Have you recently purchased cannabis at your local dispensary? Are you a regular consumer, or a new customer? Even if you’re new to the world of cannabis, you might be aware of its major strain groups: indica, sativa, and their hybridization. Both consumers and budtenders use the different strains to predict effects, flavour, and more, but how accurate is the assumption, and what else do you need to know about weed strains?

Fortunately, science is on our side. When determining the effects of any particular cannabis strain, you have two compounds that govern it: cannabinoids and terpenes. These two compounds make up any particular strain’s chemical profile, so how come consumers continue to use indica and sativa as a way to determine a strain’s effects?

These days, there has been somewhat of a push to move away from the indica/sativa/hybrid strain classification and instead label weed strains based on actual scientific data. This includes botanical terms and names that describe a plant’s structure instead of its particular effects.

Much of the cannabis industry—and this includes your favourite weed store—is still stuck in the methodology of classifying strains by indicas or sativas. The major reason for this is that its an easy, established way to do so. When you provide a consumer with the three options, you can easily explain how the strain might make them feel, which makes selling the product a smoother experience. This classification system will probably remain in the weed world for years to come, but it does have its benefits and workarounds.

Both the scientific and traditional system has value, and consumers can use both to great effect. If the indica/sativa model works for you, that’s fine. Once you become more comfortable with cannabis it might make more sense to delve into the scientific areas for specific nuance, so that you can learn about cannabinoids, terpenes, and other chemical profiles.

In this article, we are going to examine the differences between indicas and sativas—how they are useful to you, how the classification system works, and how these different strains can work differently for different consumers.

Indica, Sativa, and Hybrids: How To Understand The Basics

 

How Do I Know What’s Best For Me: Indica or Sativa?

The most common—and popular—understanding of indicas, sativa, and hybrids is that indica strains are physically sedating, as in they help you relax and chill. Sativas are commonly energizing, providing you with uplifting effects for social gatherings, projects, and reducing anxiety. Your budtender might describe indica as somatic and sativa as cerebral, and hybrid strains are something in between.

Are Indica Or Sativa Strain Effects Always Exact?

Taking indica doesn’t always mean you’ll sink into the couch, and smoking some sativa won’t energize everyone. Sativa and indica owe their names to botany, not necessarily the effects they produce. And since everyone has different body chemistry, one strain might not effect two people the same way. The only way to really know how sativa or indica might affect you is to try both—some hybrid strains can lean more toward sativa or indica, have different balances of THC and CBD, etc.

Mainstream cannabis culture has convinced people that indicas, sativas, and hybrids all have exact effects and deliver consistent highs. A good budtender will recommend a strain based by listening to you and what you need, but even they can’t stand fully behind the effect a strain might have. The science doesn’t support the three types, and it might take some trial and error to figure out what works for you.

What About Hemp? Does That Factor Into Cannabis Strains?

You may know a bit already about indica and sativa, while hearing about “hemp” in casual cannabis conversation. Hemp is the industrial variety of cannabis that is non-intoxicating. It’s primarily harvested for CBD, fiber, seeds, and more. Hemp is used to make textile materials, though novel cannabinoids can be extracted from it. It’s also used to make alternative milk. Traditionally, any cannabis plant containing 0.3% or less THC is considered to be hemp.

How Are Indicas And Sativas Grown? 

When choosing between indica and sativa, you may desire to be armed with more knowledge about where your local grower or dispensary is getting their supply. Sativa strains were originally grown in humid climates, where the warm air could favor the plants. Indicas were originally grown in colder climates, and are shorter and denser plants compared to the lanky and dry sativa plants. Their growing cycle is also shorter, and they need to be harvested before the fall and winter. 

These days most plants are grown indoors, under carefully regulated standards. Commercial cannabis is grown like any other crop, though many growers will manipulate light, water, or other factors in their production facilities and greenhouses to produce superior products. Commercial cannabis growers also have to adhere to strict government standards, which can regulate THC levels or other factors. The industry is still young, and the profession changes and grows every day.

Indicas, Sativas, And Hybrids Vs Cannabinoids And Terpenes

What Should I Look For In A Weed Strain?

As you’ve learned already, cannabis is more nuanced than many people know. Strains are defined by chemical profiles, and each strain can mingle with each person’s body chemistry differently. What affects your smoking buddy might not affect you, and vice versa. There might even be strains you don’t like—some people find that they just don’t gel with indica or sativa. 

