From couch-lock to pain relief, what is cannabis indica and how it helps people chill out and feel better.
Puff, puff, pass. But what kind of weed are you smoking? You may not realize that how you feel when you light up is dependent on what sub-species of weed is rolled up in that joint or packed into that bowl. If you feel bouncy and creative after toking it up, you probably smoked cannabis that was a sativa-dominant strain. If you felt heavy and sleepy, it was likely an indica-dominant strain. Think of sativas as being the espresso of the cannabis world, while indicas are like a sleeping pill.
It’s the latter of these two that we’re going to examine here. What is the indica species of cannabis? How is it different from sativa? What are its side effects? Why does it make people feel the way it does?
What Is Cannabis Indica?
The name “indica” first came from Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, a French naturalist. In the late 1700’s, hemp was grown in Europe, where it was harvested and used to make things such as fabric for ship sails. These hemp plants were known as cannabis sativa. In 1785, Lamarck discovered that there was a different kind of cannabis plant growing in India—one that created a euphoric high when smoked or consumed. He wanted to differentiate these intoxicating plants from the European hemp plants. Lamarck gave the Indian plants the name “cannabis indica” in order to set them apart.
Today, cannabis sativa is still the name of the species of low-THC plant from which we get hemp fiber, hempseed oil, and other such products. Meanwhile, high-THC cannabis sativa plants produce the flowers that are known for their hallucinogenic “head” high. This differentiates sativa from the more relaxed, sedative high of cannabis indica.
How Does Indica Make You Feel?
Let’s talk more about the different kind of high that people get from indica versus sativa. As opposed to the cerebral high one gets from sativa, consuming cannabis indica gives what many people describe as more of a “body” high. Indica’s effects are relaxing and calming. Experienced smokers often suggest that beginners try a small amount of indica in order to avoid the potential for paranoia and anxiety that sometimes comes from cannabis newbies trying a sativa.
Marijuana rookies should also take care with indicas, however. Some indica strains are incredibly strong and can produce such extreme relaxation that they cause a condition known as “couch lock.” When this happens, the person is so high, woozy, and sedated that they find themselves completely unable to get up and move around until the effects begin to wear off.
While a strong indica’s extremely sedating effect may be unwanted during the day, this makes them very helpful strains to consume at night. Indicas are very popular among those with insomnia.
Does Cannabis Indica Have Medical Benefits?
Indica is useful for much more than insomnia, however. Strains that are indica dominant are excellent for the following conditions:
Indicas work well to reduce pain levels. They’re especially helpful for people with chronic pain who wish to avoid taking opioid painkillers over the longterm. Indica-dominant strains are a popular cannabis treatment for people with painful conditions such as cancer and fibromyalgia.
The indica “body high” means that it is an exceptional muscle relaxer, or antispasmodic. It’s a helpful treatment for those with diseases like multiple sclerosis—diseases that cause painful muscle spasms.
Certain strains of cannabis can help reduce or control seizures. This effect is less dependent on the strain being indica- or sativa-dominant; what matters is the CBD content (which we’ll discuss in more detail later in this article).
Indica’s pain-relieving properties make it a wonderful headache remedy, particularly for people who suffer from migraines.
Due to their calming effects, indica-dominant strains are highly suggested for those who deal with anxiety and panic attacks.
How Does Indica Affect the Body the Way It Does?
It’s all about the cannabinoids. Well, it’s mostly about the cannabinoids. Let me explain.
Cannabinoids are the active ingredients in marijuana. There are at least 113 different cannabinoids, and they are what causes cannabis to have various effects on the brain and body. These cannabinoids plug into cannabinoid receptors in our brains, mimicking our natural brain chemicals to create effects such as euphoria and pain relief.
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is one of the best-known cannabinoids. It’s the ingredient in marijuana that makes users feel happy and high. It’s also excellent at providing benefits such as pain relief. THC, in particular, is responsible for much of indica’s wonderful pain-relieving effects.
Many indica-dominant marijuana strains have extremely high levels of THC. Because THC is known for causing extreme euphoria and even agitation, this fails to explain why these indica strains can still cause users to feel sedated and relaxed. That’s because THC is only one part of the puzzle. Enter CBD and all of the other cannabinoids.
