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What’s the Difference Between Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid Strains?

In the past few years, citizens of the world have watched cannabis grow from an illicit substance into a quasi-legal medicinal alternative. While this change is inspiring, it also exposes a good amount of ignorance of people who don’t understand the science behind marijuana. Even as widespread social acceptance sweeps the globe, it’s going to be difficult in the coming years for medicinal marijuana patients to pass a drug test in order to gain employment, compete as an athlete, or join the armed forces.

In part, this fear of cannabis originates from ignorance and the mass hysteria of the Reefer Madness era. By understanding the plant and its various incarnations, as well as its origins and medicinal properties, it may be easier to envision cannabis as a more natural alternative to many of the drugs and herbal supplements that we already use today.

Marijuana Leaf

There’s still plenty of room left for the evolution of cannabis culture and law, and, as the hazy history of “devil’s lettuce” burns away and reveals a new, compassionate face of medicinal treatment, it will become important to recognize the distinct benefits and effects of the plant and its many forms.

From a distance, the layperson might say that all strains of cannabis look the same, smell the same, and have the same impact on people. Cannabis aficionados, however, can identify what are known as “indica” and “sativa” strains on sight, and they can definitely feel the difference when they smoke it.

Those who have walked the indica-sativa spectrum for themselves know that these two types of weed are drastically different, and it’s for a simple reason. They’re very different plants.

Indica vs. Sativa – How Can You Tell the Difference?

Cannabis sativa and cannabis indica both hail from the same genus classification (cannabis), but they each fall into a different sub species. While their shared heritage makes their effects somewhat similar, the differences between the strains are marked and many.

Marijuana Plant

Cannabis indica is known for its:

  • dense, clumped bud morphology
  • short, fat plant structure
  • high resin production (your pipe gets dirty quicker)
  • quick growing time (about 6 weeks)
  • heavy “body-melting” feelings of relaxation

Medical Marijuana

Cannabis sativa is known for its:

  • loose, crumbly bud morphology
  • tall, skinny plant structure
  • low resin production
  • slow growing time (about 16 weeks)
  • uplifting, “mind-bending” feelings of euphoria

Indica and sativa just happen to be two of the most common varieties of the cannabis sub species out there, due in part to their high quantities of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the plant’s psychoactive agent. Another sub species, ruderalis, can be found in regions of Russia, but its low THC count and high Cannabidiol (CBD) levels make it better suited for high-level medicines.

About THC & CBD

THC & CBD are the primary active components of marijuana, and your experience will depend heavily on the specific plant’s makeup of these two molecules. CBD is known mostly for its ability to relieve pain and help treat neurological disorders like epilepsy. THC has gained a reputation as an intoxicant due to its psychoactive effect on humans, making it public enemy #1 for hair, saliva, and mouth swab drug testing.

THC is fat soluble, meaning that it will stick to the fat cells in your body. Generally, it takes about two weeks for THC to pass through the body, but a body with more fat may take up to a month to fully eliminate the molecule. Keep in mind that urine tests are different from other forms of drug testing in that they test for the presence of THC-COOH, a metabolite of THC that is produced by the liver and which stays in the body for much longer.

It’s commonly believed that sativa plants have more THC and that indica plants are more CBD dominant, but this is not necessarily true. Instead, it’s quite common to see a very high THC count in most of the indicas, sativas, and hybrids sold today. High CBD strains are often reserved for patients who want the helpful medicinal effects of cannabis, but who want to skip out on the psychoactive properties.

Sativa, Indica, and Hybrid Strains

The word “strain” is often used to differentiate between Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica, but it is also sometimes used to refer to the specific breed of each individual plant within the subsections of both genera. Hybrid strains make classification a little more difficult since they are cross breeds of sativa and indica plants designed to take on certain properties from both of the parent plants.

Over hundreds of years, familial strains have branched out into more specific subsections, and the ability to cross-breed hybrids has almost quadrupled the variety between strains.

