Sativa vs. Indica: Real or BS?

Published September 13, 2021
Sativa vs. Indica: Real or BS? - Secret Nature
  • The differences between indicas and sativas have been dramatically exaggerated
  • Science proves, though, that however subtly, indica and sativa strains aren’t exactly the same
  • The focus should mainly be on the effects of individual cannabinoids and terpenes


Much has been made of the difference between sativa and indica. Long-time smokers swear that indica-leaning strains of cannabis feel entirely different from sativa strains. Then, they’ll be the first people to fall for it when you pass off a strongly sativa strain for indica-dominant bud.

We don’t blame anyone for suspecting the difference between indica and sativa cannabis might be total BS. Admittedly, the volume of hype surrounding the phenomenon is only surpassed by the gullibility of its blindest believers.

The truth, though, is there are a few real, scientific differences between indica and sativa cannabis strains. Let’s take a look at them in detail.

Part 1: Indica vs. sativa 101

1. Do indica and sativa strains have different genetics?

Zoom in to the very beginnings of cannabis — its genetics. A natural weed native to the Eurasian continent, Cannabis sativa has been the perennial companion of mankind for millennia, serving as a staple food, fiber, and medicinal crop.

It’s only recently that cannabis has been bred specifically for its cannabinoids, and as this process ramped up in the 20th century, fledgling cannabis scientists classified the plant into two distinct Lamarckian designations: Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica.

By the turn of the millennium, research had progressed to the point that scientists no longer believed indica and sativa cannabis plants to be fully distinct species. Ongoing taxonomy of the immensely complex cannabis plant revealed, though, significant genetic differences between these two cannabis categories.

2. Do sativas and indicas come from different places?

One of the reasons scientists originally thought indica and sativa forms of cannabis were genuinely different species is that they’re from different parts of Eurasia. Indica-leaning cannabis landraces hailed from northern latitudes, and sativas grew in the tropics.

3. Do sativa and indica strains grow differently?

Indica and sativa strains reflect their considerably different origin climates in their growth patterns. Coping with lack of light and colder temperatures, indicas grew squatter and stockier. Stretching up into the abundant tropical sunshine, sativas bore thinner, longer buds.

Sativa strains also have a considerably shorter growing season than their indica counterparts. Indicas can take up to 10 weeks to bear fully mature buds, but sativas mature after 7-8 weeks.

4. Do indicas and sativas express different terpenes?

Aside from their differences in growth patterns and appearance, sativa and indica cannabis strains are most notably different in the terpenes they express. Almost all cannabis strains are mutts now due to extensive inbreeding, but there was a time when certain terpenes betrayed sativa genetics while others easily proved a strain was indica.

Even now, the trio of terpenes limonene, terpinolene, and humulene combine to most accurately express the essence of “sativa” while caryophyllene, pinene, and linalool remain the defining terpene trifecta in indica strains. Typically, these terpene profiles make sativas smell fruity or flowery while indicas smell sweeter or spicier.

5. Do indica and sativa strains have different effects?

Since each terpene has unique effects and indica and sativa strains tend to express different terpenes, it would stand to reason that the differences between the effects of indica and sativa strains might be more than just BS. Limonene, for instance, one of the most abundant terpenes in sativa strains, has been researched a lot recently for its potential energizing and anxiety-relieving properties.

Is limonene really more common in sativas than indicas, though? The truth is we still have only found out a fraction of what we need to know about the cannabis plant to make any definitive calls regarding the effects of any of its components.

Part 2: Indica vs. sativa FAQ

• Is there a real difference between indica and sativa?

Ultimately, indica and sativa are united under the banner of Cannabis sativa. In the future, we’ll know cannabis more by its cannabinoids and terpenes, not by its membership in one vaguely defined group or another.

Depending on its terpenes and cannabinoids, an indica strain might hit you more like a sativa or vice versa. Your own biochemistry must be taken into account as well as the type of product you’re using and its potency.

With all that said, strains labeled “indica” are still more likely to have relaxing, soporific effects while sativas are more disposed to pump you up. This situation will remain the status quo until cannabis breeding takes its next quantum leap.

• What does sativa do to the brain?

The effects of sativa strains in your brain are largely the same as the effects of indica strains. Research into the chemical differences between sativas and indicas indicates that the same major terpenes are largely shared across strains with the most significant variations appearing in rare, low-concentration terpenes like cineole, phellandrene, and carene.

If you’re looking for the origin of the different effects indicas and sativas appear to exert, look somewhere other than the brain. Limonene, which seems to exemplify the fruity nature of sativas along with terpinolene and myrcene, is actually more abundant in indicas than sativas according to research.

This is only one of the cannabis facts science has discovered that appears to defy conventional wisdom. If you’re looking for the potential anti-anxiety effects of limonene, should you turn to sativas or indicas? Perhaps you should simply try strains that have high concentrations of limonene and ditch the “indica-sativa” distinction altogether.

• What does indica do to the brain?

According to the science, there aren’t any considerable chemical differences between how indicas and sativas affect your brain. Statistically, you might have a “sativa” experience with a strain that’s supposedly indica just as easily as you would with a pure-sativa strain.

What’s important isn’t whether any one source says a strain is indica or sativa. What matters is what dozens or hundreds of people all say together.

