Sativa, Indica or Hybrid? How Not to Strain Yourself When Choosing a Strain

One thing that makes cannabis so interesting is the different strains of indica, sativa and hybrids available. There’s something for everybody, no matter what you’re looking for, and the more you know, the easier it is for you to make a safe, well-informed choice.

There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a cannabis strain. When you visit your local dispensary, you might find yourself having to differentiate between indica, sativa, or a hybrid, which is how strains are usually categorized. But what are the differences between indica and sativa, and what difference does your choice of strain make? In reality, you should take claims about the general differences between indica and sativa with a grain of salt, as the ratios on the labels are far more informative than knowing the plant it came from. Before we go over why the sativa, indica, and hybrid categories are less relevant than you may have thought, let’s take a minute to talk about the biology of the plants—that’s right, we’re about to get canna-nerdy!

A Brief History of the Cannabis Plant: Origins and Traits

There’s actually some debate over the differences between cannabis sativa and cannabis indica, as some believe they are different species, or sub-species of the same plant. That said, there’s a lot we do know about these two plants, which are the only plants known to contain significant amounts of THC, the compound responsible for most of cannabis’s psychoactive effects. The strains you’ll find at your local dispensary will generally be either indica, sativa, or a hybrid of the two. But what are the major differences between these plants, and how can you tell them apart?

Cannabis sativa was the first species that westerners became aware of and was given its name by Carl Linnaeus in 1753. Best suited for hot, sunny conditions, the sativa plant has flourished in countries close to the equator. Its morphology gives a plant that is usually between 8 and 12 feet tall, but can grow up to 20 feet, and have long, skinny, finger-like leaves.

Cannabis indica, on the other hand, came to westerners’ attention 30 years later, in 1785, when Jean-Baptiste Lamarck published his description of the species. It was first found in India’s Hindu Kush mountains and other parts of South Asia. The main difference between indica and sativa is that the former is adapted to grow in a harsher environment, enduring cold winters and warm summers. So when it comes to the differences between indica and sativa, Canadian outdoor growers will likely have a much easier time growing indica plants in Canada’s temperate climate. Indica’s morphology gives a plant that is much shorter than sativa plants, typically growing only 3 to 4 feet tall, and they also have broader and darker leaves and a higher level of chlorophyll.

Hybrids have become the most common form of cannabis on the market; even strains that are described as indica or sativa are usually a mix. The cannabis we consume comes from the female plant—hybrids are created by cross-pollinating a male plant of one species with the female plant of the other. These hybrids can be bred for a wide variety of characteristics, but there are generally three kinds: sativa-dominant, indica-dominant, and balanced. Sativa-dominant strains are usually assumed to be more psychoactive and energy-boosting, whereas indica-dominant strains are supposedly more relaxing. Balanced strains usually show a relatively even mix of these traits.

Sativa, Indica, or Hybrid: What Does the Name Tell Us?

The effects of a particular strain of cannabis have more to do with its chemical composition—that is, the amount and ratio of THC vs CBD, as well as terpenes that give a strain its flavour and scent profiles—than with which species it came from. “The morphology of the plant has no correlation with its cannabinoid and terpene profile”

Generalizations about the differences between indica and sativa tend to be relatively inaccurate, and the CBD:THC ratio is likely to be more informative, especially if you combine that information with an understanding of the ganja’s terpene profile. Terpenes are what determine whether your bud has notes of musk, lemon, pine, or even gasoline! Figuring out which notes you like best and the CBD:THC ratio you prefer are key to choosing a strain, whether that strain is indica-dominant, sativa-dominant, or a blended hybrid.

Check out our comprehensive guide on the differences between THC and CBD for more information, and don’t forget to explore the rest of the page for other cool cannabis facts!

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