Any weed nerd or good budtender will tell you that determining the effects of a strain is based on a complex, specific model of cannabinoids and terpenes. The indica and sativa labeling tactic is basic and easy, and might give you a general sense of how a strain will hit you. Don’t take the indica/sativa/hybrid model as gospel, and know that the intended effects are at best educated guesswork. Your local cannabis dispensary might have cannabinoid or terpene information on your favourite strains, but don’t count on it. If you find that using one strain stresses you out or gives you a bad high—regardless of the suggested effect—it just might not be for you.

How Do I Use Suggested Indica, Sativa, Or Hybrid Effects To Figure Out What Cannabis To Purchase?

You’ve just had a rough day, and you want to chill out on the couch and let the day’s frustrations wash away. Or maybe you need to focus, and you require some vigilance to complete a project or do the dishes. Your budtender might suggest different strains to you specific to the information you give, almost always determined by indica and sativa models.

Indicas are commonly regarded to be relaxing. You use them to chill at the end of the night, to watch a movie or game or take a nap. Maybe you want your indica strain to help you mellow so that you can release a lot of that frustration left over from work. Your budtender will suggest indica to help you zone out.

Sativas are energetic. They’ll amp up your productivity, making them great for physical activity. Sativas commonly improve focus and induce a state of mind that might help you conquer those pesky chores or finish some important task. 

Hybrid strains, therefore, sit somewhere in the middle of these effects. Where indicas are relaxed and sativas are energetic, hybrid strains want to give you some consistency. Hybrids might lean more one way or the other, and your budtender might suggest a hybrid strain to you that helps you reach that happy middle of chill and concentration. 

Indica And Sativa Effects Aren’t Exact For Me—How Do I Figure Out The Best Weed Strain?

If the suggested effects of indica and sativa just aren’t matching up to the descriptions of your budtender, you may need to get more focused and scientific in your search. The mix of cannabinoids and terpenes—and their chemical compounds—will give you a better indicator of intended effects. When these compounds combine, they create the effect of being high. The specific amount of cannabinoids and terpenes in your strain is what determines the overall effect, and can help you find what you need.

What Are Cannabinoids?

Cannabis plants are actually comprised of hundreds of different chemical compounds. These compounds all produce unique effects, though the primary ones are called cannabinoids. THC and CBD are the two most common cannabinoids—you’ve probably heard of them before. THC and CBD are both used to drive the therapeutic and recreational effects of cannabis products.

THC is the most common compound, the one that makes you feel high and relieves pain, anxiety, and nausea. CBD is actually not intoxicating but helps to alleviate pain, anxiety, and inflammation. CBD is used in many medicinal products, from creams to oral compounds. You may have even had CBD prescribed before because of its incredible pain relief abilities.

What Are Terpenes?

Have you ever used aromatherapy to relax? Do you commonly rely on candles or incense to calm yourself and create a sense of wellness? This is the basic idea behind terpenes, which are aromatic compounds that are commonly produced in plants and fruit. Terpenes can be found in all sorts of plants, from lavenders to peppers to hops to oranges. In cannabis plants, terpenes are secreted by the same glands that provide THC and CBD. Terpenes are the chief reason a particular cannabis strain can smell like berries, citrus, or flowers.

The most common terpenes are myrcene, caryophyllene, limonene, and terpinolene. These terpenes and their different combinations shape the overall effect of a particular cannabis strain. While cannabinoids determine how a strain might make you feel, terpenes add to that effect. The very specific scientific combination of cannabinoids and terpenes is actually what governs how a strain makes you feel and how much you enjoy it. 

How Do I Think About Cannabis Strains In Terms Of Cannabinoids And Terpenes?

When choosing a particular cannabis strain, if you’re trying to move away from the indica/sativa method, it’s better to think about weed in terms of cannabinoids and terpenes. These actually govern a weed strain’s chemical profile (the chemical profile is also referred to as “chemovars”).

Chemovars are broken down into profile types based on high THC but low CBD, balanced THC and CBD, and high CBD but low THC. While these terms do exist in the industry, they aren’t commonly used by dispensaries, budtenders, or consumers. It’s much more difficult to walk into your local dispensary and ask for strains based on chemovars, cannabinoids or terpenes. 

