Differences Between Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid – All You Need To Know

by | Jun 8, 2023 | Cannabis Strains, Marijuana Insights | 0 comments

When searching for cannabis strains or buying from a dispensary, you’ll commonly come across three categories: indica, sativa, and hybrid. These labels are traditionally used by consumers and budtenders to predict the effects of a particular strain. However, scientific research suggests a more accurate way of determining a strain’s effects is through its cannabinoids and terpenes—the chemical compounds that make up its profile.

So why do people still rely on the terms indica, sativa, and hybrid instead of the cannabinoid and terpene model? The cannabis industry is experiencing a movement to discard the indica/sativa/hybrid classification system because it lacks scientific backing—it primarily refers to a plant’s physical characteristics rather than its effects.

Nevertheless, many businesses, including cannabis shops, continue to classify strains as indicas, sativas, or hybrids for one main reason: simplicity. By offering consumers three options—uplifting, relaxing, or a mix—it becomes easier to explain the effects and sell a product. Whether we like it or not, the indica, sativa, hybrid system remains deeply rooted in the industry.

Both classification models have value, and consumers at all levels can benefit from both approaches. For a straightforward and general method of selecting a strain and understanding its effects, the indica/sativa/hybrid model may suit your needs. However, as you become more familiar with cannabis, you may want to explore the intricacies of strains further and delve into their chemical profiles, cannabinoids, and terpenes—a more preferred method.

Now let’s explore the distinctions between indicas and sativas and evaluate the usefulness of both classification systems.

Basic Difference Between Indica and Sativa

When it comes to understanding indicas and sativas, the general perception is that indica strains offer physical relaxation, making them ideal for unwinding with a movie or using as a bedtime aid, while sativa strains provide energizing effects that uplift the mind and pair well with physical activities, social interactions, and creative endeavors. Hybrid strains, on the other hand, are believed to combine both indica and sativa effects.

However, it’s important to note that indica strains don’t always result in couch-lock, and sativas may not energize every individual. In reality, the terms “indica” and “sativa” originated from botanical classification, describing the physical structure of the cannabis plant rather than its effects. Furthermore, each person has a unique body chemistry, meaning that a strain can have varying effects on different individuals.

Despite this, the belief that indicas, sativas, and hybrids have distinct effects remains deeply ingrained in mainstream cannabis culture. If you’ve ever visited a dispensary, you’ve likely encountered budtenders who start their strain recommendations by asking which of the three types you prefer. However, scientific evidence doesn’t support these claims.

The Origin of Indica and Sativa:

In 1753, Carl Linnaeus introduced the classification of cannabis plants in his publication “Species Plantarum.” He grouped all cannabis plants under the category of “Cannabis sativa L.,” with “Cannabis” as the genus, “sativa” as the species, and “L.” denoting Linnaeus’ system. The term “sativa” derives from the Latin word “sativum,” which means “cultivated.”

Later, in 1785, French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck refined the naming system by identifying two distinct species: “Cannabis sativa,” a taller and more fibrous plant, and “Cannabis indica,” a shorter and more psychoactive plant. The name “indica” refers to its perceived origin from India.

These definitions primarily describe the physical characteristics of each cannabis type and continue to be widely used today.


Sativas are commonly associated with energizing effects. They originally thrived in warm and humid climates, growing tall and lanky to facilitate drying and minimize humidity absorption. Their extended growth cycle is due to the favorable weather conditions, as they don’t face cold and rainy seasons towards the end of their growth period.


Indicas are often described as having relaxing properties. They originated in cold northern climates, adapting to short and dense growth patterns influenced by their environment. Indica plants have a shorter life cycle, allowing them to be harvested before the arrival of cold and wet fall or winter conditions.


As a side note, the term “hemp” refers to non-intoxicating varieties of cannabis primarily cultivated for industrial purposes. Hemp plants are harvested for their fiber, seeds, and various compounds like CBD and delta-8, which offer potential benefits. Hemp fiber can be utilized in the production of materials and textiles, hemp seeds are edible, and CBD and other compounds can be extracted from it. Legally, hemp is defined as any cannabis plant containing less than 0.3% THC.

Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid vs. Cannabinoids and Terpenes

Understanding the nuances of cannabis is crucial, especially when it comes to determining how different strains will interact with your body chemistry. While the traditional indica/sativa/hybrid classification provides a basic understanding of strain effects, a more comprehensive approach involves considering the cannabinoids and terpenes present in each strain.

To use the traditional indica/sativa/hybrid classification, consider your desired outcome and consult a knowledgeable budtender. Indicas are known for their calming and relaxing effects, making them suitable for unwinding in the evening or engaging in leisure activities. Sativas, on the other hand, provide energizing effects, making them ideal for physical activities and enhancing focus. Hybrid strains offer a combination of both indica and sativa effects.

However, to gain a deeper understanding of strain effects, it’s essential to explore the role of cannabinoids and terpenes. Cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, are the primary compounds in cannabis responsible for its therapeutic and recreational effects. THC induces a high and alleviates pain and nausea, while CBD is non-intoxicating and relieves anxiety, pain, and inflammation.

Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in various plants, including cannabis. They contribute to the unique scent of different strains and may also influence their effects. Although the precise impact of terpenes and their combinations is still under research, they add significant value to the overall effects of cannabis strains.

To choose a strain using the cannabinoid and terpene model, start by determining your desired THC and CBD levels. THC-dominant strains deliver potent euphoria and are favored by those seeking pain relief or mood enhancement. Balanced THC/CBD strains offer a mild euphoric experience along with symptom alleviation and are suitable for newcomers to cannabis. CBD-dominant strains, low in THC, are commonly used by individuals sensitive to THC or those seeking clear-headed relief.

Additionally, pay attention to the terpene profile of your favorite strains. Understanding the terpenes present in strains can guide you in selecting similar strains with desired effects.

When choosing between indicas and sativas, consider other factors as well. Tolerance, dosage, body chemistry, set and setting, consumption method, medical history, and desired effects all contribute to the overall cannabis experience. Keeping track of your favorite and least favorite strains can help you discover new strains with similar profiles and find what suits you best.

In summary, while sativas are commonly associated with uplifting effects and indicas with relaxation, the hybrid category blends characteristics of both. However, understanding the chemical composition of strains through cannabinoids and terpenes provides a more accurate assessment of their effects.

Utilizing the Indica, Sativa, Hybrid Method for Effective Strain Selection:

When you need to unwind or boost productivity, understanding the indica, sativa, hybrid method is crucial. By consulting a knowledgeable budtender, you’ll discover the following insights:

  • Indicas offer a calm and relaxing effect, perfect for unwinding at night, watching a movie, or taking a nap.
  • Sativas provide an energetic boost, promoting productivity during physical activities, tasks, and cleaning.
  • Hybrid strains combine indica and sativa effects for a balanced experience.

While the indica and sativa categorization is widely known, the actual predictors of effects lie in the mix of cannabinoids and terpenes—chemical compounds present in cannabis responsible for the overall experience.

Understanding Cannabinoids and Terpenes for Accurate Strain Selection:

Cannabinoids and terpenes are crucial components to consider when determining the effects of different cannabis strains. These compounds, found in varying ratios, play a significant role in shaping the therapeutic and recreational effects of cannabis.

  • THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is the primary compound responsible for the intoxicating “high” sensation and alleviating symptoms like pain and nausea.
  • CBD (cannabidiol) is a non-intoxicating compound known for its potential to relieve anxiety, pain, inflammation, and other medical ailments.

Terpenes, aromatic compounds found in cannabis and other plants, contribute to the distinct smells and potentially influence the effects of strains. Common terpenes found in cannabis include:

  • Myrcene
  • Caryophyllene
  • Limonene
  • Terpinolene

While research is ongoing, terpenes, along with cannabinoids, are believed to contribute to a strain’s effects. Considering both cannabinoids and terpenes is essential for a comprehensive understanding of a strain’s potential effects.

