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What are the difference between Indica and Sativa cannabis?

Indica and sativa cannabis have some crucial differences. Read on for an in-depth look at indica vs. sativa varieties, and how you can tell them apart.

To those in the cannabis community, the indica vs. sativa discussion seems never-ending. But what do genetics really tell us about a cannabis plant’s physical traits, effects, and flavours?

  • 1. Understanding cannabis taxonomy
  • 2. What are the differences between indica and sativa?
  • 3. Cannabis sativa
  • 4. Cannabis indica
  • 5. Do indica and sativa produce different effects?
  • 6. Custom blends of indica and sativa
  • 7. Indica vs. Sativa: much more than meets the eye
  • 1. Understanding cannabis taxonomy
  • 2. What are the differences between indica and sativa?
  • 3. Cannabis sativa
  • 4. Cannabis indica
  • 5. Do indica and sativa produce different effects?
  • 6. Custom blends of indica and sativa
  • 7. Indica vs. Sativa: much more than meets the eye


To better understand the differences between indica and sativa, it helps to first take a more general look at the taxonomy of cannabis.

Cannabis was first classified by Carl Linnaeus in the 1750s. Linnaeus believed the genus to be monotypic (containing only one species), which he named Cannabis sativa L. Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, made this classification by working with hemp plants, which were widely cultivated across Europe at the time.

In 1785, French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck published a description of another species of cannabis, which differed from Linnaeus’ variety. Lamarck called this species Cannabis indica Lam., noting that it produced significantly poorer fibres, but worked better as an inebriant. His description was based on plants he had collected in India.

In the 20th century, Russian botanist D. E. Janichevsky identified a third variety of cannabis growing natively in Russia, which we now know as Cannabis ruderalis. In the 1970s, taxonomists and botanists once again tried to figure out how to best classify the cannabis plant.

While there’s still some discussion surrounding the proper taxonomy of indica, sativa, and ruderalis, scientists believe that there are enough notable differences between the cannabis varieties to warrant their recognition as three separate species. For the purpose of this article, we’ll only focus on indica and sativa varieties.


The most obvious differences between indica and sativa are in their physical traits. American botanist Richard E. Schultes and a team of researchers describe sativa and indica as follows:

  • Sativa: Tall and laxly branched with narrow leaves
  • Indica: Shorter with a conical shape and wider leaves

The stark differences between indica and sativa can be explained by looking at their geographic origins. Below, we’ll take a closer look at the many differences between sativa and indica.


Cannabis sativa is native to warmer, tropical climates and can be found growing naturally in Thailand, Vietnam, Colombia, Mexico, and even parts of Africa.

In order to deal with the long, hot, and humid summers, sativa plants adapted by growing tall, with larger internodal spacing, wispy buds, and narrower leaves. This naturally helps the plants stay protected against the high humidity in these areas and threats like mould or pests.

Because sativa plants tend to be taller, they are typically better suited for outdoor growing. They do particularly well in warm, tropical climates with long summers.

SATIVA / characteristics
SATIVA / characteristics


Indica plants, on the other hand, are native to colder, dryer, mountainous regions like those in Nepal, India, and other areas of the Indian subcontinent where summers are colder and shorter. To deal with these conditions, Cannabis indica developed shorter flowering times and denser foliage and buds.

Thanks to their smaller stature and shorter flowering phase, indica plants are perfectly suited for indoor cultivation. They can easily be manipulated using training techniques and tend to produce nice, thick buds with a lot of “bag appeal”. Thanks to their flowering speed, indica plants also allow some growers to produce multiple harvests over a shorter amount of time

INDICA / characteristics
INDICA / characteristics


Besides their morphological differences, the cannabis community also tells sativa and indica strains apart based on their effects. Cannabis media company Herb, for example, describes [1] the effects of sativa weed as “as invigorating as a cup of coffee”, whereas indica weed acts “like a sleeping pill”. In fact, almost the entire cannabis community agrees that sativa strains are uplifting and energising, while indica strains are powerfully sedative.