It seems that different cannabinoids have different effects on the body. While THC has psychoactive effects, CBD doesn’t create a euphoric high. CBD works well in calming anxiety and panic attacks. It’s also good for controlling seizures, making CBD-rich strains helpful for people with epilepsy. CBD oil is frequently used in children with Dravet syndrome, a condition that develops in infancy and causes debilitating seizures. Researchers have also discovered that CBD can counteract the psychoactive effects of THC.
That last piece of information is interesting, because it means that not only do cannabinoids have different individual effects, but they also affect one another when combined at various ratios. Researchers call this the “Entourage Effect.” This is why someone can toke a nice indica and feel calm, rather than spaced-out and anxious—because many indicas also have high levels of CBD. If the THC to CBD ratio is right, the CBD will diminish the effect of the THC.
In fact, people who need to take high doses of THC for medical purposes can combine them with CBD in order to avoid being groggy and spaced out. Scientists have found that a 1:1 THC to CBD ratio works best for medicinal purposes.
Cannabinoids aren’t the only players in the game, however. Another factor in why indica works the way it does is its terpenes. Also known as terpenoids, these compounds are what give plants their flavonoid and aromatic properties. If you enjoy dabbing on a bit of eucalyptus or lavender essential oil, the scent that uplifts or calms you is due to that plant’s terpenes.
While terpenes create different scents, they also affect the body in different ways. Myrcene, for instance, is an analgesic and anti-inflammatory that has a relaxing, sedative effect. Pinene is another anti-inflammatory terpene that, like CBD, helps counteract the effects of THC. Geraniol is a terpene that researchers believe may be helpful in treating neuropathy.
The cannabinoids in various strains of marijuana likely work in combination with the terpenes to create various effects in the body. As more research is done, scientists and doctors will better be able to isolate each chemical and understand how they work—both individually and as a cannabis chemical “entourage.”
In addition to all of the above, keep in mind that different species and strains of cannabis will have different effects on different people due to the fact that no one’s brain chemistry is the same. Another factor at play? The method of delivery. Someone who smokes a particular indica strain may have an entirely different experience than someone who vaporizes it or consumes it via an edible treat. The moral of this cannabis story is that adding different ingredients and factors into the chemical cocktail will always create different results. Until more definitive studies are done on cannabis and its ingredients, the best way to find an ideal strain, delivery method and dosage for your personality or medical condition is through trial and error.
Differences Between Indica and Sativa Plants
Cannabis indica doesn’t just behave differently than sativa when it’s ingested; it also looks different as it’s growing. Unlike sativa (which can grow to 20 feet high if planted outdoors), indica plants typically stay at less than 5 feet tall and tend to grow well indoors. Their leaves are wide and their branches grow closely together, giving them a dense, bushy appearance. This sets them apart from sativa plants, which have long, narrow leaves and a loose arrangement of branches. Indica plants typically grow for 6 to 8 weeks before they’re ready for harvest—much faster than sativa’s 9- to 12-week growing time.
Once they’re harvested, the terpenes in the fresh indica flowers make them smell different from sativa bud. Indica tends to smell more pungent, skunky, and musty while sativa strains are often described as sweet, fruity, and floral. Meanwhile, the smoke from indicas tastes sweet and fruity while when smoked, sativas have a more earthy flavour.
Cannabis Isn’t All-or-Nothing
Euphoric and energetic or sleepy and relaxed? The great thing about cannabis species is that users don’t have to choose pure indica versus pure sativa. Whether you’re consuming cannabis for recreational or medical purposes, hybrid strains can help you get the best of both worlds. Indica-dominant hybrids have a certain percentage of sativa bred in so that you can get a relaxing, calming sensation while also enjoying feeling a bit giggly and being able to stay awake.
It can be tough to know what kind of strain you’re getting based on its name, but a general rule of thumb is that any name that ends in “Kush” tends to be an indica, while names that end in “Haze” are sativa-dominant. Hindu Kush, for instance, is a popular indica strain. It makes users feel extremely relaxed and is great for relieving stress, but it’s pretty strong and tends to cause couch-lock. With so many creative names or hybrid strains out there these days, you’ll probably still need to do your research in order to educate yourself about what you’re getting, but if all else fails, “Kush” will guide you towards a more calming strain.
Keep in mind that cannabinoid/terpene “Entourage Effect,” however. Be especially aware of the THC and CBD content if you’re a rookie; beginner smokers should start with strains that have a lower percentage of THC. Remember that you never know how a strain will effect you until you try a bit of it first. Whenever you try anything new, remember to always start slow, give it time, and be safe!