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Understanding Indica vs. Sativa vs. Hybrid Cannabis Strains


by Lo

December 19, 2023 08:00 am ET Estimated Read Time: 15 Minutes
Fact checked by Kymberly Drapcho Medically reviewed by Dr. Abraham Benavides
Understanding Indica vs. Sativa vs. Hybrid Cannabis Strains

Indica vs. sativa refers to the two main categories of cannabis strains. Both indicas and sativas differ in appearance and effects. Indicas are generally known for a sedating effect, while sativa strains are known for a cerebral high.

However, sativa vs. indica vs. hybrid strains are a bit more complicated than we once thought.

Because there are so many medical marijuana patients who find that a specific strain provides the best relief for their medical symptoms—from anxiety and depression to chronic pain and epilepsy—and because the terms indica and sativa appear on cannabis packaging, it’s important to understand the differences between types of strains.

  1. Indica vs. Sativa: What’s The Difference? 
  2. Physical Differences of the Strains
  3. Popular Strains to Consider for Certain Conditions
  4. Indica vs. Sativa Effects
  5. Indica vs. Sativa vs. Hybrid Edibles
  6. How To Choose The Right Strain


Indica vs. Sativa: What is the Difference? 

​​Sativas are typically known for producing a creative “head high,” which some find helpful for being productive during the day.

Indicas, on the other hand, are associated with a “body high” that has been reported to promote relaxation, sleep, and pain relief. You may have heard of it referred to as “couch-lock.” Hybrids are the third category and are popular in the cannabis market; hybrids are bred from both sativas and indicas and can have effects associated with either.

Indicas and sativas historically came from “landrace strains,” but retail markets have since cross-bred them so extensively that strains nowadays require advanced chemistry studies to classify. Much of what we think we know about sativa vs. indica vs. hybrid effects comes from colloquial reports and centuries of anecdotal experience. 


indica strain

  • Appearance: Cannabis indica plants are short and bushy with short, wide leaves.
  • Desired Effects: Indicas are informally known for sedative effects that relax the body. To easily remember that pure indicas are sedative, “in the couch” sounds like “indica.” For this reason, many marijuana users choose to medicate with indica in the evening before bed to help unwind or manage insomnia.
  • Common Indica Strains: GMO Cookies, Bubba Kush, and Purple Punch are all indica strains you may have come across before.
  • Origin: Indicas are native to several Central Asian regions with harsher climates, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.



  • Appearance: The leaves of cannabis sativa plants are known for being tall and narrow.
  • Desired Effects: Sativas are invigorating and uplifting, known for their energizing effects. They go nicely with social gatherings, creative projects, and physical activity. Therefore, they are a popular option for medicating during the day when you’re active.
  • Common Sativa Strains: Jack Herer, Super Lemon Haze, and Sour Diesel are popular sativa strains with euphoric effects.
  • Origin: Sativas are primarily found in dryer climates, such as Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central America.


hybrid strain

The names sativa and indica are also used when referring to hybrids. Hybrids are types of cannabis strains that have been bred from both sativas and indicas. “Sativa dominant” and “indica dominant” are terms commonly used at dispensaries to describe which subspecies a hybrid most resembles. If you prefer sativas, for example, you may find that you like the effects of sativa-dominant hybrid strains of cannabis the most.

  • Appearance: Hybrids can have a mix of characteristics of both indicas and sativas, depending upon their genetics.
  • Desired Effects: Hybrids bred from sativas and indicas land somewhere on the spectrum. Exactly how a specific hybrid affects someone changes depending on which traits were inherited from the parent plants.
  • Common Hybrid Cannabis Strains: Blue Dream, Wedding Cake, and White Widow are popular hybrid strains that have been bred from both indicas and sativas.


Ruderalis is a subspecies of cannabis known for their adaptability to harsh climates, smaller size, and unique auto-flowering trait. Originating from regions like Russia and Central Asia, they are valued in breeding for their resilience and automatic flowering capabilities.

