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Indica VS Sativa: What's the Difference?

When it comes to choosing the right cannabis for you, the indica VS sativa question is the first one to ask yourself.

Jason SanderJason Sander · Jul. 20, 2020 · 6 min read
Indica VS Sativa: What's the Difference?

When it comes to choosing the right cannabis for you, the indica VS sativa question is the first one to ask yourself. In this article, we discuss the origins of the names, differences of the plants and their supposed effects, and why science currently tells us there’s likely little or no difference in the effects of the two. Also, we briefly touch upon the lesser-known variety of cannabis called ruderalis. Keep reading to get your questions answered.

Terminology Origins

Even the most inexperienced cannabis consumer will be familiar with the terms indica and sativa. But where did these come from? The term sativa was originally named by Swedish botanist Carl Linneaus in the mid-1700s. Linnaeus used sativa to describe hemp plants grown in Europe and western Eurasia. People in those cultures cultivated what we now know as hemp for the plant’s nutrient-rich seeds and durable fibers.

Towards the end of the 1700s, The French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck named plants indica after discovering them in India. People in India also grew cannabis for their seeds and fiber. The difference was the fact that people in India made hashish out of cannabis flower. The interesting part about this is that hash was not only the first cannabis concentrate, it was the first widely consumed form of cannabis. Up until circa the 1960s, hashish consumers considered the dried and cured cannabis flower to be a crude form of smoking.

Differences in Plants

Nowadays, both indica and sativa are used to describe and classify thousands of cannabis cultivars - even though this classification dichotomy is likely incorrect, or at least not entirely accurate. But more on this later on in this article. The two terms, at least for now, describe the differences in the two plants. Modern-day indica plants have short, stout stems with broad leaves. Modern-day sativa plants are tall with narrow leaves.

With so much cross breeding and advancement in growing, there are few - if any - purely sativa or purple indica cultivars. Much of this cross-breeding was historically done underground in order to evade law enforcement. The vast majority of cannabis consumed today is a hybrid of the two, and there’s no measurement system that can tell us how much of the two a particular cultivar contains. For instance, when you see a cultivar being presented as 60% sativa, 40% indica, that is mostly speculation and largely estimation.

Cannabis Ruderalis

Most cannabis consumers have no doubt heard of sativa and indica, but not too many know about cannabis ruderalis. There has been a debate amongst botanists and growers as to whether cannabis ruderalis qualifies as its own species or subspecies. The botany term ruderal refers to a species of plant that grows despite human modification or changes to its environment. Cannabis ruderalis is native to northern Asia, Central/Eastern Europe, and specifically, Russia. Ruderalis plants survived the harsh conditions and shorter growing seasons of these areas. Many botanists and cannabis breeders believe that this is where indica originally comes from.

Ruderalis plants are much shorter than their relatives, with most plants being under two feet tall. The stems are thick and sturdy, and the buds are thick but small. Buds from ruderals tend to be very low in potency. The most notable difference is that ruderalis cannabis varieties enter their flowering state automatically based on how mature the plants are. Indica and sativa flowering is triggered by the photoperiod, which means its light/ dark cycle. Ruderalis has been bred into modern-day cannabis seeds, which give us the coveted auto-flowering varieties. The thought process is that auto-flowering cultivars will flower on their own, although this is not a guarantee. More on the light and dark cycle, vegetation and flowering states in upcoming articles.

Indica VS Sativa - Effects

What are the differences in effects after consuming indica and sativa? The common school of thought is that indica-dominant cannabis have a calming, pain-relieving, and sedative effect, while sativa varieties cause an uplifting and energetic high.

The truth is, everyone is different and so is how cannabis will make them feel. One person could be put to sleep by a so-called sativa-dominant cultivar, while another could feel energized by a so-called indica. The way any kind of cannabis will make someone feel is based mostly on the cannabinoid and terpene content of the cultivar, the consumer’s unique biology, and how much they consume. These effects will vary depending on the method of ingestion, as well. Whether you vape concentrates, smoke flower, take edibles, and so on - this will have more of an impact on how you feel the effects than of a cultivar than if it is labeled as an indica or a sativa.


It is important to note - that of course, this two species dichotomy is far from an exact science. And we are going off of anecdotes from consumers and the cannabis community as to how we feel the effects. As our industry evolves, we will get close to predicting how you will feel from an individual cultivar. For now, it’s best to start off by micro-dosing and figuring it out for yourself what variety of cannabis you like. Take your time, there are thousands of varieties of cannabis to choose from, and that is literally growing daily.

Science Currently Says There’s No Difference?

While some cannabis lovers might be surprised by this, scientific research tells us that there isn’t that much of a difference in the effects of indica or sativa. Yes, this goes against just about everything we know as cannabis consumers. And trust us, we are completely aware of the fact that we have a ton of content that indicates there is a difference. The unfortunate reality is that this is the sativa/ indica dichotomy classification we have available to us right now, and it’s far from accurate.

As the science indicates right now, the experience you get from cannabis cultivars is currently anecdotal and perhaps even a placebo effect. When researchers started testing cannabis molecularly, the results show that the only reason to classify cannabis into the two has to do with the plants themselves. In the 18th century, the classification system we know was started, splitting cannabis plants up into two species as a way to describe their appearance. What we think of as indica plants need different growing environments, lighting, and so on than sativa does. The fact that the science says there is not much of a difference could also be largely due to the difficulty of testing how much indica or sativa a specific cultivar of cannabis contains.

"While some cannabis lovers might be surprised by this, scientific research tells us that there isn’t that much of a difference in the effects of indica or sativa."

More Research Needed? You Don’t Say…

It’s a broken record at this point, but more studies and research needs to be done on the difference. Perhaps we will eventually get some more peer-reviewed, definitive evidence of the differences of effects of indica and sativa. Or even better, as the cannabis industry continues to grow and evolve, we will develop a more accurate classification system. The way we classify and understand cannabis is complex and confusing largely because growing the plant medicine has been done underground for so many years. Now that the layers of prohibition are finally being pulled back, we are slowly but surely starting to understand these things better.

HashDash - Your One Stop for Valuable Information

As a thinking cannabis consumer, HashDash is your one-stop for information about all things cannabis consumption. Here at HashDash, we aren’t super interested in feelings, we present the facts. And this is why we painstakingly research each and every article before we publish them. As with all of the content here on HashDash, we always do our best to present the facts as we know them while avoiding expressing much of our feelings or opinions into things as much as possible. We think there’s already enough of that on the internet.

If you like our content and want to see more, be sure to connect with us on social media and let us know what you’d like to see us cover on our blog - @hashdashdotcom on all platforms. If you haven’t already, you will definitely want to sign up for HashDash to discover your cannabis matches. Thanks for reading! Until next time, happy consuming!

Jason Sander
Jason SanderJason is a versatile writer and marketer with over ten combined years of experience working with clients in various industries. He couples this expertise with six years of writing for the cannabis sector as well as a passion for the business side, and the science behind the plant medicine.




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