The Most Popular Indica Strains

Indica Strains

The relaxing, sedative effects brought on by indica strains have received enough notoriety to become the generally accepted caricature of someone who is “stoned.” Often used by people looking to reduce stress, relieve pain, or limit anxiety, the indica strain is known as a downer drug that will sometimes result in what’s known as “couch lock.” So, if you want to just relax at night and put on a few dozen episodes of Doctor Who, the following strains might be right up your alley:

  • Northern Lights – Potentially one of the most famous strains of all time, this pure indica is known to have come from the “mother plant” often prized by indica purists. Known for making its users “comfortably numb,” Northern Lights is especially popular among medical patients.
  • Bubba Kush – With a reputation for heavy tranquilizing effects and a taste reminiscent of coffee and chocolate, Bubba Kush is considered to be top-of-the-line for people from all walks of life.
  • Granddaddy Purple (GDP) – A cross-breed between Big Bud and Purple Urkle, GDP found fame due to its nearly hallucinatory psychoactive effects, as well as its somewhat purple buds.
  • Skywalker OG – An indica heavy hybrid, Skywalker OG has honorary status as a classic indica due to its healing properties for those with PTSD. Created specifically to help wounded soldiers recover from the stresses and pain left over from battle, Skywalker OG was named after one of the most celebrated fictional wounded warriors of all time, Luke Skywalker, from the acclaimed Star Wars
  • Herojuana – Although the association to heroin, a far more notorious drug, may not seem appropriate, the heavy, relaxing sleep induced by this strain certainly earns it the name.

 The Most Popular Sativa Strains

Sativa Strains

Contrary to the image brought on by cannabis critics in general, a good sativa strain can help you get off the couch and get something done. Preferred by artists, programmers, and nature enthusiasts, sativa plants have a wide range of effects, all geared toward the “upper” edge of the drug influence spectrum. If you want to spark a buzz right before jumping into your favorite recreational activity, then these strains may be for you.

  • Green Crack – This plant earned its namesake by giving users a blast of euphoric energy. Users with a long list of household chores may find plenty of help from this strain.
  • Jack Herer – Named after the self-proclaimed “Emperor of Hemp” and author of the children’s book The Emperor Wears No Clothes, Jack Herer is known for the creative boost that it inspires.
  • Amnesia Haze – Currently the rage at coffee shops in Amsterdam (where drug testing for jobs is not as common), Amnesia Haze is beloved by morning users that like to start their day with an uplifting kick.
  • Cherry AK – Named after the sweet, almost fruity smell and taste that it leaves behind, this strain has been known to lift people out of sour spirits.
  • Sour Diesel – Exactly as advertised, it smells like diesel fuel. If you can get past the smell, though, this powerful sativa boasts the highest “happiness” quotient of most breeds out there.

The Most Popular Hybrid Strains

Hybrid Strains

Of the roughly 779 named strains out there, well over half of them are hybrid plants. In fact, some of the most well-known plants out there are labeled “hybrids” simply because there’s no way to tell if their parentage is one hundred percent indica or sativa. Some indica or sativa heavy hybrids (like the aforementioned Skywalker OG) are simply considered to be indica or sativa based on how they make users feel, rather than the specifics of their heritage. Because of this, it’s important to ask about the effects and dominant genes of any particular hybrid to ensure you get exactly what you’re looking for.

We’ve done some of the legwork for you below:

  • Blue Dream – The poster child for why sativa-indica hybrids are a good idea, Blue Dream has been known to give users total body relaxation while gently invigorating the mind.
  • Girl Scout Cookies – Be sure to only have a little bite, as these Girl Scout Cookies come with a more extreme version of the same soothing, stimulating effects of Blue Dream.
  • Pineapple Express – This sativa-heavy hybrid is well-known for its role in the 2008 film of the same name. James Franco’s character calls it “the dopest dope I ever smoked,” and, in doing so, catapulted the strain to fame.
  • Headband – Great for pain relief and simultaneous euphoria, Headband earns its name from the slight pressure some users feel on the crown of their heads.
  • Cheese – Famous for its consistently pungent aroma, Cheese is a close relative of Skunk, making its indica roots about as strong as they come. However, the blissful, happy high that it produces gives away the shades of sativa that run through it.

Different Plants, Different Effects

In addition to these strains, there are even more unnamed and experimental breeds created by private breeders with their own range of effects. Growers across the nation have made a science out of cross breeding and naming their own strains, so the amount of potential types of weed out there are too many to count.

Cannabis consumers across the world rely on this naming and categorization structure in order to properly treat themselves, and it’s easy to see why. If you’re expecting a cool, mellow high and end up using “Green Crack,” you may not anticipate the results, and subsequently panic.

While it may be difficult for cannabis to outgrow the hysteria that spread from its roots, the world’s sufferers are fighting for a cheap, non-addictive alternative medicine, and they will find a way to get it one way or another. For now, marijuana drug tests will remain the norm, but the best way to fight Cannabis ignorica yourself is to stay educated about the science behind the plant and its varying effects.



Learn more about marijuana and get additional information about passing a drug test at


Posted by A. Shapiro
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