Indica vs. Sativa Marijuana Strains – Complete Guide

The marijuana plant is typically classified as sativa, indica or a combination of both (hybrids). Not only do these plants have different physical attributes, they have different effects on the mind and body. While the cannabis sativa plant typically has a euphoric or energizing effect, indicas are more relaxing and even sedating in some cases. This extensive resource will run you through the major differences between the two plants – Medical Marijuana Authority

Topic 1 Summary of the differences between Indica and Sativa strains

Property Indica strains Sativa strains
Plant appearance Short, densely branched, conical tree (3 – 6 feet) Taller, loosely bound branches (9 – 15 feet)
Dark, short, bushy and broad leaves Light, long and narrow leaves
Bud features Wide, dense, bulky and fragrant buds Long sausage-shaped flowers with a feathery appearance
Aroma and Flavour Sweet fruit aromas with a strong cushy flavour Earthy aromas with woody and spicy flavours
Best for Chronic pain (fibromyalgia) Chronic pain (arthritis, cancer)
Liver disease (fibrosis; Hepatitis C) Glaucoma
Heart disease (heart attacks) Asthma
Brain disorders (epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease) Brain disorders (ADHD, Tourette’s syndrome)
Nervous system disorders (ALS) Skin disorders (dermatitis, skin cancer, psoriasis)
Effects Body – centred, full relaxation, ‘stoned’ high Strong, energizing and uplifting cerebral high
Reduces anxiety and stress Induce physical activity, increased thought capacity and creativity
Relieves depression Relieves spasms, tics and seizures
Relieves body pains and aches Relieves headaches and migraines
Side effects Confusion, loss of concentration Hallucinations, paranoia, and anxiety
Cottonmouth Dyspnea
Loss of inhibitions
Cultivation Very short flowering stage (plant maturity dependent) Longer flowering phase (light cycle dependent)
Smaller yields by size Larger yields by size
Grows in harsh droughts and cold weather environments Grows in humid, tropical regions
Best cultivated in indoor conditions Best cultivated in outdoor conditions
Origin The Hindu Kush mountain range Tropical areas of Eastern Asia, southern Africa, South America
Popular strains Strawberry Banana (Reserva Privada)
Girl Scout Cookies (Cali Connection)
Northern Lights (Royal Queen Seeds)
King’s Banner (Dark Horse Genetics)
The Bunker Buster (Zamnesia Seeds)
Amnesia Haze (Zamnesia Seeds)
Ghost Train Haze (Rare Dankness)
Strawberry Cough (Dutch Passion)
Shining Silver Haze (Royal Queen Seeds)


Topic 2 Major Types of Marijuana

Marijuana is most commonly classified in one of the following three major kinds:

Very few strains are 100% sativa or indica, if any at all, most of them being a hybrid dominated by either indica or sativa.

The ruderalis strains have some similarities to the Sativa strains, leading to contention on whether the strain should be considered as a species on its own.

Cannabis refers to a genus of flowering plants indigenous to the Indian subcontinent and central Asia. The plant has been utilized for various purposes over the centuries, including oils, fibre, recreational drug, and in the recent past, as a medical alternative to conventional illness treatment and management techniques.

Cannabis strains have been shown to have a wide array of effects on the body, with the nature and severity of effects varying from one individual to another. Several researchers have carried out experiments to determine these effects, and have found that the different strains of cannabis elicit significantly different effects. These differences have been attributed to the basic chemical composition of the various strains, and the interaction of these components with the body chemistry of the cannabis user.

Researchers seeking for medical application of the cannabis plant are normally interested in two of the main active compounds in the plant, namely THC and CBD. THC is popular for its psychoactive effects while CBD seems to impact the brain and immune system without the famous ‘high’.

Besides CBD and THC, there exist over 400 other chemical compounds in the cannabis plant, with over 60 of these being cannabinoids. Without more research due to strict regulation of the plant, however, how the compounds affect the body remains a mystery.

With regards to cannabis use, the question ‘Do you want to be active or sedated?’ might be posed to a potential customer, referencing the effects that CBD and THC have on an individual upon administration.