But where did this consensus come from? Are the effects of sativa and indica weed really so different? Well, some experts say there is no basis for using the terms indica and sativa to describe the effects of cannabis.

In 2016, the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research published an interview with Dr. Ethan Russo, Director of Research and Development at the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute (ICCI). In this interview [2] , Russo says, “it’s impossible for terms like indica and sativa to really give us any idea of the chemicals in a particular plant and, therefore, the effects it will produce”.

In a print edition of High Times, Rev. Dr. Kymron deCesare, Chief Research Officer at Steep Hill Laboratory in California, made a similar argument. He claims that indica and sativa can’t tell us much more about a plant than its physical characteristics.


Most of the cannabis varieties you’ll find on the market today are hybrids with both sativa and indica genetics. Our expert breeders at Royal Queen Seeds, for example, use specialised breeding techniques to produce strains with unique traits such as shorter flowering times, specific flavours, and more.

Besides the physical differences between indica and sativa, some research also suggests that the two varieties may contain different concentrations of terpenes, which could be another factor in why they produce different effects. For example, some sources pin the characteristic sedative quality of “heavy indica” cannabis strains on a high concentration of myrcene.

Myrcene is a terpene found in many plants, including hops, thyme, lemongrass, mango, cardamom, and, of course, cannabis. It’s said to give off an earthy, slightly peppery smell, and, in high concentrations, is thought to give some cannabis strains that uniquely sleepy effect.

Besides looking at individual compounds like terpenes and cannabinoids, it’s also important to consider how these compounds might interact with each other and thereby alter our experience with cannabis. The potential of the chemical constituents in cannabis to interact with each other is what the world’s foremost cannabis researchers refer to as “the entourage effect”.


In this article, we hope to have cleared up some of the myths surrounding the differences between indica and sativa. While there are clear morphological differences between pure indica and pure sativa strains, the rest of the distinctions are harder to pin down, and involve a lot more than just genetics. Still, the indica and sativa categories have allowed the cannabis community to develop a language by which to classify and differentiate this fascinating plant.

There are many misconceptions regarding the differences between indica and sativa cannabis. Click here for all you need to know about indica and sativa weed.

Indica vs. Sativa: What’s the difference, how to identify them and which is better for you

Whether you’re talking with a doctor about a medical marijuana recommendation or just stepping into a recreational pot shop for the first time, weed experts want to make sure you’re clear on one particular fact: Not all bud is created equal.В

If it’s your first time in a dispensary, the budtender will typically ask, “Do you prefer sativa or indica?” Don’t be intimidated by these exotic-sounding words — this isn’t more complicated than anything you learned in high school biology, and it doesn’t hurt to know a little more about the drug you’re smoking, vapingВ or eating. So here we go.

Sativa and indica are two different species В В

The stuff we call “marijuana” generally refers to the two species of cannabis most often cultivated by humans. These would beВ Cannabis sativaВ and Cannabis indica

Cannabis in general has no fossil record to speak of, so it’s difficult to determine where the progenitor of sativa and indica originated, but it likely evolved on the Eurasian land mass, perhapsВ in Central Asia, and various civilizations spread it around the world.В

Today we know that sativas thrive in tropical places, including Central America and Southeast Asia. Indicas have done well in some rockier, colder climates; the infamous “kush” strains are so named because such cannabis plants grow natively in the Hindu Kush mountains that span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. В

Even at a glance, you’ll notice that the plants look strikingly different: Sativa can grow up to 20 feet tallВ if given enough room, with its branches and leaves spread out a bit, while indica is much shorter and bush-like, with more densely crowded leaves.В

Because the indica species is shorter, cultivators consider indica plants better-suited to indoor growing — a relatively new development. Outlaw cannabis growers were forced to go underground in the ’70s and ’80s.