If you want to change your method, start by considering how much THC and CBD you might want in a strain. THC-heavy strains are great for anyone looking for a more potent, euphoric experience. High THC and low CBD strains are also great for people seeking pain relief, or patients that might suffer from depression, insomnia, or anxiety.

Balanced strains contain nearly equal levels of THC and CBD, providing mild euphoria and some pain relief. These strains are a great choice for novice cannabis consumers, or anyone seeking a high that might not have a tolerance for cannabis.

Strains that have high CBD and low THC are used by patients and consumers who are overly sensitive to THC, or patients that need pain relief by clear-headedness. THC can also make some people feel anxious, or produce unwanted side effects. Strains with high levels of CBD might be good for those that use cannabis rarely.

How Does Terpene Profile Affect Cannabis Flavour And Effect?

Terpenes affect your favourite strains in a variety of ways. Many popular online databases list terpene profiles, and your local dispensary might even have that information for you. These days, popular cannabis products include this information so that you can stay better informed about flavour, effect, and strain. If you enjoy a strain with a particular terpene profile, you will probably like another strain with a similar profile. Weed tested for sale in a dispensary is often tested for its cannabinoid and terpene levels, and this information can then be relayed to the consumer. Consumers who know the level of cannabinoids and terpenes they enjoy can make more informed cannabis purchasing decisions.

Considerations To Make Between Indica And Sativa

How Do I Determine My Tolerance?

When choosing between indica and sativa, tolerance can play a big role. Particular strains will make you feel differently, depending on the product and usage. Cannabis smokers that enjoy products daily have a much higher tolerance than infrequent smokers, and can consume more weed. These consumers can partake in much stronger dosages and feel only minor effects. If you are new to cannabis, or you have a weaker tolerance, start low and go slow. This will help you determine your tolerance, build your tolerance level, and will allow you to enjoy consuming cannabis without any adverse effects.

How Do I Determine My Dosage?

Beyond knowing the potency of a strain, you also need to know the appropriate dosage. The amount of cannabis you consume will ultimately determine your cannabis experience. Don’t let anyone pressure you into consuming more cannabis than you are comfortable with—a good way to determine this is to practice on your own at home. Popular strains from dispensaries can be quite potent, and you might enjoy a 15% THC much more than 25%. Find the right level for you, create your ideal experience, and go at your own pace.

How Does My Body Chemistry Affect Cannabis Consumption?

We all have different bodily chemistry. It can be tough to know exactly how a particular strain will affect one individual versus another, even if you are a frequent cannabis consumer. Bodies react to everything differently—your friend might be able to burn through an entire joint, while you can get high from one or two puffs. It’s no different than someone who is a lightweight drinker; one beer for you might be three beers for someone else. Remember, if you are very susceptible to anxiety (or any other side effect of THC) try a strain with lower THC and higher CBD.

Can My Environment Affect My Enjoyment Of Cannabis?

Tolerance, dosage, and body chemistry can all add to or take away from your enjoyment of cannabis, but the environment plays a factor as well. The mindset and setting you are in before consuming weed—called set and setting—can change how weed affects you. When you have a really bad day or you’re suffering from nervousness or anxiety, weed can actually worsen the negative effects. For example, if you’re not a social person but you’re out in a large crowd, weed might actually worsen your feelings of nausea, anxiousness, and claustrophobia.

Since the set and setting are up to the individual, you should know the best place to consume weed. If you regularly smoke weed at home, don’t be surprised if enjoying it out in public is not the same experience. However, some people might get a better high while out on a hike and enjoying nature.

What Is The Best Way For Me To Consume Cannabis?

Another thing that can alter how a strain affects you is how you choose to consume your cannabis. If you’re someone who regularly takes a single puff of a vape to alleviate anxiety, don’t be surprised if taking a dab hit produces effects that are too intense and disorienting. Don’t jump ahead—it’s better to take things slow when you’re figuring out how weed affects you. Edibles are a great way to produce long-lasting weed effects, but taking too many edibles at once can create an adverse reaction. Do a little bit at a time, wait for the effects to set in, and then do more at your leisure.

Does My Medical History Affect Cannabis Consumption?

Your medical condition can actually change how weed affects you. If you’re on medication, you should know how it might interact with cannabis. Always talk to your doctor or another medical professional ahead of time, especially if you have concerns. Your doctor might have important suggestions or recommendations, and might even be able to tell you what strain is better for you. Don’t consume cannabis if it adversely affects any pre-existing medical regimen. While weed is medicinal, it might not work for you the same as it does for someone else.

