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Strains 101: Indica vs. Sativa vs. Hybrid

October 2, 2017

When selecting Cannabis for medication, recreation, or cultivation, it is essential to be educated on the nuances of the territory. After all, an educated customer is a discerning customer. To solidify the foundation of your knowledge, we will begin at the most basic unit: the strain.


Put simply, a strain is any subspecies of the plant Cannabis. Strains can be naturally occurring or artificially bred, combining characteristics of multiple strains in otherwise-impossible ways. While each strain offers its own unique blend of psychoactive and therapeutic effects, there are general characteristics shared by the most commonly-grown strains among 3 broad categories: Indica, Sativa, and Hybrids of the former two.


Indica strains originated in the harsh, cool, mountainous regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. These harsh climates naturally forged hardy subspecies composed of stout, bushy stalks (2-4 feet tall), typically yielding high (~18%) THC-laden plants in comparison to their Sativa counterparts. The leaves of an Indica plant are robust and a darker shade of green than those of a Sativa. Their short stature and quick flowering time also make them ideal for indoor cultivation.

Indcas’ physical effects can be felt throughout the body, and many users report feeling exceptionally relaxed, or even sedated, after a dose of pure Indica. This means Indica strains are best at soothing symptoms of chronic pain, anxiety, insomnia, and even neurological conditions (like Multiple Sclerosis, seizures, or muscle spasms).


Sativa strains thrive in temperate climates, in latitudes closer to the equator -- think Southeast Asia, Columbia, or Mexico. The Sativas’ stalks are much taller and lankier (up to 20 feet when grown outdoors) than the short bushels of the Indica, and are further distinguished by bearing a lighter shade of green on their narrow leaves.

Sativa plants are generally lower in THC content than Indica (often falling between 12-16%), but they more than make up for it in terpenes. Sativas are known to be quite pungent, with the terpenes present in any particular strain allowing it to waft aromas ranging from sweet and fruity, to spicy, earthy, or even diesel-fuel. Of course, there exist high-THC Sativas and low-THC Indica strains -- but they are the exception, and not the rule.

Energy is the hallmark of a Sativa high. Recommended for daytime consumption, you can expect an uplifting, creative, and generally mentally stimulating time with a Sativa. Patients suffering from depression, fatigue, or AD(H)D often turn to Sativa for medicinal relief.


Modern cultivation has spawned a growing number of hybrid strains, splicing genetics from across the globe into new strains greater than the sum of their parts. These hybridized strains offer the benefits of both subspecies -- the energizing, head-high of Sativas, counter-balanced with the full-body high characteristic of Indicas.

While some hybrids may be influenced equally by their Sativa and Indica lineage, many lean in one direction or another. This is referred to as being Indica or Sativa dominant. Control over these factors allows for expert breeders to tailor their hybrid strains precisely to the needs of an individual.


With that said, the genealogy of a given strain can only hint at its potential effects -- physical and mental. There are many other things to consider, such as the CBD content, other cannabinoids and terpenes present, and so on. Ratios of these compounds can produce an uplifting Indica strain or a sedating Sativa strain, so be sure to check out Cannvis’s guide to terpenes to gain a deeper insight into the makeup of your favorite strains.