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Sativa vs Indica: How to Choose the Best Strain

Posted on October 05 2020

Sativa vs Indica: How to Choose the Best Strain

Whether you’re new to the world of cannabis or just looking to change things up, it can be overwhelming to choose from the hundreds of available strains. Each strain varies greatly, with complex flavors, different potencies, and individual euphoric effects. While each strain will affect you differently than it does the next person (based on tolerance, weight, and even gender), there is a bit of science to help you narrow down your choices based on what you want out of your weed. 

Of course, one of the most basic choices you’ll need to make is choosing between an indica and a sativa strain (or the more popular hybrid strains), which can be difficult if you don’t truly know the difference. While most people generally sum it up as “sativa=energy and indica=relaxation” there’s a more complex answer than that. Hopefully, we can iron out any kinks and guide you through choosing the best weed strain to fit your needs.

The Three Cannabis Subspecies

There are three subspecies of the cannabis plant, which include Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica, and Cannabis Ruderalis. All three are flowering herbs, but sativa and indica are known for their high THC concentration and are most often chosen by the medicinal marijuana industry for their psychoactive and healing effects. Ruderalis is the subspecies most often called “hemp.” This species produces very little THC content and is generally utilized for its plant material. This is where hemp textiles, plastics, and other products come from. However modern medical research has identified the hemp species as a direct source of CBD. Since the medicinal benefits of CBD have been discovered, these hemp strains have gained a lot of popularity as well.

What is Sativa?

The subspecies sativa is most often known for its high THC content and it's energizing effects. In fact, many patients call sativa an upper and prefer using sativa dominant strains before I activities early in the day.

However, there's much more to the sativa subspecies then it's energy-boosting effects. Sativa has often been called a “mind high,” which is referring to it euphoric effects on the brain. These effects are known to stimulate focus and creativity, which may be an even better reason to use a sativa dominant strain before your daily activities. 

In general, sativa may be better for treating psychological disorders, like anxiety or depression. They seem to stimulate positive emotions, and some studies even show that they may stimulate dopamine production.

Sativa plants look different than other subspecies of cannabis as well, so they are easy to differentiate. A sativa plant is generally taller with slimmer leaves than an indica plant. They also have a longer growth cycle than indica, which means they produce herb more slowly. Many people agree that sativas tend to have a sweet or spicy aroma, compared to the sometimes musky aroma of indicas.

What is Indica?

The Indica species is also utilized for its high THC content, but has very different effects on the mind and body than the sativa plant. The indica plant usually produces euphoric effects that are described as a “body high.” Many people opt for the strain because it produces relaxing effects that are appropriate for evening or night time use, or for use after the day's activities are done.

Instead of producing intense mental effects like the creativity-boosting sativa, indicas help the body relax and unwind, which is why they are often associated with being “couchlocked” or “lazy.” In reality, however, their ability to relax the body make indicas incredibly useful for treating certain health conditions. Indicas are most often chosen for treating pain, inflammation, and discomfort due to physical ailments of the body.

Indica plants look very different than sativa plants. They are much shorter with thick, fat leaves. However, they produce herb much more quickly, which makes them one of the most easily accessible strains on the market. Indica strains are known for their floral, musky aroma, which many users referred to as skunky.

The Complex Hybrid

Hybrids are bit more complex and more difficult to categorize than sativa or indica strains. Hybrid technically refers to any strain that is a sub-product of both an indica and sativa parent plant. However, most hybrids sold in the medicinal marijuana market strive to deliver nearly equal concentrations of both sativa and hybrid properties. Hybrid strains that contain more indica than sativa are often called “indica-dominant” strains and are categorized as indicas. The same can be said about sativa-dominant “hybrids” as well.

When choosing a hybrid strain, you could get any combination of the sativa or indica effects, which makes them beneficial for many users. Hybrid strains are the most easily available strains at most dispensaries because they appeal to a wide range of medicinal users.

There are hundreds of hybrid strains and they all vary greatly. They may be the most beneficial strain for people who wish to treat several elements without the most “severe” effects of a pure indica or pure sativa strain.

For instance, a hybrid may be appropriate for treating mild to moderate pain the day without making the person feel “couchlocked,” or too relaxed to finish the daily activities. Alternatively, a hybrid strain may help ease the symptoms of psychological disorders without interrupting sleep or creating the jitters.

Because a hybrid strain could be one of hundreds of potential combinations of parent plants, there is no way to categorize its height, shape, or aroma.

So Why Are They So Different?

Some recent research is looking to debunk the stigma that sativa vs indica really matters at all. While it is still a good way to weed out the best strains for your individual health needs, researchers agree that the difference has less to do with the subspecies and more to do with terpenes.

Because the terpene levels vary in each plant, they produce wildly different effects on the body and brain. This is why terpenes are harvested and used in some alternative products to create targeted effects, like a CBD product with extra Limonene to help aid restful sleep.

Another factor that experts say you should consider is your ingestion method. When cannabis is smoked, it is immediately processed by the lungs. It enters the bloodstream and then passes through the blood-brain barrier to produce direct effects on the mind, which produces a “head high.”

Alternatively, when cannabis is consumed through edibles it must be processed by the liver and digestive tract. This changes the way that cannabis interacts with neurons and produces a “body high.”

At this point, strains have been crossed so many times that it’s rare to come across truly pure indica or sativa strains. This means you’ll rely mostly on experience to determine how a cannabis strain will affect you. Luckily, your budtender can usually help you out.

High CBD Strains from Hemp

Some of the latest research has identified cannabidiol as a beneficial supplement for many health conditions. Cannabidiol is one of the cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, like THC, but does not include any psychoactive effects.

Because Cannabis Ruderalis strains are generally low in THC content, but high in CBD content, they may be beneficial for medicinal users who will benefit from only cannabidiol. This is useful for treating several conditions throughout the day without experiencing any of the high associated with Cannabis Sativa or Cannabis Indica.

Cannabis ruderalis herb can be smoked in order to ingest moderate amounts of CBD, which may be useful for conditions ranging from inflammation, pain, psychological disorders, neurological disorders, insomnia, and more. While smoking high-cbd marijuana strains will effectively distribute cannabidiol to the body, these strains are most often used to produce other CBD products. These products range in potency and style, including tinctures, vaporizers, edibles, topicals, and more.


What Should I Look For When Choosing a Strain?

There are several factors that you should consider when choosing the best marijuana strain for you. Some of the most important questions to ask yourself or your doctor might include:

  • What is my THC tolerance?
  • What potency do I need?
  • Which type of cannabis strain will best manage my symptoms?
  • Do I need more than one strain for different times of the day?

A little introspective investigation can help you choose the best strain for you, which can help avoid any unwanted effects and have you on your way to all-natural healing. However, the most important step in choosing the best strain is talking to your doctor.

Your healthcare provider that prescribed medicinal marijuana should be able to help you choose a strain by determining the type and potency you need. This will be based on your individual health profile, which helps personalize your weed choice to your conditions, age, weight, tolerance, and needs. Talking to your doctor before choosing a new strain is the best way to ensure you get the best out of your medicinal marijuana experience.