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What Are Cannabis “Strains” 

If you’re familiar with apples, you might notice that they come in various colors, shapes, and flavors. Even though they look different, they are all still apples and pretty much interchangeable with other apples. The same could be said for cannabis. There are many strains of cannabis, and this can affect the flower’s aroma, flavor, and THC profile. Just like apples develop different characteristics from growing in different parts of the world, cannabis is similar.

This article outlines the differences between Sativa and Indica cannabis plants. Read on to learn more about the origins of Sativa and Indica, plus how they differ in growth patterns, appearance, and the effects they produce after use.

How Many Strains Exist?

How are there so many strains? It might be a pain in the ass for new users or old users alike: how to tell what strain is what. You might not know the difference between Alaskan Thunder-Trainwreck, or maybe Gorilla-Glue Blue Dream, and honestly, that’s ok. How did we end up with all these strains anyways? Are stoners just having fun with naming weeds? 

Every time you mix strains, a new strain is produced, genetically speaking. All strains of cannabis come from one of three main original types of plants. The three types of cannabis are Indica, Sativa, and Ruderalis. You can have unlimited strains, but they all come from the heritage of 3 main plant types.

What’s The Difference Between Indica And Sativa Flower?

The difference between Indica and Sativa is pretty simple at the base scientific level, there are 3 types of cannabis, but only 2, Indica and Sativa, are commonly known because they produce more THC. 

Types Of Cannabis Plants

Ruderalis is a cousin to Sativa and Indica. It is a plant with strong and durable characteristics, surviving in colder temperatures or higher elevations with less light. This plant can survive in warmer parts of Alaska, where light cycles are seriously bonkers. Because Ruderalis’ hometown is farther north, it can grow in rougher climates and grows shorter in size. Breeders of weed may like to use a bit of Ruderalis genetics for outdoor strains, or tough-to-grow areas, because of its stable traits and “auto-flowering” abilities.

Ruderalis, however, is not known for its high THC content or production volume. So it’s common to blend just a little of Ruderalis DNA into your strain to give it some toughness. You might also find Ruderalis in “express” or auto-flower strains because Ruderalis doesn’t use light cycles to develop; it develops on its own timespan.

Indica Plant & Effects:

Indica is usually higher in active ingredients than Ruderalis. Indica’s natural habitat is in hotter desert areas, so the leaves develop very differently from its cousin Sativa. Most Indica varieties come from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tibet, and Nepal. Indica leaves are broad and shorter to adapt better to dry air and temperature swings from very hot to very cold. The shape of the leaves is usually 3 to 5 leaf tips. These temperature swings also affect THC production and the way that the THC breaks down into other components like CBD. 

Indica plants have a short growing season, so they try to grow fast and hard and rely on an 8-hour light cycle. The plant will try to produce all its resin at once and then die in time for winter. Therefore, an Indica plant must know what season it is, based on the amount of daylight per day. As winter comes, the days get shorter, and Indica plants know to hurry up and flower before they freeze.

It’s suggested that these shorter, stubby Indica plants produce earthy and spicy flavors, and the buds form in tightly packed, dense buds. This develops as a natural defense mechanism for the plant’s survival in the scorching sun of a desert-like climate. The THC in Indica plants may break down into CBD more readily from this sun-blasting effect. 

This environment is historically known to produce more strains for relaxation, couch-lock, and body buzz. You might feel that the high is more heavy-feeling, and the vibes are smooth and possibly a bit foggy.

Sativa Plant & Effects:

Sativa, on the other hand, comes from the humid tropical regions of the world. Sativas originate in the equatorial regions – Thailand, India, Jamaica, and Mexico. It doesn’t produce more or less THC or CBD than Indica, but the way the plant develops is very different. Sativa’s leaves are longer and spindly and usually develop 5 to 9 leaf tips. The light cycles (closer to the equator where Sativa comes from) are 12 hours long, so the plant develops with different nuances. The plant grows all year round, compared to the faster cycles of Indica and Ruderalis.

