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Cannabis Indica vs Sativa, what is the difference?


In the CBD and cannabis world, the term cannabis indica vs sativa is thrown around a lot, and anyone beginning their cannabis and CBD journey will surely encounter these terms. Although people may be aware that there are different types of cannabis plants, it can get confusing at times hearing this jargon which can result in misunderstanding of what they actually mean. Cannabis Indica vs Sativa, what is the difference?

In previous years, there were two simple commercial definitions that divided the cannabis species: 'Indica' and 'Sativa', however the introduction of cannabis hybrids have now shifted the meaning of these definitions.

Traditionally, sativa was used to refer to plants that originated in India, Southeast Asia, south and east Africa and even parts of America.

Sativa in India 

Bud & Tender CBD Oil and Sativa India

Whereas indica was used to refer to plants of Afghani heritage, as well as parts of Pakistan.

Indica in Afghanistan

Cannabis Afghanistan

Research still supports the split between sativa and indica, however, these terms do not follow the correct botanical descriptions of cannabis sativa and cannabis indica.

Due to the crossbreeding and how fast the cannabis strains have diversified, this now means that it is almost impossible to distinguish between sativa and indica plants. This diversification and crossbreeding seem to have wiped out pure ‘indica’ and ‘sativa’.

In modern times, we have been able to use hybridisation to create and grow new varieties of cannabis with wide-ranging effects. With numerous varieties being used in breeding experiments, it has now resulted in varieties that have almost no similarities to the varieties that came before.

Due to this difficulty in separating the two, the distinction between the terms indica and sativa is futile, even if medical cannabis patients and recreational users do still use these terms. Although these strain terms are now almost meaningless, there is a newer term used to describe the intricacies of different cannabis varieties- this is referred to as the chemovar.

Chemovars are used to provide meaning and to distinguish between the different varieties using a more systematic method. Chemovars are able to measure the individual chemical markers of a plant or flower, this allows a scientific understanding of how certain varieties will affect a specific patient.

When it comes to medicinal cannabis this is the method used to establish the chemical profiles including dosing, the effects and much more. Having the ability and science to understand what effects particular cannabinoid and terpene profiles have within the human body, gives professionals the information needed to prescribe what is needed for individual patients.

Although for those who have been involved in the CBD and cannabis industry for a long time, this may not be new information regarding the general modern use of the terms sativa and indica, however, they are still largely used in general terms, not in the formal botanical distinction.

In general, the word ‘strain’ is used to refer to the breed of the individual plant, although over time familial strains have branched into subsections- creating hybrid forms of the former pure indica and sativa plants. Due to this hybridisation, although strains may share a lineage, the differences between them are numerous.

In the non-formal botanical description, sativa and indica are generally used to differentiate between cannabis plants that produce different effects and have different physical features. A lot of anecdotal evidence, for instance, claims that indica has a calming effect in comparison to sativa which is said to have an energising effect, although some experts claim that these loose statements can be misleading. Experts advise that there are several factors involved in producing the recreational and medicinal effects of cannabis than strain alone.

We have established that the formal botanical description of cannabis sativa and cannabis indica does not match how the terms are commonly used today, however as they are used so frequently and generally by users of cannabis, we are here to clarify how these terms are frequently used to describe the different cannabis plants. The names “indica” and “sativa” come from the physical differences including the variations in the shape of the leaves, the height of the plant, and branching patterns.

The main feature that users look for when choosing a strain is the content levels of THC and CBD - this determines which type of cannabis they would like to use. Some key features of these indica and sativa strains are as follows:


● Anecdotally noted to have a relaxing effect

● Indica strain cannabis plants are usually bushy and can grow between three and six feet tall and can be grown indoors.

● They are shorter and bushier plants, with shorter and broader dark-green leaves, they also have a woody stalk instead of a fibrous one.

● Indica plants grow more quickly than sativa plants

● Higher yields and shorter flowering periods- can produce flowers within 8 weeks

● The cannabis indica plant originated in the Middle East, in places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tibet.

● They are known to have a higher CBD content


● Anecdotally noted to have an uplifting effect

● Known to create the body “high” associated with strains of marijuana.

● Sativa strains grow tall and thin- the plant is known to grow up to 10 feet in an outside environment.

● Taller and less dense plants, with longer and narrower leaves of a light-green colour

● The cannabis sativa plant comes from warmer climates with mild winters and longer summers, such as Southeast Asia and Central and South America.

● Generally, the perception of sativa is that it provides a more energising and creative high, although in some users it can prompt anxiety.

● They are known to have higher amounts of THC.


● Out of the approximate 779 strains, more than 50% of them are hybrids, and this only continues to increase.

● Hybrid strains offer a blend of effects, combining the traits inherited from their parent strains.

● Hybrid strains of cannabis sativa and cannabis indica have been produced by both growers and nature. People began to breed hybrids for certain characteristics such as to make plants grow more quickly, improve the yield, and/or balance out energising and calming effects.