  • Appearance: Ruderalis is even shorter and bushier than the indica sub-species of the cannabis plant with thick stems and few flowers. Their leaves flowers have three main points and two smaller points, unlike the five- to seven-point leaves of indica and sativa plants.
  • Desired Effects: Ruderalis cannabis plants are high in CBD, and their THC levels usually rest around 3%, making it a little more intoxicating than hemp. Ruderalis cannabis strains are ideal for relief from pain and anxiety without much intoxication. 
  • Origin: Unlike sativa and indica cannabis plants, ruderalis can grow almost anywhere. Because it is not dependent on light exposure for the flowering process, ruderalis cannabis plants can grow in harsher climates like Russia and Central Asia. 

So, why do we think the words indica and sativa make all the difference in our choices? To more effectively choose cannabis products that produce the different effects you’re looking for, let’s go into more detail about the defining characteristics of strains.

Physical Differences of the Strains

physical differences between indica vs sativa

To distinguish between sativa vs. indica cannabis plants, look at key differences in various plant characteristics such as plant height, internodal length, leaf structure, bud size, aroma, and flowering time.

Generally, indica plants tend to be shorter and bushier, with wider leaves featuring broad blades. On the other hand, sativa plants typically have a taller, more slender growth, with long leaves and thin blades. Indica buds are known for their width, density, and bulk, while sativa buds often take on a more elongated, sausage-shaped form.

Typically, indica strains often release a scent characterized by musty, earthy, and skunky notes, whereas sativas smell sweeter, fruitier, or spicier. This difference in flavor and aroma is due to the differences in terpenes typically associated with indica vs. sativa plants. 

Because indica and sativa strains have slightly different cannabinoid and terpene make-up, they can induce different effects. Therefore, all of these factors are important considerations when choosing the best medical cannabis strain for certain conditions.

Below are some popular strains and their common terpenes, what conditions they are typically used for, and whether they are classified as indica vs. sativa.

Strain Category CBD THC Prominent Terpenes Conditions
Blue Dream hybrid less than 0.1% 30% Caryophyllene, myrcene, pinene Pain, cramps, inflammation, insomnia, mental fog and PTSD
Sour Diesel sativa less than 1% 20-22% Caryophyllene, myrcene, limonene Fatigue, stress, acute pain, anxiety, mental fog and PTSD
Bubba Kush indica less than 1% 14-25% Caryophyllene, myrcene, limonene PTSD, insomnia, acute pain, low appetite and nausea
Granddaddy Purple indica less than 0.1% 17-23% Caryophyllene, myrcene, pinene Low appetite, restless leg syndrome and insomnia
Afghan Kush indica 6% 16-21% Caryophyllene, myrcene, pinene Insomnia, acute pain and low appetite
LA Confidential indica 0.30% 16-20% Caryophyllene, myrcene, pinene Inflammation, pain and stress
Maui Waui  sativa 0.55% 13-19% Caryophyllene, myrcene, pinene Fatigue and depression
Northern Lights indica 0.10% 16% Caryophyllene, myrcene, limonene Pain, insomnia, low appetite and mood disorders

White Widow

hybrid less than 1% 12-20% Caryophyllene, myrcene, pinene Depression, fatigue, mental fog and anxiety
Pineapple Express hybrid less than 0.1% 23% Caryophyllene, myrcene, pinene Mental fog, pain and anxiety
Skywalker OG indica less than 1% 18-30% Caryophyllene, myrcene, limonene Chronic pain, anxiety, stress and insomnia
White Buffalo sativa less than 0.1% 19% Caryophyllene, myrcene, limonene Stress, depression and anxiety
Jack Herer sativa less than 0.1% 16-18% Terpinolene, caryophyllene, pinene Stress, depression, anxiety, and mental fog
Trainwreck hybrid less than 0.1% 19-24% Terpinolene, myrcene, pinene Anxiety, chronic pain, stress, PTSD and mood disorders


Indica vs. Sativa Effects 

Today, the conversation around strains is a lot more complicated than once thought, and new categories are being proposed.

Due to selective breeding, most strains are not purely indica or sativa. Instead, most strains are labeled as sativa-dominant or indica-dominant hybrids. There are other factors that are more telling of the benefits and effects of a specific strain.

Two of the most important of these factors are the cannabinoid profile and the terpene profile of each strain. In order to find the right strain, you need to understand how these factors influence the experience you have and the type of high you feel. Let’s take a closer look at each.

