July 23, 2019
Cannabis Science

Sativa VS Indica: Or Are They All Hybrids?


The cannabis community has, up until very recently classified cannabis into two main categories – sativa and indica. However, over the years there has been much debate about whether sativa or indica are truly the best way to classify the cannabis plant, or if it is a bit too simplistic for modern cannabis.  

We now know that the classifications sativa and indica have little impact on the levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) or CBD (Cannabidiol), as well as the rest of the cannabinoids inside. Despite these findings a significant number of cannabis patients still base their buying decisions on the “type” of plant. So, what makes sativas and indicas different and is it an important part of choosing your medicine?  

There is another classification, called a ‘hybrid’, which is a blend between sativa and indica. The profile of a hybrid will take varied characteristics from its parent’s genetics, and will either produce sativa-dominant hybrids, indica-dominant hybrids, or balanced hybrids. While isolating the chemical compounds from these strains can be done, predicting what and characteristics the hybrid takes on from its parent plants is hard to predict and takes some trial and error.  

cannabis indica and sativa are both hybrids

What’s the Difference Between Sativa and Indica?

Physically, indica plants are short with wide leaves and dense branches. Sativa plants, on the other hand, can grow quite tall and thin, with slender leaves. In theory, sativa strains descend from plants that grew in equatorial regions such as Thailand and Southeast Asia, while cannabis indica strains, are descendants of cannabis plants cultivated and grown in the Hindu Kush region such as Morocco, Turkey, and Afghanistan.

The Difference Between Growing Cannabis Sativa and Indica

Cannabis indica has a short growing and flowering cycle, while cannabis sativa has a longer growing and flowering cycle. Because of its small stature and faster flowering time, many indoor growers favour indica strains. Outdoor growers, especially those in warmer regions with long outdoor growing seasons, tend to favour sativa strains.  

It’s important to remember you cannot know the effects a cannabis plant will have based on the shape of its leaflets, its size, or how tall the plant is. What really matters is the chemical composition of the plant. More on that shortly.

cannabis in stores glass jars light greens mecical cannabis australia there all australia

What Are Hybrid Strains?

Hybrid strains are cannabis strains created by crossbreeding cannabis indica and cannabis sativa. There is a very low chance that any real pure sativa or indica genetics exist anymore, after so much inter-breeding. Hybrid strains have genetic ancestors that include both cannabis indica and cannabis sativa which now a days include most, if not all of cannabis plants.  

Each breed will have different ratios of THC or CBD, which work together to create cannabis’ diverse effects. There are other factors that heavily influence how the plant turns out, like how the plant is grown, harvested and stored affect the chemical composition of the plant.

Science suggests that there are no pure indica or sativa plants anymore and they are in fact all hybrids. A 2015 study by Canadian scientists looked at 81 marijuana strains and found that the reported sativa-indica split rarely matched their actual genetic makeup. Cannabis is one of the oldest plants and because it has an illicit history, tracing the genealogical lineage of a certain strain is extremely difficult if not impossible.  

The distinction between indica and sativa doesn’t work very well anymore since there has been so much intermingled breeding and since cannabis growing has been underground for so long, the genetics have not been tracked, resulting in a mix and match of strains. There are very little or even non-existent “pure” strains anymore. The best we can do is call them dominant strains as in sativa-dominated or indica-dominated. Since nobody until recently has been keeping track of cannabis with modern scientific methods, we don't know what a pure sativa or indica really is or really what the defining characteristics of a pure sativa or indica are.  

cannabis sun grown outside for sativa and indica

How Do You Know What Strain Is Best For You?

Are you confused yet? You might be wondering if everything is a hybrid then how do you choose based upon your medical condition. As mentioned, we can only use the term “dominant” strain. Of which there are three categories that best represent modern-day strains:

Sativa-dominant Hybrids: Cerebral high with a relaxing body effect. These strains provide physical and mental relief. Sativa-dominant strains are more of a stimulant, and are effective in appetite stimulation, relieving depression, migraines, nausea, and chronic pain.  

Indica-dominant Hybrids: These strains provide a full-body pain relief, with a relaxing head high. Recommended for nighttime use for sleep, or daytime relief from pain. These strains are perfect for patients who suffer from all types of autoimmune diseases as well as insomnia, anxiety, muscle spasms and tremors.  

“Even Hybrids”: Ideal strains for people seeking a perfect balance of head and body. Hybrids have characteristics of each parent and can have the benefit of the relief you seek without any of the drawbacks. For example, have both strains can increase mental clarity and decreases sedation effects. There are a vast number of strains available for patients, each with a different cannabinoid profile and effect.

cannabis indica dominant grown outside

It might be difficult to move past the indica-sativa paradigm that has been long established in cannabis culture. When the alternatives are not well understood, it is easy to fall back on simplistic classifications. However, a messy but truer alternative based on real science is superior to drawing fake lines in the sand. Curious about how else cannabis may be able to help with your ailment? Sign-up for out newsletter and get notified about our up and coming terpene blogs. In these blogs we’ll explain the importance of the not-so-well understood terpene profiles of cannabis that are being used to predict and better understand the different effects that cannabis can offer.

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