When browsing cannabis strains or purchasing cannabis at a dispensary, you’ll notice that strains are commonly broken up into three groups: indica, sativa, and hybrid. Most consumers and budtenders use these weed types to predict effects, but are they accurate?
Science is pointing to a better way of determining the effects a cannabis strain will have on you: cannabinoids and terpenes, the compounds that make up a particular strain’s chemical profile.
So why do smokers and budtenders alike still use indica, sativa, and hybrid instead of the cannabinoid and terpene model?
There’s a big push in the cannabis industry to disavow the indica/sativa/hybrid classification system because it is not based in data and science—the terms are botanical names that refer to a plant’s structure, not the effects it produces.
However, most of the cannabis industry, including shops where you buy weed, is still stuck in classifying strains as either indicas, sativas, or hybrids for one main reason: It’s easy. Give a consumer three options—up, down, or in-between—and you can easily explain how a certain strain will make them feel and sell a product. Like it or not, the indica, sativa, hybrid classification system is still entrenched in the world.
Both models have value, and consumers of all levels can use both. For an easier, more general way to pick a weed strain and its effects, the indica/sativa/hybrid model may work for you. Once comfortable with cannabis, you may want to dig into the nuances of weed a bit more, and learn about chemical profiles, cannabinoids, and terpenes—our preferred method.
Let’s look at the differences between indicas and sativas, and the usefulness of the two classification systems.
Indica vs. sativa: understanding the basics
The common understanding of indicas and sativas is that indica strains are physically sedating, perfect for relaxing with a movie or as a nightcap before bed, and sativa strains are energizing with uplifting cerebral effects that pair well with physical activity, social gatherings, and creative projects. Hybrid strains are thought to have a mix of indica and sativa effects.
But indica doesn’t always mean “in da couch” and sativas don’t necessarily energize all consumers. The origins of the two terms are actually rooted in botany, not effects, and describe the physical structure of a plant. On top of that, every person has a different body chemistry, so a strain can affect each person differently.
However, even today, the belief that indicas, sativas, and hybrids deliver distinct effects is still deeply rooted in mainstream cannabis culture. If you’ve ever been to a dispensary, you’ve likely heard a budtender begin a strain recommendation by asking which of those three types you prefer, but the science doesn’t support that.
SativasTypically thought to be energizing, sativas originally grew in warm, humid climates, growing long and lanky so they can dry out and not absorb so much humidity. Their warm climate also means they can take a long time to grow and flower, or produce buds, because the weather won’t get cold and rainy at the end of the growing season.
IndicasTypically said to be relaxing, indicas originally grew in cold, northern climates. They grew short and dense because of their environment, and their growing life cycle is shorter so they can get harvested before the cold and wet of fall and winter set in.
HempAs a side note, what we call “hemp” refers to the industrial, non-intoxicating varieties of cannabis harvested primarily for fiber, seeds, CBD, and novel cannabinoids such as delta-8. Hemp’s fiber can be used to make materials and textiles, its seeds can be eaten, and CBD and other novel cannabinoids can be extracted from it. Legally, hemp is any cannabis plant with less than 0.3% THC.
How to use the indica, sativa, hybrid method
Had a long day and want to chill out? Need to do some spring cleaning or get a project done? Talking to your local budtender, they will tell you:
- Indicas are calm and relaxing, great for chilling out at the end of the night, watching a movie or listening to music, taking a nap, or just staring at the wall.
- Sativas are energetic and will make you productive. They’re great for physical activity, going for a hike, completing a task, cleaning, and anything that requires focus.
- Hybrid strains offer a mix of indica- and sativa-like effects.
Broadly speaking, you’ll see a lot of consistency to the idea that indicas are relaxing and sativas are energetic. Most of the strains in the “sleepy” and “relaxed” categories are indicas, while most of the “energetic” strains are sativas.