Cannabis Strains


You’ve probably noticed cannabis strains are divided into three main categories: sativa, indica and hybrid. These species have different physical characteristics, chemical composition and medicinal properties.

  • Cannabis indica provides a more sedating, calming high.

  • Cannabis sativa has a euphoric, uplifting effect.

  • Hybrid strains contain elements of both sativa and indica, depending on the genetics and thecross-breeding of the parent plants.

The high you feel from a particular cannabis strain is impacted by a variety of factors, including the plant profile, dosage and consumption method, as well as your biology. People often use the terms indica and sativa to explain the varying effects of cannabis, but truthfully it goes beyond that. As cross-breeding and research evolves, many experts find that the use of only two terms is limiting and doesn’t do justice to the wide-ranging effects of the different strains. There are over 60 active chemical compounds in cannabis, collectively known as cannabinoids. Of these compounds, THC and CBD are typically found in the highest concentration in cannabis. THC is the psychoactive component in cannabis. While CBD is non-psychoactive, it, nonetheless, has many therapeutic characteristics.

What is the difference between Sativa and Indica?

Before humans started farming and cross-breeding cannabis, it is assumed that there were approximately 60 different naturally-occurring strains. These indigenous strains date back thousands of years and are referred to as ‘landrace’ strains. Landrace strains grew in the wild and are typically either 100% indica or sativa. These pure strains are often named after their country of origin. The famed landrace indica strains, Hindu Kush and Pure Afghan, hail from the Kush mountain range in Afghanistan and Pakistan, whereas Acapulco Gold and Durban Poison are sativas from Mexico and South Africa, respectively.

Modern cannabis cross-breeding has given rise to thousands of hybrid strains. Though consumers today have a veritable smorgasbord of options, the extensive cross-breeding of cannabis means that the chemistry of the plant can no longer be qualified based on the physical characteristics. Basically, you can’t predict the effects of any given strain based on the category alone.

Each strain has unique genetics which leads to varying levels of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids. It is important to consider other factors when medicating with cannabis, like the cannabinoid and terpene (the aroma compounds responsible for cannabis flavor) profile. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all for cannabis consumption.


Indica: Origins and Morphology

The term Cannabis indica dates back to 1785 when Jean-Baptise Lamarck, a French evolutionary biologist, recorded the cannabis he encountered in India. Different from the Cannabis sativa that was farmed throughout Europe, Lamarck observed that Cannabis indica had intoxicating effects, and the locals used it to make hashish.

Cannabis indica originated in colder, harsher climates throughout the Indian subcontinent, northern Africa and central Asia. The plants are shorter and bushier with thicker, broader leaves, contributing to their stronger tolerance for hardy climates. Indica plants commonly grow to be 3-6 feet tall, making them ideal for indoor grow operations. Indica buds are thick, dense and dark in color with a short flowering time of about 8-9 weeks. The buds often smell sweet and fruity.

Sativa: Origins and Morphology

Cannabis sativa was first classified in 1753 by renowned Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, who established modern plant nomenclature. Linnaeus thought there was only one species of cannabis; hemp that was farmed throughout Europe. Hemp is now recognized as a subspecies of Cannabis sativa that has < 0.03% THC content. Today, the term sativa is widely used in reference to Cannabis sativa that produces buds with medicinal and psychoactive properties.

Sativas originated in tropical, humid climates, like Thailand, South Africa and Central America. Sativa strains grow tall and lanky with longer, thinner leaves, which conserves water in the harsh heat of these equatorial regions. Better suited for outdoor grows, sativa strains commonly reach 8 to 12” tall, but can grow up to 20” tall. With a longer flowering time of about 12-14 weeks, the buds are often light in color and have a pungent smell with earthy, piney notes.


Sativa: Medicinal Benefits

Sativa strains often have higher THC levels and a lower CBD content. THC contains strong analgesic properties which make the cannabinoid useful for treating certain symptoms, like chronic pain. Several animal studies have shown that THC inhibits the growth of amyloid plaque, the protein that causes multiple neurodegenerative disorders.

Sleep disturbances are common in neurodegenerative disease. THC can help patients fall asleep more easily. Studies have shown that THC can also reduce rapid eye movement during sleep. The REM cycle is when vivid dreams occur, so higher THC strains can potentially reduce PTSD-related nightmares.

Some of the most common sativa strains are Sour Diesel, Jack Herer, Green Crack, Super Lemon Haze and Lamb’s Bread.

Indica: Medical Benefits

Indica strains usually have a higher concentration of the cannabinoid, CBD. Anti-inflammation and anti-epileptic are some of the studied therapeutic properties of CBD. CBD also modifies the way THC interacts with body, lessening the psychoactive effect on your mind. A lot of patients value this phenomenon because they can still access the medical benefits of THC without the strong intoxicating effect.

Patients dealing with inflammation from gastrointestinal conditions, like Crohn’s disease, often find relief from indica strains due to the levels of the anti-inflammatory cannabinoid, cannabidiol. The anti-epileptic properties of CBD can also be beneficial for people who have seizure disorders and muscle spasticity from multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.

Some of the most potent strains of medical marijuana are Cannabis indica, including Northern Lights, Bubba Kush, Grandaddy Purple, G-13 and Blue Cheese.


So, what’s the deal with hybrids?

Hybrid strains are crossbred strains of cannabis with both indica and sativa genetics. They are segmented into three categories: sativa-dominant, indica-dominant and 50/50 hybrids. A lot of consumers feel hybrids are the best of both worlds. You can limit the paranoia-inducing effect of certain sativas, while reducing the sedation caused by certain indicas.

It’s hard to generalize the medicinal benefits of hybrid strains because they are bred to encompass a wide range of effects. Growers often cultivate a specific set of effects when crossbreeding.

  • Sativa-dominant hybrids can impart a cerebral high with a bit of indica’s full-body relaxation.

  • AK-47, Pineapple Express or Amnesia Haze are some of the most popular strains.

  • Indica-dominant hybrids provide pain relief while stimulating your mind with a soothing head high. Think Girl Scout Cookies, Tahoe OG, Skywalker OG and Blackberry Kush.

  • Balanced hybrids (50/50) are ideal for people seeking an even mind/body high. Strains include White Widow, Super Silver Haze and Purple Diesel.



Cannabis should be a force of therapeutic positivity in your life. When used properly, it can help reduce pain, distress and discomfort associated with many medical symptoms. Though clinical cannabis research has come a long way, comparing strains is mostly an anecdotal feat. It is helpful to keep a cannabis journal for tracking your physical reactions and benefits.