Implementing the Cannabinoid and Terpene Method for Strain Selection

Instead of solely relying on indica and sativa categorization, a more effective approach is to consider cannabinoids and terpenes, known as the strain’s chemical profile or chemovars. Cannabis strains can be broadly classified into three chemovar types:

  • Type I: High THC, low CBD
  • Type II: Balanced THC and CBD (e.g., 1:1 strains)
  • Type III: High CBD, low THC

Although these terms may not be commonly used, understanding them helps communicate preferences more accurately. Follow these steps to utilize the cannabinoid and terpene method for strain selection:

Step 1: Selecting a Cannabinoid

  • THC-dominant strains (Type I) provide a potent euphoric experience and are suitable for managing pain, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and more.
  • Balanced THC/CBD strains (Type II or 1:1 strains) offer a mild euphoria alongside symptom relief, making them a good choice for novice consumers.
  • CBD-dominant strains (Type III) with low THC levels are widely used by individuals sensitive to THC or seeking clear-headed symptom relief.

Step 2: Pick Some Terpenes Take note of the terpenes in strains you enjoy. Terpene information can be found in strain databases or on product labels. If you like a strain with specific terpenes, you might enjoy strains with similar terpene.

What to Consider When Choosing Between Indica and Sativa:

When searching for the ideal cannabis strain or product, several factors should be taken into account. By considering the following aspects, you can make informed decisions and optimize your cannabis experience.

  1. Tolerance: Your tolerance level plays a significant role in how a strain affects you. Regular users may require higher quantities or stronger strains to feel the desired effects. For occasional users, it is advisable to start with a lower dosage and gradually increase consumption.
  2. Dosage: The potency of a strain and the quantity consumed, referred to as dosage, greatly influence the cannabis experience. While dispensaries offer strains with varying levels of potency, choosing a strain with lower THC percentages can provide a more enjoyable experience. Tailor the dosage to your preferences and desired effects.
  3. Body Chemistry: Each individual’s body chemistry reacts uniquely to cannabis. Even if consumption habits align with someone else, your body may respond differently. For individuals susceptible to THC-related anxiety or negative side effects, high-CBD strains can be a suitable alternative.
  4. Set and Setting: Consider your mindset and environment when consuming cannabis. Set refers to your mental state, while setting refers to your physical environment. If you are experiencing a challenging day or feel anxious about trying cannabis, it may result in negative effects. Select a consumption setting that aligns with your comfort level and desired experience, whether it’s in a social or private setting.
  5. Consumption Method: The method of consumption influences how a strain affects you. Vaping is typically considered lighter in intensity compared to smoking a joint. Dabbing delivers immediate and potent effects, making it less suitable for beginners. Edibles provide long-lasting effects. Choose a consumption method that aligns with your desired experience and start with lower doses.
  6. Medical History: If you have any medical conditions or take medications, consider potential interactions with cannabis. It is advisable to consult with your doctor or a medical professional before trying cannabis, as they can provide guidance and recommendations based on your specific health circumstances.
  7. Desired Effect, Mood, or Experience: Define your desired experience or mood when selecting a strain. Seek recommendations from local budtenders who can provide insights based on your desired effects or experiences. Remember that not all indicas induce sleepiness, and not all sativas deliver energetic or uplifting effects.
  8. Note Favorite and Least Favorite Strains: Keep track of strains you enjoy or dislike. This record will help you explore or avoid similar strains in the future. If you find a strain with a specific cannabinoid and terpene profile that appeals to you, chances are you will appreciate strains with similar characteristics. Additionally, strains with shared lineage often possess similar chemical profiles, leading to comparable terpene compositions and effects.

Enhance your strain selection process by considering these factors, ensuring a tailored and enjoyable cannabis experience.

Enrico Bratta

Enrico Bratta

Medical cannabis professional based in Phuket, Thailand.


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Enrico Bratta

Medical cannabis professional based in Phuket, Thailand.