What’s the difference between the indica and sativa strains?
Everyone has a favorite strain of cannabis. Maybe it’s your go-to for watching a movie at home, or there’s a specific strain you like to smoke before heading outside and doing something active. But what causes these subtle differences in our perception and response to different strains of cannabis? Cannabis is an extremely complex plant with many different variables that can affect how each strain makes you feel.
The Cannabis Family
Let’s start at the top. The cannabis plant can be split up into three subspecies – cannabis sativa, cannabis indica, and cannabis ruderalis. Cannabis ruderalis is smaller than its relatives and provides relatively few medical benefits or THC, the compound that makes you feel ‘high’ when smoking cannabis. For this reason, the cannabis industry focuses its attention on the other two plants, sativa and indica.
You’ve probably heard these two words a lot if you’ve popped into a dispensary or have a passing interest in the cannabis industry. So what’s the difference between the two?
Cannabis sativa is taller and thinner than the other two subspecies, with thin, pointed leaves. They can reach heights of over 12 feet and thus may take a little longer to mature. Sativas are known to the public as being a ‘daytime’ strain – they provide a head high, can improve your alertness, energy, creativity, and mood. These are the strains you consume before doing something active or when you need a creative spark. Some of the sativas you may have seen at Seed & Smith include Tango, Buddha Tahoe OG, and Super Sour Lemon.
Cannabis Indica on the other hand, is smaller and stubbier than its sativa counterpart. The leaves themselves are noticeably broader than those of the sativa plant. Because of its small stature, this plant is quicker to grow and produces more buds of flower. Indicas are commonly known for their deep, relaxing effects, making it ideal for nighttime use. Many people use indicas for full body relaxation, as a sleep aid, and for pain relief. This is due to the higher ratio of CBD:THC compared to sativas. These strains are good for relaxing at home, as a nightcap, or when the old knee pain pops up again. Some of the most popular indicas you can find at Seed & Smith are Kush Mints, Purple Punch, and Motorbreath.
While cannabis is a naturally occurring plant, most of the strains you find in your local dispensary have been cross bred, genetically modified, and manipulated over the years into the strains you see today. The hybrids are usually a cross between an indica and a sativa, and thus can exhibit traits of both types of cannabis. Hybrids can lean one way or the other – for example there are indica-dominant and sativa-dominant hybrids; or they can be true hybrids, strains that are an even mix of indica and sativa. Some of our most popular hybrids at Seed & Smith are Purple Trainwreck, Original Glue, and Strawnana.
Compounds and Terpenes
Many people have heard of THC and CBD; these are the two most widely known compounds found in the cannabis plant and have found their way into common terminology in the cannabis industry, even for casuals. But there are dozens of other compounds that you may not know about; in fact, cannabis has over 480 natural components, of which 66 have been classified as “cannabinoids’, or chemicals unique to the plant. These individual cannabinoids all have different effects; some such as CBN and CBDL have a psychoactive component like THC. Other cannabinoids like CBG and CBC are non-psychoactive yet have other medicinal uses such as to help reduce anxiety and inflammation, and treat depression and glaucoma.
Terpenes are yet another class of compounds found in the cannabis plant. These are mainly responsible for the smells and tastes you find when consuming cannabis. They are completely non-psychoactive and are very different from the other cannabinoids discussed earlier. In fact, unlike cannabinoids, terpenes can be found everywhere. They are produced in various plants, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices all around the world and are recognized as safe by the FDA, and even beneficial to both plant and human health! The specific terpenes and the quantity in which they appear can vary from strain to strain, giving certain strains those unique flavors or smells that we are accustomed to.
As you can imagine, the sheer number of combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes is huge. And these different combinations can affect the way the strain of cannabis makes us feel, just like the differences between a sativa and an indica. Although they are non-psychoactive on their own, terpenes interact with other cannabinoids synergistically in order to enhance and produce physiological and cerebral effects through the entourage effect. These synergistic interactions can vary vastly depending on the combinations and volume of terpenes present in a particular strain of cannabis. Pretty cool! We will delve into the entourage effect in much further detail in part two of this series.
Choosing a Strain
Choosing a favorite or go-to strain can be a long journey. After all, there are so many choices that it can get overwhelming. A good, instinctual rule of thumb is to trust your nose. You might have heard before, “the nose knows best,” from a fellow cannabis enthusiast or even a budtender. In part two of this series, this saying will become a bit more relevant as we delve further into terpene composition.
Choosing a favorite marijuana strain is also a highly personalized process. Each strain of cannabis can affect individuals differently. It can be difficult to know what effects a particular strain will produce before consumption, so we recommend starting with a small amount, seeing how you feel, and going from there.
At Seed & Smith, we are dedicated to educating the community about cannabis. As a founding member of Leaf411, we’re proud to offer our customers with an additional resource for cannabis education from established medical experts. You can also schedule a tour with us to see how your cannabis is grown, harvested, processed, extracted, and packaged in person. When the tour is over, you’ll find yourself in our Marketplace where you can get advice from our expert cannabis associates about which strain of cannabis might help you become the best you!