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  • Olivia Castro

Indica vs. Sativa: What’s the Difference?

If you are new to the medical marijuana community, first off we want to say hi and welcome to the club! Second, we want to talk to you about indica and sativa. We’re sure you heard of them! They are super common marijuana terminology that even those that know nothing about marijuana, know these words. But what is indica and sativa? What’s the difference between the two? Is this the only way for me to measure the effects of marijuana strains? There is a lot of debate within the community regarding the two.

These are all good questions to have! Here at Louisiana Marijuana Card, you can always get all the information you need. We not only help patients across the state receive their medical marijuana cards through telemedicine but we also are a source for all things marijuana in Louisiana. You can also stay connected with us while you’re on the go by following us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!

On today’s blog, we are going to be sharing with you the origins of indica and sativa categories, some basics on what they both are, and what you should be looking for when picking strains at your local pharmacy. Here’s a guide on all you need to know about indica and sativa!

What is the Origin of Indica and Sativa?

To understand the conflict surrounding indica and sativa we need to look at how the two categories came about and a little into the history behind marijuana taxonomy. Indica and sativa have both been part of the marijuana vocabulary since the 1700s. In the text Species Plantarum published in 1753, Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus names Cannabis sativa as the psychoactive cannabis plant.

Around 1785, French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck identified Cannabis indica as a separate species than Cannabis sativa based on how they look. Lamarck classified indica plants as having dark green, wider leaves and sativa having lighter, more narrow leaves.

Much later in 1930, a Russian botanist named Dmitrij Janischewsky identified Cannabis ruderalis as being the third cannabis species along with sativa and indica. This classification was based on the flowering traits of the plant instead of what the leaves looked like. Janischewsky noted that the ruderalis plants naturally flowered 20-40 days after sprouting instead of as a dependant of sunlight like the other two.

In the 1970s, American biologist Loran Anderson and Richard E. Schultes stated that there were three species of cannabis which were indica, sativa and ruderalis. But instead of making these categories based on physical appearance or flower budding, they were determined by their differing ratios of THC and CBD. They claimed sativa high in THC and low in CBD, indica as high in both THC and CBD and ruderalis as high in CBD and low in THC.

During this same time, Ernest Small and Arthur Cronquist were claiming that only one cannabis species exists which they called Cannabis sativa and that the subcategories of sativa and indica were only created by human intervention.

Today, the taxonomy of marijuana still is ever changing and shifting. Botanists now believe that the sativa and indica subspecies, claimed by Small and Cronquist, actually predate human intervention. There has also been recognition of other important marijuana components that come into play such as terpenes and cannabinoids that previously were not taken into the taxonomists account.

While this long history is still morphing into something new day by day, we do know this to be true. The categories of indica and sativa were meant for botanists, not pharmacologists. This means that the indica and sativa groups actually point less to specific effects on the body and more to the plants physical appearance.

I think I know your next question. Why do we still use the term indica and sativa if they were originally meant for just botanists and not pharmacologists? We still use these terms to this day because their true meaning has shifted socially since the early days. Today, when we’re talking about sativa we are really talking about the cannabis variety that has tall, narrow leaves that is believed to give an energizing effect. When referring to indica, we mean the cannabis variety that has stout, broad leaves that is believed to give a sedating, full-body effect.

Even though most of the cannabis that is on the market largely comes from Cannabis indica, both terms are still used to create broad, general categories for thousands of marijuana strains.

Indica vs. Sativa 101

Although there are better ways to gauge the effects of a specific marijuana strain, indica and sativa are two common terms that are used frequently within the cannabis community and at pharmacies when you buy your medical marijuana.

Typically when people are talking about indica or sativa strains, they are referring to indica as being physically sedating and relaxing and sativa, on the other hand, as having more of an energizing and uplifting cerebral effect. Indica is great for unwinding and perhaps “Netflix and chilling” for the night while sativa is better for getting tasks marked off your to-do list and for creative endeavors. There are also hybrids strains that give you a good mix of the two!

What is Sativa?

Sativa strains are reserved for those that tend to produce, what we call in the industry, a “head high.” Meaning sativas give you an uplifting and stimulating effect that is more mental! They are great for assisting with stress and anxiety as they can help sharpen your focus and boost your mood, creativity and motivation.

A lot of people gravitate towards sativa strains because they are said to make one feel happy and euphoric. Since they do give off energy, they are a great strain for daytime use. You can still get the effects of medical marijuana while still being productive and getting your to-do list done!