Topic 3 About Indica Marijuana Strains

What is Indica?

Indica strains are short, conical shaped, densely branched plants, with the average height between 1 and 3 feet. The leaves are short, broad and closely packed on each branch exhibiting a dark olive green colour, making the plant undetectable from distance. Due to the conditions in temperate climates, the plant has evolved to have a flowering stage that automatically activates when the plant gets to maturity. This results in the formation of small, heavily clustered, and dense flower buds with copious amounts of resin.

Indica strains have high concentrations of CBD, which offsets the psychoactive effects of THC, making them suited for sedating and soothing medical afflictions. These strains are characterized by sweet fruit aromas and strong cushy flavours.

The strain gives a full body relaxation high, which is effective against depression, anxiety, and stress. The strains can also be used to relieve body pains and aches, as well as alleviate the symptoms of certain brain conditions like Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia. However, extra caution should be taken while administering medical cannabis, as it could result in confusion and loss of concentration in the patient.

The description of the Indica strain was first published by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, who coined the name from India, which is the origin of the specimens he was investigating. These strains adapted to the Indian Kush mountain range climate, which is comprised of extreme droughts and cold weather. Therefore, the plant has a very small maturity period, with some strains taking about 3 months from seed to complete the flowering stage.

Topic 4 About Sativa Marijuana Strains

What is Sativa?

The tropical origins of the Sativa strains promote growth, with the plants continuously growing throughout the vegetative and flowering stages, resulting in tall plants of between 1 and 3 meters average height but a high of up to 5 meters.

The plants are also characterized by few, loosely packed branches with sparsely populated bright green coloured leaves, which are long and narrow in shape. The flowering phase of the strains is governed by the light cycle, meaning that flowering only occurs at night. The strains exhibit simultaneous vegetative and flowering stages, resulting in flower buds that originate from nodal points and grow along the length of the branch or stem.

Sativa strains produce large size buds with higher yields of more potent cannabis, containing higher concentrations of THC that produces cerebral focused highs. The increased THC content is suitable for increased physical and mental activity, creativity, relieving chronic pain caused by illnesses such as cancer and arthritis. These strains can also be applied in the treatment of several brain disorders, such as ADHD and Tourette’s syndrome. However, the application of Sativa strains should be controlled as THC is an active psychotic and could worsen the symptoms of some brain disorders, including schizophrenia and epilepsy.

The Sativa strains originate from Eastern Asia, growing in hot, humid, tropical climates. The species was classified in 1753 by Linnaeus Carl, but has been used throughout recorded history for various uses including industrial fibre, food, oils, recreational purposes, religious and spiritual rites, and medicinal applications. The Sativa strains have been the most common strains in the world, due to their high potential for recreational use.

Topic 5 Understanding Hybrid Strains

Pure Sativa strains have very long maturity periods, while Indica strains tend not to have the most desired combination of chemical components needed for potency and production.

Very few of the plants under cultivation today are pure strains of either species. Therefore, the two strains are commonly cross-bred to take advantage of the positive traits of each strain.

Hybrid strains are cultivated to provide greater options for the medicinal use of cannabis products. The aromas and flavours of the strains can also be bred to customization. The hybrids can also be bred to minimize the concentration of either THC or CBD, to cater for a specific medicinal use.

The hybrid strains developed will tend to have traits that fall between the extremes of the parent strains. This is exhibited in the maturation period, the concentration of chemical components, yield output, and resistance to insects and disease. Due to this wide variety of traits, there is no generalized list of the effects that are caused by hybrid strains. Indica-dominant strains have higher CBD concentrations that counteract the effects of the THC, as well as promote the desired effects derived from CBD. Sativa-dominant strains take advantage of the short flowering periods of Indica strains, while still maintaining the potency offered by Sativa strains.

Balanced mix strains are strains that have approximately equal THC and CBD concentrations. These strains are preferred by new users, as well as users who want to experience the effects of both strains. Nonetheless, due to the psychoactive nature of THC, most medicinal cannabis hybrids will tend to consist mostly of Indica or high CBD Sativa strains.

Topic 6 About Ruderalis Marijuana Strains

What is Ruderalis?

