Indica vs. Sativa

Indica vs. Sativa: What’s the Difference?

If you’re new to purchasing cannabis, or you’re just looking to branch out on the different strains you consume, you may notice that most strains are broken up into one of two groups: indica and sativa.

Strains are categorized in such a way because of their presumed effects:

  • Indica strains are more sedating, which makes them a better choice for relaxing evenings or preparing for sleep.
  • Sativas are more uplifting and cerebral, which makes them the better choice for social events, creative undertakings and physical activities.

The belief in these distinctive effects leads many people to choose strains based on their parent strain, as in indica or sativa, or to choose a blend in hopes of getting the best of both worlds. However, indicas and sativas aren’t totally clear-cut and consistent, so it’s important to understand their differences in choosing the best one for your needs.

Indica vs. Sativa: Origin and History

Indica and sativa are terms that were first used in the 18th century to describe different species of the cannabis plant: Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa.

Coined by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, indica describes the psychoactive varieties of cannabis that were first discovered in India. Sativa, coined by Carl Linnaeus, was used to describe hemp plants found in Europe and western Eurasia.

While most of the cannabis strains commonly consumed today arose from original indica, both indica and sativa can be used to organize the many strains that exist on the market.

Now, sativa refers to tall, narrow-leafed strains of cannabis that are thought to produce invigorating effects, though these strains were originally indica strains. Indica now describes stout, broad-leafed plants with sedative effects.

In addition, the common term “hemp” refers to the non-intoxicating strains used for seeds, fiber and CBD, though this was originally called sativa.

Following years of cannabis use and distribution, the taxonomic distinctions between indica and sativa species and subspecies got a little confused, which is what led consumers to group the sedating strains in the indica category and the invigorating strains into the sativa category.

If you’re looking to get the best experience from your cannabis, however, you want to understand the practical differences between these two strains.

Clinical Effects of Indica vs. Sativa

Despite the confusion, grouping strains into indica or sativa is helpful, especially to those new to cannabis consumption. It serves as a starting point for most, which helps to narrow the vast market of cannabis options.

If you want more technical categories of predictive effects, however, it’s more appropriate to group strains into cannabinoids and terpenes. The effects of a strain depend on many factors, including the chemical profile, dosage, tolerance, consumption method and the individual’s unique physiology, so understanding these factors can help you get the experience you’re looking for.


The cannabis plant is made of hundreds of chemical compounds that produce effects, such as THC and CBD. These are the main mechanisms behind therapeutic, medicinal and recreational effects.

  • A9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the compound that makes you feel euphoric and hungry, as well as relieves pain or nausea symptoms.
  • Cannabidiol, or CBD, is the non-intoxicating compound that is used to relieve pain, inflammation, anxiety and other symptoms and conditions.

Cannabis is filled with many cannabinoids, but these are the most important. Instead of allowing indica or sativa to guide your decision, these cannabinoids can more accurately determine the experience you’ll have:

  • THC-dominant strains will lead to a potent euphoria and are commonly used to treat depression, pain, anxiety, insomnia and other similar conditions.
  • CBD-dominant strains have minimal THC, which makes them a great choice for those looking to experience less of a “high” and more of a therapeutic effect, or for those who need to stay clear-headed.
  • Balanced THC/CBD strains have the appropriate ratio of THC and CBD for a mild euphoria and reliable symptom relief. These strains are good for beginners looking to experience the therapeutic effects with a bit of an “introductory high.”

So, where does this fit in to the question of indica vs. sativa? Both strains may exhibit different cannabinoid profiles, so rather than choose between the two strains, it makes more sense to choose the best strain for your intended effects.


Terpenes are aromatic compounds that are produced by fruit or plants, such as oranges, pepper, flowers, lavender and cannabis. They are secreted by the same glands that secrete THC and CBD, but they’re what give different strains their unique flavors or scents, such as pine, citrus or berries.

Similar to essential oils in a diffuser, terpenes can lead to a stimulating or sedating experience, depending on the ones that occur in the strain. Many types of terpenes are found in different cannabis strains, so they’re a significant driver of the overall experience.

When it comes to indica vs. sativa, these terpenes and effects aren’t a guarantee, but they are usually consistent among individual strains.

Hybrid Strains

Beyond indica and sativa, there’s a third option: hybrid strains. Hybrids exist somewhere between the two on the spectrum, depending on the genetics of the parent strains. With so many different subspecies and strains on the market, a hybrid can be significantly indica or sativa dominant.

Introducing hybrids can confuse matters even further, which is why a deeper understanding of cannabinoids and terpenes can be helpful in choosing the right option. Ultimately, getting your desired effects and experience is easier when you search for a strain with the perfect combination of compounds and genetics, rather than just deciding between strains alone.

Get Expert Guidance at Euphoria Wellness

Understanding all these strains, cannabinoids, terpenes, consumption methods and effects can be overwhelming, but Euphoria Wellness is here to help. Our highly trained staff has an in-depth understanding of the different strains we carry, as well as the use of cannabis for both therapeutic and recreational effects, so we’ll be happy to guide you through your selection and help you find the option that delivers the experience you’re looking for. Just stop by today to speak with one of our knowledgeable staff members about your needs and browse our menu!