The leaves of each plant are somewhat similar; both have the recognizable star shape emblazoned on everything from regulated weed products to hats and T-shirts.В

But on closer inspection, you’ll see that sativa leaves — rather like the plant itself — are long and skinny, whereas an indica’s leaves are short and squat, similar to the plant’s overall compactness.В

Another difference: the sativa buds are long and sausage-shaped, while indica buds are dense and bulbous, which makes it possible to tell the buds apart even after growers harvest the plants.В

Finally, indica is a faster-flowering, taking about 45 to 60 days to reach mature bloom, whereas sativas can take 60 to 90 days to do the same.В

Sativa effects vs. indica effects

Sativa and indica have distinctive chemical compositions, leading many to assume the two species produce different kinds of highs. (In fact, analyzing the plants’ “fingerprints” is in part how scientists confirmed the two-species concept.)

AВ 2004 studyВ found that indicaВ had, on average, higher levels of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol — the psychoactive compound in weed that gets you high. Plants with “relatively high levels” of similar cannabinoid compounds were common only to indica, the authors also wrote.В

Budtenders will often introduce the two species to consumers by describing how each works on the body and brain. The typical line is that sativas bring on a cerebral, energizing head rush, perfect for daytime and active engagement, and indica is better for pain relief, body buzz or simple relaxation.В

Unfortunately, the truth is a lot more complicated. Back in 2013, cannabis researcher Jeffrey RaberВ challenged “theВ misperception that indica will put you to sleep or that sativa is more energetic” by testing the weed sold in pot shops and showing that much of the categorization system and particular strain names were altogether arbitrary.В

A 2015 Canadian study confirmed his hunch, demonstrating that sativas and indicas could be nearly identical at the genome level. And as High TimesВ pointed out that same year, weed labeled “sativa” has been known to induce the so-called “indica” high, and vice versa. According toВ High Times,В “These terms should only be used to help describe lineage, growth patterns and development and geographic or climatic regions of origin” — matters of pure taxonomy.

Weed labeled “sativa” has been known to induce the so-called “indica” high, and vice versa.

Further confusing the issue is the increasing popularityВ ofВ hybrid sativa-indica strains as breeders try to fuse the best aspects of both plants, and the reality of everyone’s individual reactions to the same type of marijuana, depending on a host of external factors. Then, of course, there are subtle variations between individual plants of the same general strain.В

All in all, anyone who predicts a batch of pot’s specific effects with certainty based solely on its pedigree is probably oversimplifying a bit. It’s one thing to say that your weed is especially potent — high levels of THC guarantee that — but when it comes to extrapolating particular effects from a plant’s profile, the science isn’t quite there yet.

Sativa vs. indica: Which is right for me? В

Once you cut through all the stoner myths, it seems that the sativa-vs.-indica distinction isn’t all that useful for determining which kind of marijuanaВ will meet your needs. In a sense, it’s a trial and error process. В

Instead of getting hung up on the two species’ supposed effects, you might try strains with varying ratios of THC to CBD, or cannabidiol, another compound that has little psychoactive effect, that appears to provide medical benefits and may even curtail the high from THC.В

Because we have a good sense of how these cannabinoids differ and are metabolized, considering ratios of CBD to THC instead of a bud’s hereditary profile will help usВ better anticipate a plant’s potential effects.В

You can also experiment with delivery systems: Smoking, vaping, dabbing or eating weed products can create differentВ effects as well. From the strength of the high to how long it lasts, changing how you ingest THC will deliver a different kind of high. Again, it all depends on the person, and what works for someone else may not be best for you.

Still, you could develop a preference for indica strains over sativa, or sativa over indica. You may even come to feel that one species really does tend to pull you in a preferable direction. What’s important is that you recognize (and remember) which does what — and where you want to go. The main thing to note is that despite the sales pitches, they’ve got more in common than not. В В В

Whether you’re talking with a doctor about a medical marijuana recommendation or just stepping into a recreational pot shop for the first time, weed experts want to make sure you’re clear on one particular fact: Not all bud is created equal.В If…