The Ruderalis strain is a low – THC species that is native to Russia and several parts of Central and Eastern Europe. The strain was first discovered by Janischwsky, a Russian botanist. The species has its unique phenotypes and traits distinguishing it from the previous two strains, but studies have shown that the chemical composition of the strain closely resembles some of the biotypes of the Sativa strain.

This strain is the smallest in size, with the plant rarely reaching two feet in height. The leaves of the plant are relatively large and are typically open. The plant exhibits little branching, resulting in thin, loosely knit, slightly fibrous stems. The strain has a smaller maturation period, and the flowering process is governed by the plant’s maturity, rather than the light cycle, which is a trait it shares with the Indica strains.

The strain has very low THC concentration and high CBD levels compared to the other strains; hence it is grown as medical marijuana, with very rare cultivation for recreational purposes. The strain is commonly used for breeding purposes due to its inherent resistance to insects and diseases, as well as its characteristic to produce flowers automatically based on the plant’s age.

The Ruderalis strain is used in traditional Mongolian and Russian communities as medicine to treat depression. In modern medicine, the strain has been used in the treatment of anxiety and epilepsy, as well as some forms of cancer and sclerosis.

Topic 7 Medical Conditions Treated by Sativa Strains

Sativa strains produce an energetic cerebral high, and are commonly used in the treatment of the following conditions:

Chronic pain

associated with inflammation, arthritis, migraines, and cancer


the anti-inflammatory nature of THC reduces the intraocular pressure, preventing damage to the optic nerve

Brain disorders

administration of THC has helped in the alleviation of the symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome and ADHD


THC is a bronchodilator, which opens up the lung’s airways relieving the symptoms of patients suffering from asthma

Alzheimer’s Disease

it has been shown that THC in marijuana can protect the brain from the degeneration caused by Alzheimer’s disease

Skin disorders

Helps control seizure, especially in children

Multiple sclerosis

doses of THC has been used to treat skin conditions like dermatitis, some skin cancers, and psoriasis

Topic 8 Medical Conditions Treated by Indica Strains

Indica strains produce a full body, ‘stoney’, relaxing high. Some of the common medicinal applications of these strains are in the treatment of the following conditions:-


Arthritis is a serious disease affecting 52.5million adults in the U.S. alone. Marijuana high in CBD has been shown to cause this disease to go into remission


Up until now, doctors have not been able to explain the cause of epilepsy. However, Indica marijuana strains have been shown to reduce seizures caused by this disease considerably.


Marijuana has been utilized over the years as a sleep aid. The cannabinoid called CBD in the plant is credited for the majority of marijuana’s sleep-enhancing effects

Crohn’s disease

marijuana high in CBD content has been shown to treat Crohn’s disease. This is a serious inflammatory bowel disease that leads to death when left untreated

Brain disorders

the CBD in cannabis is an effective antipsychotic, alleviating the symptoms of illnesses such as schizophrenia, epilepsy, ADHD, and Parkinson’s disease

Liver disease

high CBD strains have been used to alleviate the conditions of liver fibrosis, and increase the chances of remission in patients suffering from Hepatitis C.

Heart disease

the early administration of CBD doses have been shown to reduce the damage caused by heart attacks, as well as the treatment of the blood vessels of the heart

Disorders of the nervous system

the symptoms of multiple sclerosis and ALS have been shown to be alleviated by the use of high-CBD strains

Topic 9 Comparing the Effects of Indica and Sativa

Indica strains generally have higher THC concentrations than CBD, while Sativa strains tend to have lower levels of THC than CBD. However, studies have shown that the concentration of these components is widely varying within both species. In general, Sativas have a strong and uplifting head high, while Indicas give a body-centered, stoned effect, but other constituents in the strain largely influence the nature of the high.

