What Is the Difference Between Indica and Sativa?

Published November 26, 2019
What Is the Difference Between Indica and Sativa? - Secret Nature

Cannabis has a lot of impressive effects, but these traits vary widely among the popular hemp strains. Early in the history of Western cannabis breeding, cultivators separated the plant into two general groups: indica and sativa. The true meaning of these terms, however, is often lost in the hubbub over indica vs. sativa and which type is better. Both types of hemp are useful and special, however, understanding the difference between sativa and indica is essential if you want to pick the right CBD flower products.

Where did Indica and Sativa come from?

Cannabis sativa was first classified by Linnaeus in the 18th century. A few decades later, a successor named Lamarck discovered a new species of cannabis called Cannabis indica. While some contemporary sources contend that the difference between indica and sativa cannabis isn’t real, these taxonomic classifications of hemp have persisted into modern times.

These days, however, it’s widely agreed that cannabis is only one species: Cannabis sativa. While there may be some holdouts who contend that the Lamarckian classification should still be traditionally observed, “indica” is now mainly used to refer to cannabis that has a more relaxing and "downer" effect.

Regardless of whether indica and sativa are just arbitrary taxonomic classifications, there are plenty of differences between cannabis strains that can be roughly categorized into two general groups. Calling these groups “indica” and “sativa” seems to work, so there’s no big reason to change things. Indica and sativa may have lost their scientific meaning, but there remains an undeniable truth: there are two main types of cannabis, and the terms “sativa” and “indica” fit the bill.

What Is Sativa?

The term “sativa” literally means “that which is grown,” and it is the second half of the taxonomic classification Cannabis sativa. In modern parlance, “sativa” is mainly used to refer to cannabis strains that cause an uplifting, euphoric, energetic “sativa effect” whether the dominant cannabinoid is THC, CBD, or another cannabinoid altogether. With non-intoxicating cannabinoids, of course, there is no overpowering “high,” but sativa traits still exert noticeable "up" effects.

What Is Indica?

The “indica high,” by contrast, is much more mellow. Keep in mind, however, that CBD is non-intoxicating, so none of the hemp products available at will get you "high".

What is indica weed? This term is sometimes used to refer to “indica” cannabis that is high in THC. Some people call CBD-rich cannabis “CBD weed,” but since this term is associated with the illegal drug marijuana, we prefer the term “hemp” instead.

How are the terms “Indica” and “Sativa” used these days?

In modern times, terms like “indica bud,” “indica pot,” and “sativa high vs. indica high” are most commonly used to refer to the effects of recreational cannabis. As CBD-rich flower has become more popular, these terms have expanded into the general-market hemp cannabidiol industry.

Sometimes, indica/sativa is used to describe only the perceived effects of cannabis. Many users don’t really know whether their cannabis is indica or sativa, and they just go off what they feel. Since the majority of recreational and medical marijuana shops don’t offer lab test information, it’s even harder to find out if cannabis is indica or sativa.

In the end, however, lab tests that provide the terpene breakdown of CBD products can help you determine whether your CBD bud is indica or sativa. The indica and sativa difference isn’t as complicated as it seems⁠—we’ll explain as we continue.

Indica vs. Sativa - What’s the difference?

There’s a lot of debate as to whether there is any real difference between indica and sativa cannabis in the first place. Some theorists speculate that this division arises from the ill-advised Lamarckian split of the 1700s, and they suggest that it’s time to realize that indica and sativa are actually the same thing.

From a certain point of view, these critics of the prevailing orthodoxy are right. It turns out that there are far fewer differences between indica and sativa cannabis than is commonly believed. While highly unlikely, it’s entirely possible that the entire “indica v. sativa” legal case is just an incredibly widespread instance of mass hysteria.

When you look closely at the science, however, it becomes clear that there are real differences between cannabis phenotypes that could be responsible for the reported “indica and sativa effects.” We break down these scientific differences below:

Terpene and flavonoid profile

There’s a lot we don’t know about terpenes, and we know even less about flavonoids⁠—at least, when it comes to how these plant compounds operate in Cannabis sativa. Terpenes are found in many sources in nature with pine trees, citrus fruits, and hemp being just a few well-known examples. Flavonoids are even more widespread, and they’re widely considered to be potent antioxidants when consumed in citrus fruits.

The tenets of homeopathy are widely ridiculed these days, and it’s true that there isn’t much scientific backing for the idea that infinitesimally small quantities of a substance could affect your body on a large scale. When it comes to terpenes, however, it immediately becomes clear that a little goes a long way, and one of the easiest ways to find out just how potent terpenes are is to follow your nose.

Terpenes typically make up less than 1% of Cannabis sativa biomass. This tiny mass, however, exerts an incredibly powerful odor, and many cannabis connoisseurs are able to identify certain strains or traits based on smell alone.

It’s no wonder, therefore, that terpenes have profound effects. Certain terpenes in citrus fruits, for instance, are believed to have beneficial properties⁠—it’s unknown, however, if these effects are transferred over to cannabis terpenes.

To be honest, there’s quite a bit more we don’t know about Cannabis sativa than we know at this point, but a few things are abundantly clear: Lab-tested, organically-grown cannabis is the best option available, and removing THC from the equation and boosting the CBD allows you to enjoy the effects of indica and sativa terpene profiles the way nature intended.

Cannabinoid Profile

The difference between indica and sativa can also sometimes be expressed in the ratio of cannabinoids present in specific phenotypes. While there’s only limited science to back this claim, some cannabis experts suggest that differing percentages of trace cannabinoids, like CBN, CBG, and THCV, affect the way that cannabis feels.

In the end, it’s more likely that terpenes are the major players when it comes to the sativa and indica difference. Cannabinoids only appear to have significant effects at higher concentrations, and the much-reported “entourage effect” appears to show itself equally regardless of the exact cannabinoid ratio in a given cannabis product.

Cultivation differences

Since indica and sativa hemp strains are different biologically, they also grow differently. In general, indica plants grow shorter and mature quicker. Sativa plants, on the other hand, tend to stretch, and they may take as many as 9-10 weeks to mature. Indica buds are usually fat and squat, and sativa buds are long and thin.

Since sativa plants have longer flowering and shorter vegetatative cycles, different light schedules must be observed. Also, the nutrients required differ between sativa and indica hemp plants, and nutrients must be administered at different times.


Get the best CBD-rich indica and sativa CBD hemp flower with Secret Nature

Indica or sativa⁠—which to pick? With Secret Nature, you don’t have to decide. We offer our CBD-rich, low-THC flower strains in both indica and sativa varieties, and our tinctures and vape cart offerings are also enriched with real cannabis derived terpenes to take on either sativa or indica traits.

What is the difference between indica and sativa? In the end, it’s up to you to decide. Hemp affects everyone differently, and one person’s perfect strain is the wrong product for another hemp customer. Try each of our delicious strains yourself to find out for what works best for you, and reach out to our courteous and attentive customer service team if you have any questions!

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