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Indica vs. Sativa: What's the Difference Between Cannabis Types?

Indica vs. Sativa: What's the Difference Between Cannabis Types?

So, what’s in your cannabis vape pen? Is it “Sativa THC” or “indica THC”? Which one gives you a better experience between indica vs sativa? Which type is more uplifting or relaxing than the other?

These are some of the questions in the mind of a first-time marijuana user trying to figure out their favorite variety. Determining the differences between various sativa and indica strains helps to pick a product with the best medical or recreational outcomes. Keep in mind that the chemical composition of each strain (rather than just the plant type) determines its ultimate effect.

In this article, we cover the factors that help to differentiate between cannabis sativa and cannabis indica. We also provide suggestions for picking your favorite cannabis strain!

Characteristics of Cannabis Sativa

Different cannabis strains usually differ in their physical appearances, so growers can differentiate them by just looking. Sativas are generally taller than indicas (they can grow as high as 20 feet). They have long and narrow leaves. The plants originally came from South East Asia, Central America, and other regions with warm climates.


The sativa variety takes from 9 to 12 weeks to mature. It tends to have a light floral or sweet scent.

Characteristics of Cannabis Indica

Indicas are stout plants with broad leaves. They may have originated from countries with colder climates like India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. This cannabis subspecies is ready for harvest in 6 to 8 weeks. Indica buds tend to have a pungent aroma, though.

The Difference in Therapeutic and Psychological Effects

Both indica vs sativa strains have a broad range of recreational and medical uses. But are their effects the same? Or does each subspecies have a unique chemical composition? These are the critical issues we’re examining below.


Many experienced cannabis users and budtenders believe that sativas trigger a refreshing feeling in the brain. After using the cannabis subspecies, these users claim to gain an uplifting cerebral effect that goes well with physical activity, social engagements, and creative works. In other words, sativas deliver a stronger “high,” and they affect the brain the most.


On the other hand, indicas are said to have a calming effect. They affect the entire body, not just the brain. They’re not usually associated with a revitalizing psychological “high,” according to many users and budtenders.


There’s another category though, hybrids. These are indica-sativa crossbreeds that usually capture the best characteristics of the two subspecies.


So, should you go straight to a cannabis dispensary and buy a sativa if all you want is a “head high?” The answer to this question is not a straightforward yes or no!


For starters, there’s no guarantee that all sativas are invigorating, and all indicas are sedating. When you examine the chemical composition of most indicas and sativas, you won’t see a clear pattern to explain the suggested sharp differences in the effects of each subspecies.

One reason for the lack of clarity is that each cannabis plant may have a unique effect depending on the cultivation method used. As such, there may be varying outcomes even among plants of the same subspecies.


That means you can’t rule out the possibility of an indica strain having a more uplifting effect than a sativa one. Therefore, a more specific selection criterion is required here (beyond the primary sativa/indica classifications). 


The good news is that there’s a better way for consumers to find what they want when shopping for cannabis products. It’s as simple as reviewing the product description that the grower or dispensary provides.


Focus on the chemical ingredients of the product on display because those determine the effect you may expect from using it.

Distinguishing Cannabis Indica vs Sativa Products by Ingredients

The main compounds that influence the overall effect of each cannabis strain are:


Cannabinoids are responsible for the medicinal and recreational properties of marijuana plants. There are dozens of these chemicals in each plant. Your options are:

THC-dominant strains

These products have a high concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC—the high-inducing compound in marijuana. Buy these if you’re after a euphoric experience. The strains have been seen to be useful with pain, anxiety, and depression management. However, avoid them if all you want are benefits without any side-effects.

CBD-dominant strains

The predominant ingredient in these sativa/indica varieties is cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive substance. The level of THC in them is relatively low, so they usually won’t give you a “high.” Their medical uses include pain relief, seizure prevention, and migraine management. Generally, CBD-dominant sativa or indica strains have no intoxicating side effects.

THC/CBD varieties

Try these if you feel adventurous enough to sample small doses of euphoria and symptom relief. The products tend to have a fair balance between THC and CBD concentrations. The cannabis “high” in them isn’t too overwhelming for novice consumers.


Terpenes are natural marijuana compounds too. They’re responsible for various cannabis aromas that experienced consumers can quickly pick out.


However, researchers are discovering that terpenes in both c.sativa and c.indica plants have a more important role than previously thought. These compounds appear to play a significant part in the production of the revitalizing and sedating effects.



So, how can you select the perfect indica vs sativa strain based on its terpenes composition? Experience with cannabis aromas is the best teacher here. For starters, get to know common terpenes found in the marijuana plant, such as limonene and myrcene.



If you’re buying in a physical dispensary and you can smell the products, sample a few unique aromas. With time, you can build your knowledge of cannabis terpenes and cannabinoids to guide you in selecting the best strain.

Final Thoughts

In the search for the best cannabis strain, consumers should look beyond the sativa and indica classifications. They should consider the chemical composition specific to each strain before buying. The THC and CBD concentrations in each product will determine its overall effectiveness.



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