Effects of Sativa Strains

Produce an energizing and uplifting high

Relieve head pain; headaches and migraines

Induce thoughts and creativity

Stimulate appetite

Relieve depression

Promote a sense of well being

Effects of Indica Strains

Reduces anxiety and stress

Produces a heavy hitting, permeating high

Relieves body pains and aches

Alleviates spasms, tics and seizures

Reduces inflammation and pressure build-up

Induces hunger

Topic 10 Side Effects of Indica vs. Sativa

There are various side effects of the use of medicinal cannabis. Some of them are common for all strains, such as:

In some cases, smoking cannabis can be accompanied with dyspnea, which is difficulty in breathing. This could be as a result of the nature of THC being a bronchodilator, which increases the demand for air in the lungs suddenly. Long-term use could result in bronchitis. Cannabis smoke has been shown to carry more particulate matter and tar than tobacco smoke. This could potentially increase the risk for lung cancer.

Side Effects of Sativa strains

The psychoactive nature of THC in Sativa strains can result in the occurrence of hallucinations in the user. These hallucinations tend to induce paranoia, which in turn leads to anxiety and even panic attacks. These symptoms are amplified in individuals suffering from certain brain disorders. Low THC strains are recommended for first-time users to allow them to slowly acclimatize.

The cerebral high of Sativa strains could also lead to confusion and loss of inhibitions, resulting in the user doing things he is only half aware of.

Side Effects of Indica Strains

Cottonmouth is characterized by very dry mouth caused by the bonding of THC and cannabinoid receptors in the salivary glands in the mouth, which inhibits the production of saliva.

The full body relaxation of Indica strains leads to a state of being ‘stoned’, which is characterized by confusion, loss of concentration, impaired balance, and slower reflexes. These could be detrimental to the user in case of an emergency.

Topic 11 A Brief History of Indica and Sativa Strains

Origins of Indica strains

The Indica strain was first described by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in 1785, who coined the name from India, which is where the specimens he was observing were extracted. The Hindu Kush mountain range, encompassing India, Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, is generally considered to be the original cultivation ground of the Indica strain. The farmers practice traditional cultivation for the production of a recreational drug locally called charas, which is a form of handmade hashish resin made from a live plant as opposed to a dried, dead one.

The climate of the area is characterized by extensive droughts, minimal moisture, scorching sunshine with intense continental winds. The climate, in conjunction with the high elevation, resulted in the strain having a very hasty flowering time, with seed to maturation time just a mere 3 months.

The strain is hardy in cold weather and thrives in hot semi-arid areas, which matches conditions in industry scale grow facilities. This tolerance to varying weather conditions promoted the cultivation of the strain in the area.

The cannabis was traded by the local population, leading to the spread of the strain. The military invasion of the area over thousands of years, as well as the Russian, invasion promoted the distribution of the strain throughout Europe up to Holland. The strain is preferred for indoor cultivation and widely used in the breeding of Sativa strains due to its shorter flowering period and quick maturity time.

Origins of Sativa Strains

Cannabis Sativa is indigenous to Eastern Asia, parts of Africa and South America, having been used over human history for industrial fibre, food, recreation, oils, religious and spiritual rites, as well as medicine. The earliest medicinal application of cannabis was by a Chinese emperor over 2500 years BC, for the treatment of rheumatism and gout. The species was classified in 1753 by Linnaeus Carl. The British occupation of Asia led to the spread of cannabis, up to the Caribbean and South America, where widespread growth occurred in the early 19th century. The French emperor, Napoleon, brought back some cannabis from Egypt to have it tested for its medicinal qualities.

The large-scale importation and growth of hashish and cannabis started in North America in the early 1960s.

The tropical origins of Sativa strains promote their growth, resulting in a tall plant with short growing and flowering cycles that are relatively uniform due to the even number of light and dark hours. Therefore, the harvests of these strains take long, but produce higher yields than other strains. The simultaneous growth and flowering stages of the plant results in the formation of flowers that are lighter than other strains, despite having comparable sizes. Pure Sativa strains require six months to complete the vegetative and flowering phases to maturity, thus are not economically viable for indoor cultivation or sale. These strains are commonly grown outdoors due to their longer flowering periods.

Topic 12 Differences in Growing & Cultivation

Cannabis is a unisexual plant, containing plants that are either male or female. This is common for all strains, however, there are some differences in the growing behaviour for each strain as we shall see below.