Secret Nature has amassed a huge sample size of anecdotal cannabinoid effect evidence over the course of more than 10,000 verified customer reviews. Here are a few recent examples you can use to decide for yourself if the difference between indica and sativa is real or not:

  •  Secret Nature Frosted Kush Indica CBD Hemp Flower review - Kennedy W. ★★★★★ “I felt so relaxed after smoking this, the taste isn’t overpowering and doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth and the bud itself burns so smooth and goes down super easy.”

• Which is stronger — sativa or indica?

Some would consider indicas to be stronger, but the matter is up for the debate. If you’re looking for a strain that will put you into a stoned stupor for the longest amount of time possible, indicas are definitely the right way to go.

The stronger the indica strain, though, the less likely it is to offer any notable cognitive effects or “head high,” which is the hallmark of sativas. As a result, neither indicas or sativas can be considered to be objectively superior.

• Does sativa or indica make you sleepy?

If you’re wondering whether indica or sativa strains of cannabis will make you sleepy, the answer is definitely indicas. While some users will still feel sedated even after smoking the strongest sativa-leaning strains, indicas are more likely to offer the relaxing bed-time effects you’re looking for. As you select the right strain for getting to sleep at night, take a look at user reviews for specific strains instead of just assuming all indicas will be effective.

• Why do sativas make me tired?

Smoking sativa strains of cannabis shouldn’t make you tired since sativas are known for their uplifting, energizing effects. Cannabis isn’t guaranteed to affect every person in exactly the same way, though, so it’s entirely possible that a particular sativa strain might make you feel inexplicably sleepy. Try a different sativa if the one you smoked didn’t offer the expected effects.

• Does sativa make you laugh?

With the benefits of both indicas and sativas in mind, sativa-leaning strains are considerably more likely to make you feel giggly or effervescent. Indica-leaning strains, however, might make comedies even funnier and elicit those deeply satisfying belly laughs. In the end, sativas are better for the type of laughter you share while indicas are more appropriate for solo chuckles.

• Is sativa an upper or a downer?

None of the components in cannabis have directly stimualting properties, so it wouldn’t be accurate to classify sativa as either an “upper” or “downer.” In the wider sense that “upper” refers to a substance that has energizing or uplifting qualities and “downer” refers to a substance with depressant or relaxing properties, though, it’s possible to loosely classify sativas as “stimulating” even if they aren’t quite stimulants.

• Do indicas make you lazy?

To be honest, smoking indica strains of weed all the time has a definite tendency to make you at least a little bit lazy. The soporific effects indicas provide make it feel like all those tasks on your to-do list will eventually take care of themselves as long as you just keep sitting there and finish that episode of Netflix. If you account for the potential motivation-killing effects of indica strains, though, it’s not like smoking these strains is guaranteed to make you unavoidably lazy.

• Is sativa better for anxiety than indica?

Users generally consider sativas to be better than indica strains for anxiety, but it all depends on the person and the strain. If your anxiety mainly has to do with social situations, for instance, sativas may, indeed, be the right choice. If you have trouble relaxing when you’re home alone, though, you might prefer the effects indicas offer instead. Search for strains based on their effects instead of whether they’re indica or sativa to find the best weed strains for anxiety.

• Does sativa make you hungry?

Users would generally say that indica and sativa strains are about equally likely to make you hungry or give you the “munchies.” Sativas might make you hungry due to the rush of energy they often provide, but indicas can also make food sound especially good as you kick back on the couch.

Part 3: Sativa & indica further study

There’s still more to know about the divide between indicas and sativas. Dive into some laser-focused questions designed to deepen your knowledge:

— Is sativa healthier than indica?

There’s no evidence indicating that sativa strains of hemp or cannabis are any healthier or unhealthier than indica equivalents. In the same way, the health benefits of indica and sativa terpene profiles appear to be around equal.

— Is indica good for health?

Based on what users say about their effects, indica strains of hemp and cannabis appear to have a lot of impressive health benefits. These strains are often described as providing feelings of immense relaxation and calm, for instance, that commonly help users get to sleep at night.

— What is more important: sativa vs. indica or terpenes?

Recent research suggests that the specific terpenes present in strains of cannabis may impact their effects much more than simplistic divides like “indica vs. sativa.” To truly understand how a strain of cannabis or hemp will affect you, it’s necessary to look past the indica-sativa paradigm and analyze the exact ratio of terpenes present in the product.

— Does sativa put you to bed?

No, sativas aren’t particularly known for their sedative qualities, so you’ll need to head to the other end of the cannabis effects spectrum if you’re looking for a product that will help you get to sleep at night. Indica strains, for instance, are commonly described as providing relaxing properties that make them ideal for use before bedtime.

— Does indica make you hype?

No, indica strains do not commonly make you feel energetic or hyped up. The opposite is usually the case, actually: Indicas make you feel relaxed or even sleepy while sativas are generally considered to be the strains you should turn to when you want to feel energized or boosted.

— Is indica vs. sativa a myth?

No, the difference between indica and sativa products does not appear to be imaginary. If anything, this classification structure is just too simplistic. There’s a lot more to the world of cannabis effects than indica, sativa, and hybrid. Each individual strain brings something unique to the table, making it necessary to perform proper research to truly know how cannabis will affect you.

As time goes by, we might lean on descriptors like indica and sativa a bit less. These words will always serve as placeholders for commonly desired effects, though, ensuring an enduring place for indica and sativa within cannabis culture.


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