Even those familiar with cannabis may have never heard the terms indica or sativa. Although there are more than 7,000 strains of cannabis, nearly all strains come from these two types of plants. Knowing more about the two types and the different effects they produce can help consumers make better decisions about their purchases.
The leaves of the plant is the easiest way to differentiate between indica and sativa varieties. Sativa plants have wiry stalks with thin leaves. They appear more scraggly and thin than indica plants. Indica plants are short and bushier than sativas. They have broader, fuller leaves that may overlap. The shape is due to the climate the plant grows in best, since indica plants are designed to withstand harsher temperatures and conditions while sativas thrive in warm climates such as Mexico, Southeast Asia and Central America. The indica plant is the one that is traditionally pictured on many depictions of the plant in art form, such as on t-shirts and posters.
The most important differences between indica and sativa are the potential different effects each type is known to create. Indica is traditionally associated with the feelings of relaxation or sedation. People who describe themselves as “being stoned” may be using indica strains of cannabis. Individuals who mention “getting high” may be referring to sativa plants instead. Sativa effects are said to make users experience a feeling of uplifting happiness, or a more cerebral sensation than the full-body effects that indica generally induce. Some strains of each type, however, have been known to create the typical results of the other. All strains can vary in their effects and potency, and sativa-indica hybrids are common and popular.
India and sativa plants also grow differently. Outside growers should consider sativa plants, which grow well outdoors. They take anywhere from 12 to 14 weeks to flower, as they are more delicate than indica plants. As they grow, sativa plants produce red- to purple-colored buds, depending on the climate, and they can grow up to 20 feet tall. Indica plants, which are easier to grow, do well inside homes within containers. Crops are ready for harvest much faster than sativa plants, flowering between 8 to 9 weeks. Growing anywhere between 3 to 6 feet tall, indica plants are often dark purple, which is where so many references to the color in cannabis songs and media originated.
Light, fruity scents are the calling card of the sativa plant. Some examples of sativa strains include the lemony flavor of Hulk, the sweet, candy flavor of Strawberry Cough and the ripe-berry aroma of Killing Fields F2. The citrusy strain known as Tangie and pure Panama Red are also sativas. Indica strains are known to produce a more “skunky,” earthy aroma. Many strains even take their names from this scent, such as Super Skunk, Afghan Skunk and Skunk #1. The very popular strain known as Hindu Kush is also an indica plant.
It is important to keep in mind that no solid scientific study definitively confirms the differences between indica and sativa. Some common beliefs may be refuted over time as cannabis becomes legal in more areas, allowing further scientific research to be legally conducted on the drug in all states without legal repercussions.