Does knowing whether cannabis is indica or sativa matter?

Anyone who has frequented a dispensary knows that the most common way cannabis is categorized is by indica and sativa.

Some consumers know what those terms mean, but a lot of other consumers are left wondering what that means to them since they are either new consumers, or coming back to cannabis after a long lay-off.

The purpose of this article is to educate cannabis users on the differences between indica and sativa. If there's something you think others could benefit from, by all means put it in the comments section below so others can benefit from your knowledge.

How people have traditionally thought of indica versus sativa

If you ask most budtenders at dispensaries what the traits are for indica strains, they will usually focus on the following points:

  • Intense body high
  • Increased relaxation
  • Sedative
  • Best used during nighttime hours

If you ask most budtenders about sativa strains, they will usually offer up the following traits:

  • More mental euphoria
  • Uplifting
  • Increased creativity
  • Increased energy
  • Best used during daytime hours

This is a one-size-fits-all approach that many cannabis producers and retailers have followed for many years, but is it accurate and/or helpful to consumers?

Indica cannabis plants versus sativa cannabis plants

The indica and sativa categorization model is not as useful to consumers for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest is that most strains today are hybrids, meaning they are a cross of both sativa and indica genetics.

Another big reason why the indica sativa model is limited is that it largely depends on the grower.

Two growers could grow the exact same genetical strain and yield two different results because of the cultivation methods and environmental factors involved.

The harvests can potentially provide two completely different effects, with one providing euphoria and the other causing 'couch lock.' The consumer is often left wondering if they were really consuming what they thought they were.

Indica and sativa categorizing is much more useful to the grower. Regardless of effect provided, knowing if a strain is indica or sativa is important for growers, as it indicates the size and shape of the plant.

Sativa plants are taller and slimmer, and the leaves of sativa plants are longer and thinner. Indica plants are shorter and bushier, and the leaves are wider. This is important to growers who are concerned about garden space usage.

When someone is looking at a cannabis flower, chances are they won't be able to tell if it is indica or sativa, but if they see a plant growing, they are much more likely to be able to tell the difference.

Terpene profiles and cannabinoid levels are a better indicator of effect

Cannabis terpene profiles are a much better indicator of what effect to expect from a particular cannabis harvest.

Whereas indica and sativa labels and strain names can be misleading, terpene profiles provide a more scientific insight into what a particular cannabis flower contains inside of it.

Terpenes are fragrant oils that give cannabis its aroma. Below are common terpenes and their traits:

  • Humulene - suppresses appetite, anti inflammatory, helps with pain
  • Pinene - increases alertness, anti inflammatory
  • Linalool - sedative, relaxing, helps with insomnia and stress
  • Caryophyllene - no physical effects, antioxidant, anti inflammatory, helps with pain, insomnia, and muscle spasms
  • Myrcene - relaxing, induces euphoria, anti-inflammatory, has antiseptic and antibacterial qualities
  • Limonene - elevated mood, relaxing, helps with depression and anxiety

The different levels of terpenes will determine the effects and benefits that a consumer will experience. How strong those effects and benefits will be is determined by the cannabinoid levels of the cannabis.

If a particular strain is high in THC and myrcene it will induce a strong level of euphoria. If a consumer wants to relax but not get too 'high,' they would want to find a strains high in CBD and linalool and caryophyllene.

The effects of indica versus sativa, with a grain of salt

Always keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all for cannabis consumption experiences. What one cannabis flower or product will do to one person could be completely different for the next person.

However, there is a science behind determining effects, and the cannabis community is learning more about it every day.

Knowing whether a strain is an indica or sativa is better than nothing, but it's an inferior categorization model and predictor of effects compared to terpene profiles and cannabinoid levels.

Obviously consumers need to live where cannabis testing is occuring in order to know that information. Fortunately as reform spreads, that will be a more common thing for cannabis consumers.


The Indica-Sativa Dilemma: Discover the Truth