If you are relatively new to the world of weed, you may not fully understand the different types of marijuana. You may have heard terms such as ‘indica,’ ‘sativa,’and ‘hybrid’ used to describe different strains. For example, Northern Lights is an indica, Super Silver is a sativa, and Blue Dream is a hybrid strain. But what’s the difference?
Originally, there were cannabis indica and cannabis sativa plants. However, generations of crossbreeding has led to an enormous number of hybrids (strains containing elements of an Indica and a Sativa) to choose from. Here is a quick explanation of the three strain types, followed by a brief history of these strains, along with a more detailed description of what to expect when you use each one.
- Cannabis Indica: This marijuana plant is known for being short and having wider leaves than a sativa. Indica strains relax the body and usually have a sedative ‘couch lock’ effect. As a consequence, they are popular amongst people with chronic pain and insomnia. You can also use an indica for MS, sleep apnea, arthritis, anxiety, and Parkinson’s.
- Cannabis Sativa: Sativa marijuana plants are taller and thinner than their indica counterparts. It is not unusual to see 20-feet tall sativas! This type of strain provides a stimulating head high, increases energy, and enhances creativity. Sativas are popular amongst patients with medical conditions that cause them to become lethargic and tired. You can use this strain in the morning or early afternoon, and it is used for chronic pain, glaucoma, HIV, headaches, and depression.
- Hybrid: As the name suggests, hybrid strains are a mixture of two or more cannabis strains and provide a combination of body and head high. Breeders are busily trying to create all-encompassing strains capable of alleviating a number of medical problems. For instance, you can find hybrid strains capable of fighting inflammation and pain that still provide an energy boost.
Marijuana – Origin of the Species
Cannabis one of the oldest crops in the world. There is evidence that it has been grown for over 12,000 years. However, its history almost certainly goes back even further. However, humans did not distinguish between indica and sativa strains until the 18th century. Cannabis sativa was the first species to be given a name. Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, found a strain in 1753 and called it ‘sativa,’ derived from the Latin word for ‘cultivated.’
Originally, Sativas were grown in countries located near the equator such as Thailand and Colombia, because they grow best in hot climates with plenty of sunshine. At the time, Linnaeus understandably believed it was the only form of the plant because there was nothing to compare it to.
However, in 1785, a French naturalist named Jean-Baptiste Lamarck discovered an entirely new marijuana type. These new plants were far shorter, densely branched, and laden with broad and wide leaves. The leaves were far darker than those of the sativa plant because of the greater chlorophyll concentration. Lamarck called the species Cannabis indica, a plant which was grown in places such as India and Turkey.
Indica plants have developed specific characteristics to enable them to grow in harsh environments. For example, indicas produce a sticky, organic substance known as resin, which also happens to boost potency. Hybrids were developed much later and are a feature of the modern era as breeders attempt to create unique marijuana strains.
There is another marijuana strain type that is still relatively rare. Cannabis ruderalis was classified by D.E. Janischevsky, a Russian botanist, in 1924. The name comes from the word ‘ruderal’ which describes a plant capable of growing in the harshest climates. Janischevsky noticed that the ruderalis was significantly different from either Indica or Sativa plants.
For a start, it seldom grows taller than 0.8m and has a ‘wild’ appearance without branches. Recent research has discovered that several marijuana species are not related to either indica or sativa, and concluded that they must be ruderalis. These plants have a low THC concentration, which means they are not used in medical circles.
Can You Tell an Indica From a Sativa?
Although you can simply Google the names of strains to find out whether they are indicas or sativas, being able to spot the difference from a quick look at the weed is a great skill to have. As you know, the most common way to purchase marijuana is in dried bud form. The best way to distinguish the two types is through close analysis of the buds, although the name of a strain can sometimes be a giveaway too.
How to spot a sativa
Sativa plants are tall and thin, and their buds are looser and lighter than their indica counterpart. When a sativa plant blooms, its flowers form along the branch and seems ‘stretched out.’As a result, you end up with buds that are not particularly dense. Also, sativa plants tend to flourish in warm climates which means they often have deep red or orange color accents on the buds.
How to spot an indica
Indica plants are shorter and more compact, and their buds follow suit. When you analyze an indica plant’s buds, notice how dense they are. This is because their blossoms tend to stick close to the stem’s nodes during flowering. The result is a set of buds that seem ‘fuller’ and feel firmer to the touch. As indicas usually grow in cooler climates, they develop a touch of purple coloring.
What’s in a Name?
Traditionally, strains with the name ‘haze’ are sativas while those with ‘kush’ are indicas, but the proliferation of crossbreeding and the creation of various new strains means it isn’t easy to determine the type of marijuana you’re getting from the name alone. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that companies create their own names for strains. Growing conditions change the characteristics of a plant, so if two companies are selling Girl Scout Cookies, for example, you don’t necessarily get the same effects.
The thing about labelling marijuana strain types is that we can fall into the trap of assuming than an indica or sativa plant only produces a specific type of effect. This is fundamentally untrue, because it is a cannabis plant’s cannabinoids and terpene content that are responsible for the different effects produced.
At the time of writing, an estimated 113 cannabinoids have been identified in the marijuana plant, although some experts believe there are probably over 200. These cannabinoids have a significant impact on your body and mind because of their effect on the human endocannabinoid system (ECS) which was only discovered in 1992.
The ECS consists of a series of receptors located in the glands, cells, organs, and brain that produce substances akin to marijuana cannabinoids which affect inflammation, pain, mood, memory, and a host of other functions. If you have even a vague familiarity with weed, you will have heard of the cannabinoids THC and CBD, which are the most abundant in marijuana plants.