Cannabinoid Profile

Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in cannabis; the two most well-known are THC and CBD. Instead of choosing your strain based on the classification of indica, sativa, or hybrid, try basing it on the combination of THC and CBD instead.

cbd vs thc


THC (short for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is the intoxicating cannabinoid that is responsible for the “high,” and it can relieve feelings of pain and nausea. THC-dominant marijuana strains are known for producing a high, or euphoric experience. But high THC content is also popular for alleviating pain, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and a host of other issues. However, some people can feel anxious side effects after using strains that contain high levels of THC, or they might prefer not to feel strong psychoactive effects. If so, higher CBD is the way to go.


CBD (short for cannabidiol) isn’t intoxicating, and it’s been studied to help ease pain, anxiety, inflammation, and a lot of other medical conditions. CBD-dominant strains generally only contain trace amounts of THC. This is especially important if you need to keep a clear head or handle other important things while attempting to manage pain. Additionally, CBD can potentially reduce or counteract the psychoactive effects of THC. Some cannabis patients prefer a balanced mix of THC and CBD, like a 1:1 ratio.

There are other cannabinoids, like CBN, CBG, THCA, and THCV, that all impact the effects of a strain. When shopping, be sure to consider the cannabinoid profile of the strain or the product to find the right effects for your needs.

Beyond CBD and THC 


Cannabigerol (CBG) is thought to provide medicinal benefits similar to CBD. CBG is a parent cannabinoid, crucial in the synthesis of THC and CBD within the cannabis plant. Despite being a relatively recent focus of research, CBG is believed to selectively interact with specific bodily systems and can potentially help in managing conditions such as glaucoma, Huntington’s disease, and gastrointestinal disorders like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.


Cannabichromene (CBC) is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis. Similar to CBD, CBC is believed to offer therapeutic benefits without inducing intoxication. Research suggests its potential effectiveness in treating various conditions, including pain, inflammation, cancer, acne, and depression. 


Cannabinol (CBN) is otherwise known as the “sleepy cannabinoid” due to its potential sedative impact on users, though further research is required to substantiate this claim. CBN offers mild intoxicating effects and may also contain antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and pain-relieving properties. 

Delta-8 THC

Delta-8 THC is a phytocannabinoid produced by the cannabis plant in very small amounts. It is an isomer of  delta-9 THC, and, as a result, is thought to be only slightly less intoxicating than the THC we’re all familiar with. Though research into the medicinal benefits of delta-8 THC is constantly evolving, this cannabinoid may help in managing nausea, reducing anxiety and pain, and stimulating appetite.

Terpene Profile

Terpenes are naturally occurring aromatic compounds that are responsible for the unique scents of fruits and plants, like the calming scent of lavender or the energizing scent of citrus fruit. In nature, the strong volatile smells that terpenes create act like pest deterrents. These aromatic compounds are produced in the same glands of the cannabis plant that produce THC and CBD. They’re what give the plant its unique smell and give each individual strain its distinct bouquet of aromatics and tastes.

Cannabis terpenes can make us feel stimulated the same way essential oils do. Pinene is a terpene that can cause us to feel alert, while linalool can relax us. It’s worth trying to get familiar with the most common ones as they are important ingredients and are thought to confer additional medicinal benefits to cannabis strains. If you can, smell the strains you’re thinking about buying. Find the ones that stand out to you the most and try them out.

Popular Terpenes Found in Cannabis

  • Pinene: There are two main forms; one smells like basil, dill, and hops while the other smells like pine needles and rosemary. The anecdotal benefits include mental focus, a boost in energy, anti-inflammatory effects, and more.
  • Linalool: Linalool is responsible for the famously relaxing effects of lavender. This terpene could contribute as an anti-epileptic, anti-inflammatory, sedative, and anxiety-reducer.
  • Myrcene: Myrcene creates the spicy and hoppy smells of hops, lemongrass, and thyme, and it is even found in mangos. It’s an anti-inflammatory and an antimutagen (meaning that it counteracts mutagens/radioactive agents).
  • Limonene: Are you drawn to strains with a citrus scent? Limonene is to thank for that. It’s thought to suppress appetite, kill bacteria and fungus, and help relieve nausea, pain, and depression.
  • Caryophyllene: The spicy scent of pepper comes from caryophyllene. This terpene also creates the signature scents of oregano and cinnamon. Caryophyllene is thought to reduce inflammation, fight cancer, and relieve stress.

