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Sativa vs. Indica: What to Expect Across Cannabis Types and Strains

The two main types of cannabis, sativa and indica, are used for several medicinal and recreational purposes. Sativa has primarily an energizing effect, while indica has a relaxing effect and can help you sleep.

Things to consider

Some people in the cannabis industry have moved away from the terms “indica,” “sativa,” and “hybrid,” instead classifying the different “strains” or, more correctly, “chemovars,” as:

  • Type I: high THC

  • Type II: THC/CBD combined

  • Type III: high CBD

More and more, the cannabis industry is moving away from the term “strains” and using chemovars (chemical varieties), since the word “strain” is often used to refer to bacteria and viruses.

In other words, the category, or type, of cannabis may not be the greatest indicator of the effects you’ll experience.

Here’s how to find the right plant for your needs, strains to consider, potential side effects, and more.

What should you look for to understand strain effects?

The often-applied rule of thumb is that sativa is more invigorating and energizing, while indica is more relaxing and calming — but it’s not that simple.

Individual plants produce varying effects, even among the same type of cannabis. It all depends on the plant’s chemical composition and the growing technique used.

Instead of looking at the type alone — sativa or indica — look at the description the grower and dispensary provide.


Cannabis plants contain dozens of chemical compounds called cannabinoids.

These naturally occurring components are responsible for producing many of the effects — both negative and positive — of cannabis use.

Researchers still don’t understand what all of the cannabinoids do, but they have identified two main ones: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

Less common compounds include:

  • Cannabinol (CBN): CBN is used to ease symptoms and side effects of some neurological conditions.

  • Tetrahydrocannabinol acid (THCA): This is similar to THC but has no psychoactive effects.

  • Cannabigerol (CBG): CBG is thought to help reduce anxiety and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression.


A great deal of attention is paid to the amount of THC and CBD in a given type of cannabis, but researchTrusted Source suggests that terpenes may be just as impactful.

Terpenes are other naturally occurring compounds in the cannabis plant that may influence the effects that specific types produce.

Learn more about the common terpenes in cannabis.

Sativa in-depth

  • Origin: Cannabis sativa is found primarily in hot, dry climates with long sunny days. These include Africa, Central America, Southeast Asia, and portions of Western Asia.

  • Plant description: Sativa plants are tall and thin with finger-like leaves. They can grow to about 6 feet (ft) or 2 meters (m). They take longer to mature than some other types of cannabis.

  • Typical CBD-to-THC ratio: Sativa often has lower doses of CBD and higher doses of THC, whereas indica tends to have less THC than CBD.

  • Commonly associated effects of use: Sativa often produces a “mind high” or an energizing, anxiety-reducing effect.

  • Daytime or nighttime use: Because of its stimulating effects, sativa is often used in the daytime.

  • Popular strains: Various sativa strains may be used for different purposes.

Indica in-depth
  • Origin: Cannabis indica is native to Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and Turkey. The plants have adapted to the often harsh, dry, and turbulent climate of the Hindu Kush mountains.

  • Plant description: Indica plants are short and stocky with bushy greenery and chunky leaves that grow wide and broad. They grow faster than sativa, and each plant produces more buds.

  • Typical CBD-to-THC ratio: Indica strains often have higher levels of CBD, but the THC content isn’t necessarily less.

  • Commonly associated effects of use: Indica is sought after for its intensely relaxing effects. It may also help reduce nausea and pain and increase appetite.

  • Daytime or nighttime use: Because of its deep relaxation effects, indica is typically consumed at night.

  • Popular strains: Like sativa, there are also various indica strains.

Hybrid in-depth

Each year, cannabis growers produce new and unique strains from different combinations of parent plants. These cannabis hybrids are often grown to target specific effects.

  • Origin: Hybrids are typically grown on farms or in greenhouses from a combination of sativa and indica plants.

  • Plant description: The appearance of hybrid strains depends on the combination of the parent plants.

  • Typical CBD-to-THC ratio: Many hybrid cannabis plants are grown to increase the THC percentage, but each type has a unique ratio of the two cannabinoids.

  • Commonly associated effects of use: Farmers and producers select hybrids for their unique effects. They can range from reducing anxiety and stress to easing symptoms of chemotherapy or radiation.

