Indica and sativa differ in more ways than they are similar. Find out the unique characteristics of these two types of cannabis to gain insight into how best to grow, cultivate, and consume the plant.
The two major types or “classifications” of cannabis are indica and sativa, both of which have distinctive features and highs. For novices in the marijuana realm, learning exactly how indica and sativa contribute to the effects and benefits of different strains may not yet be clear. This guide, therefore, spotlights the differences between these two kinds of weed, which can be helpful for creating new strains and determining which variety to buy for your particular symptoms or recreational purposes.
Diverse Growing Environments
The ideal climate conditions for growing sativa plants and indica plants are not the same. For sativas, warm temperatures are optimal, such as Mexico, Africa, Brazil, or Thailand. Meanwhile, indicas mature better in colder climates, such as Turkey or Morocco.
Another aspect to consider is whether to grow the plants indoor or outdoor; the answer depends on which of the major classes of marijuana you want to grow. While indica plants are ideal for indoor growing, sativas are best grown outdoors.
Of course, as any good grower knows, you can modify genetics to create a hybrid of the two types that will do well in the chosen growing environment. For example, a sativa-dominant strain that will grow shorter than a pure-sativa would be great for an indoor grower with a low ceiling height.
Contrasting Appearances of Indicas and Sativas
The appearances of the two types of cannabis plants, when they are mature, are also quite different. Sativas are usually tall and slim in shape; their height can reach twenty feet or more. Most indicas, on the other hand, are short and bushy; they typically grow only three or four feet high.
The buds also differ; they are usually denser on indica plants than sativas, although sativa buds are typically the stickier of the two. As for the branches of the plants, sativas tend to be longer and more spread out than indica branches.
Regarding the leaves, indicas often have wider and broader leaves than sativas, as well as their leaves being a darker green color than the sativa variety of marijuana. As for the leaves of hybrids, which form the majority of plants grown and cultivated, they can have either leaf shape or be a combination of the two.
The Nose Knows: Different Cannabis Smells
Did you know that fresh sativa buds are typically much more pungent in smell than indicas? Sativas can smell sweet and fruity, or floral, and can even have hints of a fuel-like smell. Indicas, by contrast, often smell earthy and musty; some users go so far as to describe the aroma as being similar to a skunk.
But, there are exceptions to the rule, as with most things. Some indicas can have sweet smells, for example, while some sativas are pungent.
Indica vs. Sativa: Maturing Time & Yield
The amount of time it takes for the cannabis plant to flower, before it is time to harvest, is another characteristic worthy of comparison between the two. Sativa plants take longer to mature or produce buds than indicas because they have less chlorophyll.
Indicas characteristically have a flowering time of 45-60 days, while sativas take 60-90 days to finish blooming. However, sativa strains usually require less time in the vegetative growth stage then indicas, so the overall grow time is roughly the same overall.
As for the yield that each kind of cannabis plant produces, sativas tend to produce less than indica strains. A typical sativa produces three ounces to one pound per plant, while an indica yield is usually between 1.5 to 2.5 ounces each. That being said, sativas are generally more potent than indicas.
By cross-breeding indicas and sativas, you can create hybrid strains that grow and mature in shorter amounts of time or produce a higher yield, according to the needs and wants of of marijuana users.
Effects of Sativas vs. Indicas
While sativa and indica strains both produce highs, the kinds of highs are quite distinct from one another. The differing effects are due to varying levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) in each strain.
Sativas generally produce more THC than indicas, while indicas produce more CBD than sativas. There are some exceptions, though, as crossing strains can change the expected effects; this means that sometimes a sativa can be high in CBD and an indica can have high levels of THC.
Usually, indica and sativa buds both have stimulating effects but indicas are more about achieving a relaxed feeling than sativas. For indicas, the high typically involves deep body relaxation and couch lock.
For sativas, the high is the opposite; it is cerebral, uplifting, and can encourage creativity. An alternative way to explain the different effects between the two main varieties of weed is to say that sativa buds produce a high that is concentrated “in the head” while the high of indica buds is more of a strong body buzz.
So, while indicas would likely be chosen to help relieve stress and improve sleep quality, sativas would be selected by someone who wants to participate in an intense conversation or to write lyrics for a song. It makes sense, then, that sativas are best consumed during the day while indicas are optimal at nighttime, and that sativas tend to be the first choice of artists. As for stoners, they are more likely to pick indicas for the deep phase of relaxation that is achievable while on the high.
It follows that choosing a balanced hybrid (50 percent sativa and 50 percent indica) can give you the best of both worlds. Alternately, select a strain that has more indica qualities than sativa, or vice versa, to get a blend that provides the desired benefits.
Contrasting Benefits for the Body and Mind
Indica-dominant weed strains help with pain relief and are often taken as a remedy for insomnia. Usually, this type of strain is consumed by medical patients at night or just before bed. Indicas can relax muscles and ease body pain, as well as relieve spasms, anxiety, stress, headaches, and migraines.
In contrast, the distinct benefits of sativas are that they energize, stimulate, improve focus, combat depression, encourage creativity, and nurture feelings of wellness within the self. Given these typical benefits, sativas are commonly used to treat mental and behavioral issues like depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The sedative properties of sativas are due to their high CBD:THC ratio. Meanwhile, indicas have a high THC:CBD ratio, which makes them the better of the two kinds at combatting nausea and chronic pain.
Ruderalis: A Third Type of Cannabis
While indica and sativa are the two main classifications of cannabis, a third one you may have heard of is ruderalis or “autoflowering”. Its most distinguishable characteristic is the ability to flower based on the individual age of the plant. Once it flowers, it can reproduce.
The plant continues to flower until the environment interjects to stop it in some way, such as the occurrence of winter. This feature is different than indica and sativa, both of which die after finishing reproduction. For this reason, ruderalis can often provide a yield for even a first-time grower.
In general, ruderalis strains are high in CBD. Appearance-wise, the ruderalis plant is smaller than sativas or indicas. Ruderalis is uncultivated and does well in harsh regions; it originates from the central parts of Asia and Europe, as well as Russia.
Indica or Sativa? Choosing the Right Strain for You
Hybrids are much more common than pure-indicas, and pure-sativas. By knowing the ways that they differ from one other, you can decide whether to get a plant or strain that is more sativa than indica, more indica than sativa, or has a 50/50 balance between the two. Ultimately, you want to choose a strain that is bred to produce the effects and benefits that you seek.
You will also want to take into consideration the growing location of the plant and its flowering time, if you are a grower. Growing indoors in a small apartment, for example, will only be suitable for plants that are shorter (indica-dominant) rather than taller (sativa-dominant) when they are mature.
As you can tell by now, sativas are, in many ways, the opposite of indicas. Of course, these differences can blur when playing with genetics. It is also important to realize that the exact effects and benefits produced depends on the individual user; differences can exist between people in exactly how they react to indicas and sativas.