Cannabis contains a fine-tuned spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes that all work in combination and synergistically—also known as the entourage effect—to create physiological and psychoactive effects that can be used to our benefit. Different strains will possess different levels and combinations of these constituents and each one can be used therapeutically, especially when they are targeted at the micro-level. Make sure to consult with a qualified healthcare provider before using cannabis medicinally. 

Indica vs. Sativa vs. Hybrid Edibles

sativa vs. hybrid vs. indica

Despite being very different products, cannabis edibles and cannabis flower follow the same rules when it comes to indica/sativa/hybrid classification.

But unlike dried flower, store-bought edibles typically contain distillate or other cannabis concentrates that are extracted from the flower. This means that there are far fewer edible choices overall and the variation between indica and sativa edibles is often not as pronounced as the variation between indica and sativa flower.

Sativa Edibles

Sativa edibles create rejuvenating, cerebral effects that are ideal for productivity and fighting depression.

Indica Edibles

Indica edibles produce a more body-centric, calming high that is well-suited for people dealing with pain, anxiety, and insomnia. However, it should be noted that edibles as a consumption method are known to cause heavy, sedating effects in the body due to how they are processed, so you’ll feel some of that even with sativa edibles.

Hybrid Edibles

Hybrid edibles create effects somewhere in the middle. Hybrid edibles can have energizing, creativity-inducing effects that fade into a relaxing, couch-locked high. 

If you want a little more control over the effects of your edibles, consider skipping the dispensary and making your own at home. While store-bought edibles are made with extracts, which have limited cannabinoid and terpene content, homemade edibles can be made strain-specific using decarboxylated flower. Not sure what to make? Check out this recipe for cannabis-infused junk food cookies.

How to choose the right strain

Just like with flower, many cannabis experts are now recommending that consumers look at factors beyond the indica/sativa classification when picking out edibles. Because the extraction process used to make edibles is notorious for destroying the flavor-fueling terpenes, look for higher-quality edibles that contain specific terpenes. The cannabinoid content will also tell you a lot about the effects; for example, edibles with both CBD and THC will be stronger and reduce anxiety.

Start with the effect you want

To find the right strain, it’s important to understand how you want to feel when you consume cannabis and which conditions you want to alleviate. Knowing whether a strain is an indica or a sativa is not enough information to tell how it will make you feel; note the potency levels of the cannabinoids and the terpenes in the strain.

Always speak with a medical professional before attempting any of these products. Interested in learning more? Veriheal offers thorough and informative consultations with a licensed medical cannabis doctor who can guide you through all of your concerns and provide you with reassurance without judgment of your medical choice to pursue cannabis.


Can you feel the difference between indica and sativa?

Yes, most cannabis consumers can feel the difference between indica and sativa. Though every one’s individual experience with cannabis is unique, sativas are generally more energizing and motivating, while indicas are better known for their calming, euphoric effects. 

Does sativa help you focus?

Yes, sativa strains are known for their “cerebral highs,” that can alleviate anxiety while enhancing focus and concentration. 

Which is more relaxing, indica or sativa?

Indica strains are known for their relaxing effects. These strains produce full-body highs with pain-relieving effects. 

What keeps you awake, indica or sativa?

Sativa strains are known for their energizing effects. These strains typically promote mental alertness, creativity, and overall mood-enhancing effects. 

What is stronger sativa or indica?

Though indica strains tend to have less THC and more CBD than sativa strains, the two typically cause different effects. While sativa strains can induce more of a “head high,” indica strains generally produces more body-centric relaxing effects


Note: The content on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be professional medical advice. Do not attempt to self-diagnose or prescribe treatment based on the information provided. Always consult a physician before making any decision on the treatment of a medical condition.

This guide is a compilation of blog posts written by Lo and Anthony Dutcher. Originally published on 6/24/21 and updated on 5/31/23.

Post Your Comments

Sanford Feldt says:

July 5, 2018 at 9:45 am

I’m a stage 2 Pancreatic cancer survivor. Doctors declared that im now cancer free and i’m so glad to hear that. Since then marijuana has been a great help to me so i decided to grow my own marijuana for my personal use only. But growing marijuana requires more knowledge and need to understand its life cycle. I have encountered many different problems in growing myself but that doesn’t help me stop from growing my own herbal medicine

Mason mcgrew says:

March 29, 2022 at 11:44 pm

Great article Samantha!


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