The flavors of Sativa are usually more fruity or tropical because Sativas tend to grow in tropical areas. The plant must compete with an entire jungle in the wild, so growing bigger is better. Sativas can grow enormous, up to 3 meters, pretty easily. It’s not surprising that weed plants can be called “trees”. These plants don’t hurry up for seasons because that’s now how things work around the equator.

The resins produced by Sativas are typically energetic or thought-provoking; you might feel more “heady” or feel more of a “jolt” from a sharper high. It’s suggested that the plant produces THC at a more constant rate, and you get more “fresh” THC produced over time compared to Indica. Naturally, there might be less CBD in Sativas and more THC due to the flowering process continuing for months at a time.

What Is A “Hybrid” Strain?

In our modern day, we don’t just have the two types of cannabis. We have mixtures of many types. It’s possible to trace the heritage of any strain by looking at the 2 plants that produced your strain. It takes 2 plants for a new strain to be born, it takes a male plant’s pollen and a female plant’s flower. Once they combine and the flower is pollinated, a new strain is born.

You can have strains that are a 50:50 mix of Sativa and Indica or a mix of 90% Sativa with just 10% Indica. The possibilities are endless. Strains are combined and recombined for newer and better products, similar to the wine or beer industry. Sometimes a new hybrid is created to produce a flavor similar to pineapple and a fast-growing plant. So you blend Sativa DNA until you find pineapple, and you blend a bit of Ruderalis so that the plant grows faster, instead of growing all year like a slower Sativa. Then we call the strain “Pineapple Express”.

Indica vs Sativa: Which Is Best For Me?

There’s no clear answer if Indica or Sativa genetics is the biggest factor in your cannabis. I would argue that the biggest factors are how much care and devotion the plants received during their life. What nutrients were they fed, and what kind of soil did they live in? The question of Indica or Sativa is a bit more about botany than it is about the effects because the strains were classified in the 1700s.

It’s a question of nurture and nature, the way the plant is brought up, and the DNA. 

Indica cannabis strains are associated with a feeling of relaxation in the body, as though stress is flowing out of the body. If you feel tense or as though you are overwhelmed by pressure, consuming some Indica can release this by getting you in a hypnotic zone. Imagine the feeling of sinking into a warm cement or clay mud bath. Thoughts may slow down. This isn’t so much an inspirational strain as it is a chill-out strain.

The difference between Indica and Sativa cannabis strains is that a Sativa will probably give you a feeling of being uplifted in the head, energized. Commonly known as a Haze compared to an Indica Kush. Creativity may begin to flow, but it may also be difficult to capture those thoughts as new thoughts emerge. I know no studies on whether Sativas produce this effect more than Indicas, but this may be the case. Athletes may go for a run or work out. Artists may create, musicians may play music, and you may even want to clean your house. 

Indica vs Sativa: Which Is Best For Me?

Monoterpenes are behind the different effects of different types of cannabis. The sedative effect associated with Indica strains and their supposed high CBD, and low THC content is due to myrcene. The uplifting feeling we associate with the putative high THC, low CBD Sativas is thanks to limonene (also found in citrus peels). The difference between Indica and Sativa can range from very insignificant to very important, depending on how you judge your weed.

The best way to figure out the best hybrid or strain for you is to test a variety of strains yourself personally or ask a budtender for their advice. See if you notice a difference between a Kushy Indica or a Sativa Haze. You will probably find that a hybrid gives you the best of both worlds. You may even find a strain you love from one brand but hate it from another. This would suggest that the farmer or grower is probably doing something different or special with their plant. 

Sometimes the “cure” or aging process is the bigger factor in the smoothness of the cannabis. Ask a chef what the difference is between a ham hock or Prosciutto, and you’ll get various answers. Ham can be produced fairly quickly and cheaply, whereas prosciutto is a time-consuming practice or artform, carefully aging the meat in a humidity-controlled environment. 

Some growers use machines to process the flowers, other growers trim everything by hand, giving a less bruised and more delicate product. You can also check out this recent breakdown we did of THC vs THCa to learn a bit more about cannabinoids. There’s not a lot of science out there on how exactly these transformations happen or how they affect the end user, but you can probably read more on this topic if you are interested!