While they may sound like complex botanical jargon, the terms ‘indica’ and ‘sativa’ are not particularly accurate scientifically and have become simple terms to categorize strain appearances and effects.
Most experienced cannabis connoisseurs will know what are considered to be the main differences – indicas are short, bushy plants with wide leaves, whilst sativas are essentially the opposite. Indica buds are dense and compact, and produce a body high (the infamous couch lock effect), whilst sativa buds are airy, and give a more cerebral, energetic high. Whilst there is a certain amount of truth to this, research has increasingly shown that it’s far from being that simple.
Bear in mind that while these differences between indica and sativa are generally accepted in the cultivation community, there are exceptions to the rules with some strains.
As outlined above, indica varieties can normally be told apart from sativa’s by their short, bushy stature and broad leaves. Sativas on the other hand tend to be far taller with noticeably thinner leaves. There are also differences to be found in the buds produced by each variety – indica buds are typically more compact than the fluffy, wispy flowers of sativas. As well as these physical differences, indicas vary from sativas in other, less obvious, ways. Some of which are only apparent after their flowers have been consumed.
If you’ve consumed both 100% indica and 100% sativa varieties of cannabis, you’ll know that the different effects each can produce could hardly be more obvious. To oversimplify, indicas tend to have much more of an effect on a users’ body – they produce an intensely relaxing sensation, and can cause users to become ‘couch-locked.’ This is no doubt where the lazy stoner stereotype originates, after all, we’ve all experienced what happens after a serious indica session, and how difficult it can seem to make that short trip to the fridge to satisfy your munchies.
Conversely, sativas, which are less abundant, particularly in countries without a regulated market, are more likely to produce a feeling of euphoria in a user. The effects are widely referred to as a ‘head high,’ in that they are more profoundly mental and cerebral than they are physical. Essentially, they are the polar opposite of indica’s couch-lock.
The other main difference between the two varieties is also the reason why – in prohibitionist states at least – it is usually far more difficult to get your hands on a decent sativa. To put it bluntly (no pun intended), sativas take a lot longer to grow than indicas. They are also not so well suited to indoor growing, thanks to their size, and as a result are not generally considered to be economically viable for cash-croppers and black market dealers.
Now that we’ve covered the main differences between indicas and sativas, it’s time to throw a spanner in the works. As you have probably figured out by now, in today’s world it is becoming increasingly rare to come across a strain that is 100% indica or sativa. Most are what is known as a hybrid strain. What this means is that through the selective breeding of different strains from both varieties, growers have been able to pick and choose the traits and effects they want to be present in their new strain.
The utilization of selective breeding has led to the proliferation of hybrid strains, and for good reason. There are positives and benefits associated with both indica and sativa varieties – and these are different from individual to individual – and the ability to create strains that are almost tailor-made to each individual’s needs means that purely sativa or indica strains have become a lot less prevalent. Because of this, every hybrid strain will have unique effects and characteristics, but you can make a good guess as to what those will be by looking at the genetics of that particular strain and working backwards.