I’m Looking For A Specific, Desired Effect. How Do I Know What Strain Is Right For Me?

If you’re looking for a specific experience—such as relaxation or treating nausea—you can typically rely on the suggested effects of indica or sativa. While not all indicas are sleepy and not all sativas are energetic, the suggestion of your local budtender can give you a frame of reference and starting point to figure out what strain is right for you. While you’re consuming cannabis, it’s a good idea to note your favourite and least favourite strains. The experiences you have will determine what weed you should consume moving forward, especially if you’re able to note the cannabinoid level or terpene profile. When you next return to your dispensary, the budtender can help you find something else depending on the experience you had with the previous strain.

Sativas, Indicas, And Hybrids: A Summary

We know that sativas commonly produce a focused head high, which is stimulating and energizing. Indicas commonly produce relaxation effects that can stave off anxiety and depression, while helping you relax for a quiet evening. When used in combination with knowledge about cannabinoids and terpenes, you can become an informed consumer that enjoys cannabis at the highest personal quality. Finding the exact effect that works for you, and using strains that give you exactly what you need, will make cannabis use pleasurable and lasting.

What Sativa Strains Should I Look For?

Sativas are uplifting, and energizing, and can be helpful in managing stress or anxiety after a long day. They can also sharpen your focus, boost motivation and grant you creativity that wasn’t there before. The effects of sativa can ultimately be euphoric, denoting it as a “daytime” strain that might help you conquer some chores or finish some errands. 

There are many popular sativa strains on the market, and they’re a crowd favourite at dispensaries for people that have realized that a little bit of weed can make their day much better. Strains such as Green Crack, Strawberry Cough, Super Lemon Haze, Amnesia Haze, Sour Diesel, and more can be found at your local dispensary, but ask your budtender what new and popular sativa strains are on the market. You never know what you might find, and there might be a strain out there that works even better than your favourite.

What Indica Strains Should I Look For?

Indica strains are commonly relaxing and can give you a euphoric and calming sensation that might make you want to melt into the couch. Indica strains can help put you to sleep, and are great for curbing insomnia or overactive minds. Indica strains can grant relaxation, euphoria, and general happiness. These “nighttime” strains are great for unwinding at the end of a tough day and may take the place of that after-work beer.

There are many popular indica strains such as Bubba Kush, Blueberry, Grape Ape, Purple Punch, Ice Cream Cake, and more. Your local dispensary will have more strains available for you, and your trusted budtender will be able to point you in the right direction of new and calming strains. 

What Hybrid Strains Should I Look For?

It’s a good idea to consult with your budtender and dispensary for hybrid strains that might grant you a desired effect. Hybrid effects of indicas and sativas can give you a little bit of everything, and a hybrid might work better for you than anything else. Looking at the parentage of a hybrid—its plant lineage—can give you an idea of how the strain might affect you. While this isn’t always the case, many popular hybrids won’t force you into feeling strictly the way indica or sativa might make you feel. 

Iconic hybrid strains include Gelato, OG Kush, Blue Dream, GMO Cookies, and more. Ask your budtender what hybrid strains might work for you, based on your past experience with different strains. Not all hybrid strains are 50/50 either—you might want a strain that’s just a little bit indica and a lot of sativa, or vice versa. Hybrid strains can also have a better balance of cannabinoids and terpenes. 

Final Common Questions

Can Indica Or Sativa Strains Give You The Munchies?

As with all strains, how indica or sativa affects your body is different for everyone. Some strains might make you more inclined to snack, while others will simply put you to sleep.

If I Take Sativa Will I Stay Up All Night?

Sativa strains are pretty energizing, and some strains might keep you up the same way a cup of coffee or energy drink might. If you think you might be overly susceptible to sativas, or you’re worried about sleeping, it’s not a good idea to take this strain before bed.

Will An Indica Strain Really Help Me Sleep?

It can! Indica strains are typically thought to be relaxing and can help lull you to sleep. If you have trouble winding down after a tough day, indicas might be just what you need to take the edge off.

Will Indica Or Sativa Strains Make Me Feel Paranoid?

These strains affect everyone differently, but if you’re prone to anxiety or paranoia there’s a chance that a particular strain can worsen it. It’s important to take small doses if you’re unfamiliar with how a strain will affect you.