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Indica vs. Sativa

Humans have used cannabis for at least 5,000 years as seeds were found in Siberian burial mounds built in 3000 B.C. In the 18th century, European scientists noticed different species inside the cannabis genus. Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus gave European hemp the official name Cannabis sativa in 1753. Thirty-two years later, French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck noted that plants from India had different physical characteristics from sativa and gave them the classification Cannabis indica. In 1924, Russian botanist D.E. Janichevsky identified a rare species he called Cannabis ruderalis, though some researchers suspect this plant is a hybrid of the other two. Over the years, farmers have crossbred the two species together and created countless hybrid strains falling into three general categories: sativa-dominant, indica-dominant and 50/50.

Differences in Physical Characteristics

Sativas are typically tall and thin and can grow up to six feet indoors and 20 feet outside, whereas indicas are short and stout and grow only two-to-four feet making them better suited to indoor cultivation. Sativas have many long branches with narrow leaves that are typically a lighter green, while indicas have fewer, shorter branches with wider blades. Sativas take 10-to-16 weeks to grow, sometimes even 20 weeks, whereas indicas mature in eight-to-12 weeks. Ruderalis is the shortest plant of all, usually reaching only two feet, with the least amount of leaves. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are two important chemical ingredients found in cannabis, with THC being the substance primarily responsible for the psychoactive effects. Ruderalis holds very little THC, which is one of the main reasons why it never became popular.

Geographic Origination of the Strains

Many experts believe cannabis first appeared in the Central Asian regions of Mongolia and southern Siberia. Sativa thrived in warmer climates closer to the equator in Southeast Asia, Africa, Thailand, Mexico and Colombia. The indica species flourished in the Hindu Kush mountain range that runs from Afghanistan to Pakistan, and made it to Morocco, Nepal and Turkey. Indica survived the cooler weather and high altitude by generating a protective coat of resin. One reason growers created hybrids of sativa with indica was so that sativa could live in harsher climates. The ruderalis species is the hardiest of them all. It originated in central Russia but grows everywhere from the Himalayas to Eastern Europe.

The Benefits and Effects

Sativa offers a more energetic and cerebral high that often promotes creativity. It is the more social choice, good for deep conversations and laughter, and better suited for daytime use. Sativa often has a higher percentage of THC, and clinical studies suggest that certain strains can potentially help treat depression, fatigue and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Indica, on the other hand, is better suited for relaxation and stress relief in the evenings. Indica tends to have a higher percentage of CBD, which has valuable antiepileptic, antiinflammatory and neuroprotective effects. Compared to the head high of sativa, indica produces more of a body high that helps with chronic pain, muscle spasms and nausea. The sedative properties often induce sleepfulness and can help with insomnia, sleep apnea and anxiety.

Hybrids often achieve a balance between the two. For instance, a sativa-dominant hybrid may be cerebral and stimulating while still relaxing the body, and an indica-dominant hybrid can provide higher CBD levels and sedation without putting the person to sleep. The effects ultimately vary according to the strain and the user’s biochemistry.  

Cannabis Indica

Thirty-two years after the naming of the first cannabis species (sativa), French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck coined the term cannabis indica in 1785. The researcher noted that cannabis plants in India had different physical characteristics, and as research would later show, potentially different cannabinoid profiles and effects. Indicas are short and stout and typically mature in eight-to-12 weeks. They are also better suited to indoor cultivation since they grow to smaller heights typically between two and four feet. The branches are shorter and fewer in number, but the leaves have wider blades and a darker shade of green.

Some researchers believe sativa and indica originated from a common cannabis species in Central Asia, and the impact of replanting this species in different geographic regions may account for the differences. Indica flourished in the Hindu Kush mountain range that stretches from Afghanistan to Pakistan, and it generates a protective coat of resin making it better equipped to survive colder climates and high altitude. Plants cultivated in places like India, Morocco and Pakistan are often utilized to produce hashish.

The commonly accepted perception is that indica produces more of a body high with sedative effects that promote relaxation and stress relief. Indica is also associated with a higher CBD percentage than sativa plants, but studies show that this is not always the case, and some researchers suggest the outliers might stem from gene-pool hybridization, i.e., the plant is not a pure indica. Still, indica is arguably better suited for evening use, and clinical studies suggest that certain indica strains can help with chronic pain, muscle spasms, nausea, anxiety, insomnia, inflammation, epilepsy and sleep apnea.

Cannabis Sativa

In the 18th century, European scientists noticed different species inside the cannabis genus, and Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus named European hemp cannabis sativa in 1753. Sativas are typically tall and thin with long branches and narrow leaves. Generally a lighter shade of green, sativa takes between 10 and 20 weeks to grow, and its maximum height is typically six feet for indoor grows and 20 feet for outside. Some researchers believe sativa and indica both originated from a common cannabis species in Central Asia. The impact of replanting this species in different geographic regions may account for the differences, and sativa thrives more in warmer climates closer to the equator in countries like Thailand, Mexico and Colombia.

The commonly accepted perception is that sativa offers a more energetic and cerebral high, promotes creativity and has a higher THC percentage than indica plants. Studies show that this is not always case, but some researchers suggest the outliers might stem from gene-pool hybridization, i.e., the plant is not a pure sativa. Nevertheless, sativa is considered the social choice for deep conversations and laughter and better suited for daytime use. Clinical studies suggest that certain sativa strains can potentially help treat depression, fatigue and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Cannabis Ruderalis

Nearly 140 years after botanists categorized cannabis into sativa and indica species, a Russian botanist named D.E. Janichevsky identified a rare cannabis species in 1924 that he called ruderalis. It is the shortest cannabis species, usually reaching only two feet in height, with the least amount of leaves. Ruderalis also contains only small amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabinoid responsible for the plant’s psychoactive effects, making it the least-desirable choice for recreational cannabis consumers. As the hardiest of the three species, ruderalis can survive cold temperatures, and Janichevsky actually discovered it in frigid Siberia. In addition to central Russia, the plant also grows in places like the Himalayas and Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, some researchers disagree that ruderalis is a new species and instead argue that it is a hybrid of the other two.

Cannabis Hybrids

In 2011, the Golden State Collective (GSC) Cannabis Laboratories wrote that more than 99 percent of cannabis species are “derived from only two cannabis family species,” i.e., sativa and indica. Of course, this does not mean that most cannabis strains are either sativa or indica. Many cannabis farmers crossbred the two gene pools to create countless hybrid strains, and these hybrids fall into three general categories: sativa-dominant, indica-dominant and fifty-fifty.

Why merge the two species? Some farmers crossbred so that sativa-dominant strains are better equipped to survive in harsher climate, and others sought to balance out their respective effects. For instance, a sativa-dominant hybrid may be cerebral and stimulating and still relax the body, while an indica-dominant hybrid can provide higher CBD levels and sedation without putting the person to sleep. Still, due to the extensive amount of hybridization that has taken place, some researchers suggest that many plants contain at least some measure of the sister species even when exclusively labeled a sativa or indica.

 

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