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What is the difference between indica and sativa?

What is the difference between indica and sativa?

Even if  you’re new to CBD, you probably know that it can provide physical and mental relaxation, reduced pain and inflammation, and better sleep. But did you know there are two main varieties of cannabis plants, each of which offers different benefits? 

It’s believed that more than a thousand strains of cannabis have been cultivated over the last few decades, and each strain has slightly different effects. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of the differences in efficacy, benefits, and potency. Some varieties of cannabis are better suited to certain conditions and ailments than others, and some provide effects that are better for certain times of the day. 

The two types of cannabis: indica and sativa

Cannabis is made up of three subspecies: indica, sativa, and ruderalis. Ruderalis plants contain a low potency, so they’re generally avoided by both growers and users. 

For the user, the most important difference between the remaining two subspecies of cannabis is their medicinal effects. Most people will be primarily interested in products containing either indica or sativa strains. Understanding the difference between the species and how they may affect you is very important when seeking out the right strain for your needs. Here’s a deeper look at how to choose between them.

The differences between indica and sativa

Some of the main reasons that people turn to CBD are to find relief for pain and/or help them sleep. Others might just want to boost their mood or chill out at the end of a long day at work. That’s where knowing whether a CBD product contains indica or sativa can really come in handy. Most CBD product labels will state whether the ingredients contain indica and sativa. If in doubt, check with the retailer or manufacturer. 

As a general overview:

  • Indica strains are said to be more physically sedating. This makes them ideal for relaxing in the evening or to help promote sleep.  
  • Sativas tend to provide more uplifting or energizing benefits—both physically and mentally. The cerebral effects can help with creative work, social situations, and physical activity. 
  • Hybrids, on the other hand, are a kind of ‘halfway point’. They deliver a combination of indica and sativa effects.

Interestingly, the chemical makeup of indicas and sativas (which includes cannabinoids and terpenes) doesn’t offer any explanation for these reputed effects. The two strains do look somewhat different and grow differently,  but it’s usually only cannabis growers who can distinguish the two. With that said, many CBD users are adamant that the differences do indeed exist and choose their strains accordingly. 

Cannabis indica

Indica plants tend to be short, bushy plants with wider, ‘chunkier’ leaves. They usually grow faster and have a higher yield than cannabis sativa. Indica plants have also been found to harbor a higher CBD content and lower THC.

Reported benefits of indica include: 

  • Mental relaxation
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Reduced nausea
  • Reduced inflammation and acute pain
  • Improved appetite
  • Improved levels of dopamine (a neurotransmitter responsible for the brain’s reward and pleasure sensations)

Cannabis indica is the strain recommended for evening/nighttime use. This strain tends to reduce energy and some potent strains may even cause ‘couchlock,’ in which you are too relaxed to get up off the couch! 

Cannabis sativa

The sativa plant is taller and thinner than indica, with narrow leaves. It is usually a lighter shade of green, takes longer to mature, and requires more light. Sativa plants are also found to have lower CBD content and higher THC.

Reported benefits of sativa include:

  • Reduced anxiety
  • Improved mood 
  • Pain relief 
  • Improved focus and creativity 
  • Increased levels of serotonin (a neurotransmitter responsible for learning, mood, sleep, anxiety, and appetite)

Cannabis sativa is the strain recommended for daytime use. It’s said to provide a feel-good boost to your cognition and energy levels, enhancing creativity and productivity. This is described as  ‘mind high,’ which differs from the ‘body high’ provided by indicas. 

Choosing the right strain for your needs

To know which strain is best for you, consider what you’re trying to manage.

For mental health ailments such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD, you may be better off with sativa strains. For pain, inflammation, and physical disorders such as arthritis, indica strains are usually recommended. Of course, many ailments share both physical and mental symptoms. This means that you may need to experiment with a variety of strains and potencies in order to obtain the result you’re after. 

You also want to keep in mind how a particular strain will fit into your lifestyle. If you have family responsibilities or a job that requires a certain level of focus, you probably shouldn’t opt for the more sedative indica effects. Similarly, if you suffer from chronic pain or muscular discomfort, you’re unlikely to enjoy the energizing benefits of sativa.