Your guide to cannabis sativa and the “head high”; Everything you ever wanted to know about this energy-boosting cannabis species.
If you walk into any weed shop and talk to the budtender about the kind of high you’d like. They’re likely to suggest specific strains to you based on whether or not those strains are an indica or a sativa.
What do those terms mean? And is it just a bunch of marijuana marketing? Is there really a difference? If so, why would you choose one over the other?
In this article, let’s dive into the world of sativa-dominant marijuana strains, what they are, and what they do. The next time you purchase seeds or chat with your friends or your local budtender, you’ll be a bit more informed on what’s what.
What is Cannabis Sativa?
Let’s start with the basics. Cannabis sativa is the scientific name for the plant from which we get hemp: hemp fiber, hempseed, and other hemp ingredients. Industrial hemp is a different subspecies of cannabis sativa than the one from which we get the intoxicating flowers.
Hemp plants are very low in THC and therefore useless for getting anyone high. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the ingredient in cannabis that’s responsible for its euphoric high. We’ll discuss more about the effects of THC a bit later in this article.
For smokers, it’s the THC-laden subspecies of sativa that’s the most interesting. This is where the bud comes from that provides people with the characteristic sativa “head” high. That’s the effect that’s most often associated with smoking a sativa. Simply put, people who want a cerebral high smoke sativas and people who want a body high smoke indica, the other species of cannabis.
What Are the Effects of Sativa?
For those who don’t understand what we mean by “head” high, think of smoking sativa as an infusion of creative energy. While indica strains make people feel calm and relaxed, sativa makes them want to get off of the couch, clean, paint, dance, create something, or do something constructive.
Sativas create a more hallucinogenic high that you feel in your head, rather than in your body. They are uplifting and provide lots of energy. Because of this, most fans of sativa recommend using them during the day when you’re up and about, as they may interrupt your ability to settle down and sleep at night.
General cannabis knowledge states that beginner tokers and people who are prone to feeling anxious when they smoke should avoid strong sativas and find a nice, mild indica or a strain that’s indica-dominant. The latter will sedate them and relax the body rather than amping the mind up and sending thoughts racing.
Medical Benefits of Cannabis Sativa
Because sativa has very specific effects, it’s useful for particular medical problems. Here are just a few of the diseases and ailments that sativa can help ease:
Sativa-dominant strains of marijuana are useful for individuals with ADHD because while they provide energy, they also increase focus, allowing them greater concentration to get tasks done.
Because sativa uplifts the mood and puts you at ease, it’s also a helpful treatment for depression.
Patients with cancer and anorexia struggle with nausea and an overall lack of appetite. Sativas work as a wonderful, all-natural way to stimulate the appetite.
Why Does Sativa Work the Way It Does?
The truth of the matter is that scientists aren’t yet sure. Here’s what we do know, though.
The first item of note with sativas is their cannabinoid content. Cannabinoids are the active ingredients within marijuana, THC being the most famous one because it’s the chemical that makes people feel euphoric, trippy, and high.
Next to THC, CBD is the cannabinoid found in the highest concentrations. CBD is non-psychoactive and actually counteracts the psychoactive effects of THC. Think of it as the calming cannabinoid.
Many sativas tend to have a high CBD to THC ratio.
But wait: THC creates the energetic, mind high that sativas are known for. If the CBD in them counteracts this, how do sativa smokers still get that kind of “head” high?
To answer this, we look to something called terpenes (otherwise known as terpenoids). These are the chemical compounds in plants that have aromatic and flavonoid properties. Ever use essential oils? You’re smelling the terpenes of that lavender or eucalyptus plant.
Researchers believe that terpenes may do more than just smell. Terpenes such as Myrcene, Caryophyllene, Pinene, Terpinolene, and Limonene likely produce various effects when they are mixed with different levels of cannabinoids like THC, CBD, CBG, and others.
This overall phenomenon is known as the “Entourage Effect,” in which scientists discovered that different cannabinoids have various effects when combined in different ratios with other cannabinoids. For example, people who suffer from chronic pain need to take high doses of THC, which is sedating and psychoactive. When THC is combined 1:1 with CBD, the latter counteracts the psychoactive effects of the THC, allowing the patient to enjoy pain relief while still being able to go about their day.
Researchers are studying the Entourage Effect to determine how different cannabis ingredients can be combined in various amounts to achieve different effects.
We don’t yet understand why indicas (which tend to have a high THC to CBD ratio) produce a couch-locked, sedated, body high instead of the energetic mind high of sativas. But it’s likely that terpenes hold the answer.
Individual body chemistry matters, too. Read one review of a sativa-dominant, high-CBD strain and you’ll hear of how it provided a clear-minded, peaceful, alert high. Read another review of the same strain and you’ll hear someone complain of how they felt great at first, and then they suddenly felt much too awake and paranoia began to kick in.
If cannabinoids and terpenes make up the chemical cocktail, then your own physical chemistry plays a part in it, as well. This means that even if two people smoke the same strain, no two “cocktails” are alike!
Sativa Plants Even Look Different Than Their Indica Cousins
Sativa and indica plants aren’t just different in their chemical makeup; they actually look different. Sativa tends to be taller than indica, typically around 6 feet high but with the potential to grow as high as 20 feet. Because of their height, sativa plants can really stretch out if grown outdoors. The leaves of cannabis sativa are long and narrow and the branches grow loosely throughout the entire plant. This differentiates them from the thick bushiness of indica plants.
Those who love the brain buzz that comes from a toke of sativa have to wait longer for it, as well. Sativas take anywhere from 9 to 12 weeks before they’re ready to harvest, while indicas only take 6 to 8 weeks. While both are grown and harvested all over the world these days, sativa originally came from warm countries like Mexico, Columbia, Thailand, and Southeast Asia. Indica, on the other hand, came from the cooler climates of the Middle East and India.
Mix & Match
How do you tell if a strain is an indica or a sativa before you smoke it? With some strains, you can tell by the name. “Kush” strains tend to be indicas, while “Haze” strains are sativa. One strain that’s been popular for the past few decades, Super Silver Haze, is a potent sativa that will give you a real kick of energy while calming nausea and stimulating your appetite. If you need a boost and don’t have time to research a strain, just look for the “Haze.”
The great thing for cannabis users—whether they’re taking it for recreational or medical purposes—is that the world of sativa versus indica doesn’t have to be all or nothing. A strain that’s a 50/50 sativa/indica mix will deliver a nice head high while delivering a relaxing body buzz. Other strains may be sativa- or indica-dominant, meaning that they’ll deliver more of one type of high, with a bit of the opposite effect to balance it out a bit.
Keep in mind those cannabinoids and terpenes, though. Just because something is a sativa, for instance, doesn’t mean that it will always behave that way. Your best bet is to educate yourself on what to expect from new strains. Keep in mind that the same strain can differ from one batch to the next. Start slow, especially if it’s one you haven’t tried before.
In time, you’ll be able to pick up a nug and be ready to toke with a better idea of how that strain will work with your personal body chemistry. Isn’t science a beautiful thing?