  • Daytime or nighttime use: This depends on the predominant effects of the hybrid.

  • Popular strains: Hybrids are typically classified as indica-dominant (indica-dom), sativa-dominant (sativa-dom), or balanced.

Ruderalis in-depth

A third type of cannabis, Cannabis ruderalis, also exists. However, it’s not widely used because it usually produces no potent effects.

  • Origin: Ruderalis plants adapt to extreme environments, such as Eastern Europe, the Himalayan regions of India, Siberia, and Russia. These plants grow quickly, which is ideal for the cold, low sunlight environments of these places.

  • Plant description: These small, bushy plants rarely grow taller than 12 inches (in), but they grow rapidly. One can go from seed to harvest in little more than a month.

  • Typical CBD-to-THC ratio: This strain typically has little THC and higher amounts of CBD, but it may not be enoughTrusted Source to produce any effects.

  • Commonly associated effects of use: Because of its low potency, ruderalis isn’t routinely used for medicinal or recreational purposes.

  • Daytime or nighttime use: This cannabis plant produces few effects, so that it can be used anytime.

  • Popular strains: On its own, ruderalis isn’t a popular cannabis option. However, cannabis farmers may breed ruderalis with other cannabis types, including sativa and indica. The plant’s rapid growth cycle is a positive attribute for producers, so they may want to combine more potent strains with ruderalis strains to create a more desirable product.

Potential side effects and risks

Although cannabis use is often associated with potential benefits, it can also produce unwanted side effects.

Most of these effects are associated with THC, not CBD or other cannabinoids. However, any cannabis product can produce side effects.

The method of use may increase the risk of side effects, too.

For example, smoking or vaping cannabis can irritateTrusted Source your lungs and airways. This may lead to coughing and respiratory problems.

Oral cannabis preparations, such as gummies or cookies, are less likely to affect your overall respiratory health.

However, though the effects are felt more slowly, ingested cannabis, especially THC, is more potent as it converts to 11-hydroxy-THC, which produces stronger psychoactive effects that can last for hours and, in some people, days.

How to choose the right product for you

When you’re looking for the right cannabis product for you, talk with the dispensary employee about your goals for cannabis use, whether that’s treating insomnia, reducing anxiety, or increasing energy.

Some strains, such as Pineapple Express, are considered “entry level.” Their effects are typically mild and tolerable. Strains with higher levels of cannabinoids may be too potent for a first-time user.

It’s important to know your tolerance level, as well as your medical history, in case of potential interactions with medications.

Each technique for consuming cannabis has benefits and drawbacks. If you smoke or vape cannabis, you may feel the effects more quickly, but it can irritate your lungs and airways.

Gummies, chewables, and other edibles may be easier to tolerate, but the effects take longer. They may be much more potent than inhalation, too.


Cannabis isn’t legal everywhere. A few years ago, all cannabis products were illegal in most parts of the United States. Today, many states have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational purposes or both.

CBD laws are also evolving. Some states allow it for medicinal purposes, but they heavily regulate the source to prevent THC-laced CBD products.

Before you attempt to purchase or use cannabis, know the laws in your state.

Keep in mind that cannabis is still illegal under federal law. If you don’t know the laws where you are, you could face legal consequences.

You may be subject to different laws if you live outside the United States.

Frequently asked questions

Is sativa an upper or downer?

Sativa produces an energizing effect. If you use sativa-dominant strains, you may feel productive and creative, not relaxed and lethargic.

Do you feel more high with sativa or indica?

This depends on what you consider as “high.” Indica tendsTrusted Source to have a more calming effect than sativa’s energizing effect.

The bottom line

If you’re curious how cannabis might help you, talk with a doctor or other qualified healthcare professional, or speak with a knowledgeable cannabis clinician.

They can discuss its potential positive and negative effects on your individual health and help you find something that suits your needs.

Then, you can begin to explore your options. Finding the right option for you may take time. You may also find that you don’t tolerate cannabis well.

If you live in a state that has legalized cannabis, you can visit a dispensary and talk with a trained staff member. They may be able to recommend specific strains or other products to suit your individual needs.


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