sativa vs. indica percentages can’t tell you everything about a strain. You should also look into the overall cannabinoid and terpene counts to get a clearer sense of how a strain will affect you.

To be on the safe side, please only try new strains at home when you have nothing planned. This way, you don’t have to worry if a strain makes you feel sleepy before heading out to work.

Sativas, Indicas, And Hybrids: We’ve Got It All On Organic CBD Nugs!

Although there have been some calls for reform, it’s unlikely the indica vs. sativa classification will go away anytime soon. Sure, this may not tell you everything about a strain, but it could give you a general overview of each cultivar’s effects and growing pattern.To suit everyone’s smoking preferences, Organic CBD Nugs now offers a plethora of sativa, indica, and hybrid hemp strains. For more details on each of our products, we encourage you to read the detailed profiles on our premium hemp strains. You could also look into our third-party lab results to get a clear picture of each strain’s cannabinoid and terpene levels.