Flowering Time Sativa

Sativa strains are short-day flowering plants, acclimatised to tropical regions which have uniform light and dark cycles. The flowering process occurs concurrently with the vegetative stage, thus takes a longer time before the plant reaches maturity. The flowering is dependent on the light cycle as it usually only occurs at night for these strains.

Flowering Time Indica

Indica strains have adapted to harsh climates, and their flowering times are very short. The flowering stage is not dependent on the light cycle; rather the maturity of the plant, meaning the plant will flower irrespective of whether it is day or night.

Indica Yield Size

Indica strains produce smaller but dense and heavy buds that are usually clustered together. This means that the yield appears smaller in size per acreage compared to other strains, with common strains having a yield of about 450 – 500 grams per square meter.

Sativa Yield Size

The Sativa strains produce longer, lighter and less dense buds which will be larger in size but smaller by weight compared to other strains.

Climatic Conditions (Environment)

Sativa strains are adapted to tropical conditions, and as such, are used to even uniform light cycles, exhibiting better growth rates to sunlight than artificial light. Therefore, Sativa strains are usually grown in outdoor conditions, but can also be grown indoors with limited performance.

Indica strains are adapted to harsh and long droughts, as well as cold weather. This is suited for indoor cultivation, where the parameters can be adequately adjusted to produce the best growth conditions for the plants.

Breeding Indica vs. Sativa

Female plants and flowers are preferred in the cultivation of Sativa strains, due to their inherently higher THC concentrations, as well as the large sizes of the flower buds. Most licensed producers isolate the female flowers, restricting pollination, further increasing the THC levels of these strains.

Indica strains are mainly used to create hybrids that will have lower maturity times, increasing the rate of productivity.

Topic 13 Physical Differences between Sativa and Indica Strains


Indica strains have wide, dense and bulky buds which are usually heavier than other strains. The buds are frosty and more fragrant.

Sativa strains have long flowers, in the shape of a sausage, and have a feathery appearance. The flowers of the plant start at the node and expand along the length of the branches and stem. Some of the strains have amber and earthy red undertones

However, the sizes of the buds are relatively the same.

Plant Height

Indica plants are generally short, densely branched and conical in shape, with a broad base. At maturity, the plant stands at about 3 to 6 feet tall.

Sativa plants are relatively taller than Indica plants, characterized by tall and less tightly bound branches. The plants gain height throughout its vegetative and flowering stages, averaging between 1 and 3 meters, and up to 5 meters when grown outdoors.


Indica strains have dark, short, bushy, and broad leaves. The leaves have been in the form of short wide blades, with more leaflets than Sativa strains. The dark, deep olive green appearance of the leaves is due to an abundance of chlorophyll.

Sativa strains have long and narrow leaves, with a lighter shade of green than other strains. The twig is also usually made up of seven leaves, but sometimes less in number.


Sativa plants are lighter green in colour, while Indica plants tend to be darker, such that they are not clearly visible from a distance.


The Indica strains produce copious amounts of resin, which covers the leaves and flowers abundantly. The Sativa strains produce much less resin, which could go to explaining the increased potency of the cannabinoids

Topic 14 The Difference in Flavour, Taste, and Smell between Indica & Sativa

The scent, taste, and flavours of various cannabis strains are dependent on the presence and concentration of terpenes. The stronger the aroma, the higher the potency of the strain.

The aroma of Indica strains can be mint-cookie, flowery or cake-like, and the flavour and taste favours skunk, woody and sugary fruits. Some Indica strains have been shown to have higher levels of a lavender called linalool, which is a floral smelling terpene with applications in anxiety and sleep deprivation treatments. Some strains have an oil called pinene, which produces the scents of sage and rosemary.

Sativa strains also vary depending on the phenotype, but true strains are usually diesels and hazes, which gives the aromas and flavours of diesel with undertones of fruit. Sativa strains tend to have earthy and woody aromas and flavours that are often infused with fruity aromas for the initial kick, such as strawberry and citrus. Some strains have a spicy, effervescence or peppery aftertaste, while others have tastes reminiscent of drinking coffee.

Anything different you have noticed while growing or using the different marijuana strains? Tell us your experience in the comment section below:

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