THC is the best-known cannabinoid because of the psychoactive high it provides. CBD has gained global attention in recent years because it is associated with a variety of medical benefits and does not cause a ‘high.’ Other important cannabinoids include CBN and CBG.
Indica and sativa plants contain all of these cannabinoids, and it is the quantity of cannabinoids that dictates a plant’s effects. For a long time, it was believed that indica plants had higher levels of THC while sativas had greater amounts of CBD. Strains high in THC are popular amongst patients who need a strong euphoric experience to combat pain, anxiety, and depression.
Strains high in CBD contain minimal THC and are typically used by patients seeking relief for their symptoms without the psychoactive effects. Strains with a balanced THC/CBD level such as Harlequin offer symptom relief and mild euphoria. Of course, it isn’t this simple!
Have you ever tried aromatherapy to relax your mind and body? If so, you have already experienced the effects of terpenes, the aromatic compounds found in marijuana, fruit, and other plants. The fantastic smell of citrus or pine you get from your favorite strain is due to its unique terpene content. To date, well over 100 terpenes have been identified, but it is believed that there are several hundred in total.
Terpenes are capable of stimulating or relaxing an individual and a plant’s terpene type, and content also helps dictate the strain’s effects. For instance, linalool is known for providing relaxation whereas pinene provides a mental and physical boost. We advise you to become familiar with a strain’s terpene content, as it will improve your knowledge of how to choose the right strain for your needs.
Terpenes potentially alter the effect of THC on your body and have an impact on potency. For instance, you could have two strains with a THC content of 18% apiece. However, if they have different terpene content and types, one strain could be more potent than the other and provide effects that you don’t expect.
Originally, it was believed that indicas tended to have sweet fruity flavors such as grape and blueberry, whereas sativas normally had pine and earth aromas. However, increased awareness of terpenes has shown us that a strain can have any flavor or smell, regardless of whether it is a sativa or an indica.
What About Hybrids?
A hybrid is a combination of two or more marijuana strains and is a great way to mix the power of an indica with a sativa. OG Kush is a prime example of a strain capable of providing the ‘best of both worlds.’ It offers the uplifting euphoria of a sativa and the body relaxation of an indica. Generally speaking, there are three types of hybrids:
- Indica-Dominant: They usually provide a sedated feeling along with a powerful body high. You will feel relaxed without necessarily having the desire to sleep. Popular indica-dominant strains include Super Skunk, Blueberry, and Super Critical.
- Sativa-Dominant: These strains offer a relaxing body feeling and an invigorating head high. They allow you to unwind without succumbing to couch-lock. Popular sativa-dominant strains include AK-47, Strawberry Cough, and Amnesia Haze.
- Balanced: Also known as 50/50 hybrids, these strains provide an all-over effect on body and mind. Popular balanced strains include Californian Orange, Purple #1, and Chronic.
Picking the Right Marijuana Strain for You
A highly-rated marijuana strain is not necessarily the right option for your specific needs. Overall, your choice of weed depends on your experience and tolerance level, coupled with your requirements. Here is a brief snapshot:
- Beginners: You should always dip your toe in the water with caution. We recommend using a high-CBD, low-THC strain regardless of your needs. Strains such as Harlequin and Sour Tsunami normally have a reasonable level of THC, so while you should feel mild euphoria, the high-CBD content ensures the experience is not too intense.
- Relaxation/Unwinding: Hybrids are normally the right option here as they prevent you from completely collapsing while ensuring you slowly but surely relax. Fire OG is a good option because it helps you calm down while still being able to enjoy your favorite TV programs.
- For energy: If you are a slug in the morning, look for a pure sativa such as Durban Poison. A combination of high-THC and low CBD hits you hard and is like drinking a very large cup of strong coffee.
- Sleep: If you are an insomniac, a pure indica such as Hindu Kush should be your ‘go-to’ strain. You don’t have to worry about a slow, lingering high that keeps you couch locked for hours. Instead, you should drift off to sleep pretty quickly.
- Pain: It depends on whether you want to relax or if you have to power through the day. For those in need of sleep, an indica-dominant strain such as Blackberry Kush is a good option as it offers a euphoric high and improves your mood. If you have to work, Harlequin is ideal because it soothes the pain and provides a feeling of euphoria but keeps your mind clear.
In the end, it is probably best if you don’t associate indica, sativa, and hybrid strains with specific effects. In reality, it is the cannabinoid and terpene content of a marijuana plant that dictates its effects. Although sativas tend to have more CBD and indicas usually have a higher level of THC, this is not always the case.
The development of hybrid strains has only served to muddy the waters even more. Ideally, it is best if you go to a dispensary and tell the budtender the effects you are looking for, rather than specifically asking for an indica, sativa, or hybrid strain. If you want to get buzzed, choose a high THC strain with limonene. If you want to treat pain, opt for a high-CBD strain with lower THC that is rich in the alpha-pinene terpene.
Futhermore, the method of consumption also dictates how you feel after using any marijuana strain. Smoking weed burns off numerous terpenes and cannabinoids and provides a high that may last for 20-30 minutes. Vaporizing is easier on the lungs and retains more cannabinoids and terpenes, so you should get a more satisfying high. Edibles take up to two hours to work, but the effect is more intense and longer lasting. Topicals are rubbed on the skin and are best for pain and inflammation.
Finally, there is a big difference between dry herb and concentrates. While most dry herb has a maximum THC content of 25% (although there are 30%+ strains now), there are concentrates with up to 99% pure THC, and these typically come in the form of wax or shatter. All you need is a tiny amount of concentrate, and you should feel intense effects almost immediately. Be VERY careful when using a powerful concentrate from an especially potent marijuana strain, regardless of whether it is a hybrid, indica, or sativa.