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Cannabis Indica vs Sativa, Are They Really Different And Is There Truth To The Widely Accepted Anecdotal Evidence?

Cannabis Sativa vs Indica Silhouette of cannabis leaf at sunset

Everyone remembers the first time they par-toke in the pleasures of Mary Jane. Whether you are a seasoned spliff smoker, an occasional puff-puff-passer or brand new to the ever-evolving environment of cannabis; you are familiar with the Indica vs Sativa conversation. Cannabis strains have historically been divided into three distinct categories; Indica, Sativa and hybrids. Advisory tales have been told about the relaxingly sedative effects of Cannabis Indica and the energized creative reaction from Cannabis Sativa.  

Cannabis Taxonomy 

Cannabis Sativa was first classified by Carl Linnaeus in the 1750s. He studied plants that were cultivated across the European continent. Linnaeus was of the opinion that Cannabis Sativa was monotypic, meaning the genus only contains one species with no subspecies. Later in 1785 Jean-Baptiste Lamarck published a description of another species of cannabis, based on his study of plants he collected from the Asian continent. Lamarck noted Cannabis Indica was better utilized as an inebriant as the plant fibres were of poor quality.  

Indica vs Sativa 

You might be familiar with the widely accepted anecdotal evidence suggesting that Indica strains deliver a heavy body high. Whereas its Sativa counterpart will pack an energetic and creative punch. The truth is most modern strains contain characteristics of both Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Sativa, rendering this classification system outdated. Modern technologies have allowed cannabis strains to be tested at a molecular level to determine the cannabinoid makeup and ultimately the effect it may have on the user. Regardless of whether you are a medical or recreational user, there are several thousand cannabis strains, each with a different cannabinoid makeup. Every single person has a unique endocannabinoid fingerprint that will uniquely react to a specific strain’s cannabinoid makeup. 

Cannabis Sativa vs Indica Notebook sketch of Cannabis

The anatomy of Cannabis Sativa is a taller slim plant with thin, light-green fan leaves. The Cannabis Indica plant is shorter, bushier with woody stalks and broader, darker fan leaves. Cannabis Ruderalis is an auto-flowering plant believed to have adapted to thrive in cooler parts of the globe. Growers and cultivators cross-breed strains to highlight the best of the two chosen parent strains. It is not possible to guess a plant’s biochemical content based on the height, branching of leaf morphology.


Cannabinoids are the naturally occurring compounds in flowering cannabis plants. There are at least 144 identified cannabinoids found in cannabis flowers. THC, CBD and CBG are the most well-known. THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid that creates the feeling of being ‘high’. Although THC is known for its anxiety-inducing effects in some users, it assists with pain management, insomnia and depression. CBD can counteract the anxiety brought on by THC and has a whole myriad of health and wellness benefits. 

The environment a growing plant is subjected to will affect the cannabinoid makeup. Factors like temperature, humidity, soil, nutrients, sunlight and altitude all affect the quality and quantity of cannabinoids in the flowers. 

Landrace Strain 

A landrace by definition is a strain that originated and adapted to its native environment. Only landrace strains can truly be classified as either 100% Indica or Sativa. There are thousands of cannabis strains, most created by cultivating plants to produce flowers with a certain cannabinoid and terpene makeup. A grower could decide to bring the best of two strains into one super-strain. A cannabis company may want to cultivate a strain that represents their brand. Whoever it may be or for whatever reason, you can create a strain that has the exact cannabinoid ratio and terpene flavour profile you desire!

Entourage Effect

Cannabinoid and terpenes work in harmony to create the Entourage Effect. The state where all the molecular components in the cannabis work together to create a unique harmonized endocannabinoid experience for the user. 

All marijuana that is sold legitimately should have laboratory test results available on request, there are also home test kits available to test the potency of your pot.

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Despite the shortcomings with the Indica vs Sativa grouping, it is still the classification of choice in the cannabis industry. A new system is needed to globally classify cannabis based on the cannabinoid makeup and terpene profile. The onset of systematic global legalization will ensure funds become available for research into cannabis and its classifications. Making it easier for users to choose a strain with a specific expected outcome or effect based on their own endocannabinoid system and tolerance. 

Cannabis Indica vs Sativa Person smoking a bong

So remember kids, when choosing the strain for you, simply considering if the strain is Indica vs Sativa dominant will not give you an accurate indication of the effect it may have on your body. Use a trial-and-error system to experiment with strains with different cannabinoid makeups to find a strain with the effects you desire. Once you have mastered the cannabinoid ratio, you can start experimenting with different terpenes to experience the varying effects they may have. 



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