Popular Sativa Strains:

  • Sour Diesel

  • Super Lemon Haze

  • Super Silver Haze

  • Strawberry Cough

  • Durban Poison

What is Indica?

Many people refer to indica as “in da couch.” They give you a full-body effect that makes your body feel calm, relaxed and sometimes even heavy. Indica strains are ideal for patients who need help relaxing and are dealing with insomnia.

Indica has been said to make you feel at ease, relaxed and sometimes even sleepy. They are perfect for night time when you need to unwind and can aid those struggling with chronic or intractable pain!

Popular Indica Strains:

  • Granddaddy Purple

  • Bubba Kush

  • Northern Lights

  • Blueberry

  • Purple Punch

What Are Hybrids?

There are also a plethora of hybrid strains that give you the best of both worlds! Hybrid strains are bred for both indica and sativa plants. Because the breeding of marijuana plants has been done for so long and often secretively due to the law, most marijuana plants are hybrids of both indica and sativa so finding a pure indica or sativa plant is actually very rare. Most strains are erroneously referred to as indica or sativa while they really are a hybrid of both subspecies.

Since hybrid strains of marijuana are derivatives of both indica and sativa strains, they have the effects of both. It all depends on which strain is more dominant or, as they call it in the industry, which strain is the “parent” strain.

Popular Hybrid Strains:

  • Gelato

  • Wedding Cake

  • White Widow

  • Pineapple Express

  • OG Kush

What Are the Best Indicators of Strain Effects?

Even though indica, sativa and hybrid are three ways of categorizing marijuana, it really is not the best predictor of the effects that marijuana strains will have on your body. Like we said before, sativa and indica categories are more for the botanist to categorize marijuana subspecies by appearance, not for predicting effects. The effects specific strains have can be better based on cannabinoids and terpenes.


Marijuana has hundreds of different chemical compounds that form together to create the effects that specific strains give off. Two of these main cannabinoids that are the most popular and well known are THC and CBD. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the compound that brings about the psychoactive effects that marijuana has, in other words the “high.” CBD (cannabidiol), on the other hand, is the non-psychoactive compound. Both THC and CBD have medicinal properties that help aid anxiety, PTSD, inflammation, insomnia, pain and so much more!

Since marijuana has so many different cannabinoids that work within the body, it is best for beginners to start by making themselves familiar with THC and CBD first. When you are choosing which strains to use it could be helpful to not focus so much on if the strain is indica or sativa and instead consider your selection based on THC and CBD.

THC-dominant strains are better for those that are ok with experiencing the typical “high” that is often associated with marijuana. This gives off a euphoric feeling and can help with pain, depression, anxiety and insomnia. If you try a THC-dominant strain and it makes you feel side effects that you’re not a fan of, you can try getting a THC-dominant strain that has a higher level of CBD in it!

CBD-dominant strains only have a very small amount of THC so these are great for patients who do not want to experience a psychoactive effect. They are great strains for those who need to medicate but also want to have a clear head at the same time.

You also can get a balanced strain that has similar levels of THC and CBD. These can offer you a mild psychoactive effect while also giving you symptom relief! A more balanced strain is great for those who are beginners to medical marijuana use.


Other than cannabinoids, terpenes are the next aspect of marijuana to keep your eye on. To keep it simple, terpenes are basically the “aromatherapy” component of marijuana. They are the aromatic compounds that are often found in plants and fruit such as lavender flowers, oranges, thyme, peppermint, peppercorn and much more! Terpenes are what gives marijuana its smell and flavor.

Some of the most popular terpenes found in marijuana are mycrene, pinene, caryophllene, limonene and terpinolene. These give off herbal, pine, peppery, citrus and fruity fragrances which can produce a range of effects from calm to high energy. Different terpenes create different effects on the body. Some can make you feel happy, some relaxed, some sleepy and some more focused.

Advice to Take With You:

Medical marijuana use is an experience that is personal to everyone. What affects one person may have a different effect on another. An effect one person likes, another may hate. It all depends on what you are looking for. Certain strains help aid specific medical conditions and bring about relief. On your next trip to the pharmacy, make sure to keep an eye out not only for indica or sativa strains, but cannabinoids and terpenes!

Doctors Who Care. Relief You Can Trust.

At Louisiana Marijuana Card, our mission is helping everyone achieve wellness safely and conveniently through increased access to medical marijuana. Our focus on education, inclusion, and acceptance will reduce stigma for our patients by providing equal access to timely information and compassionate care.

Call us at (833) 253-2943, or simply book a medical marijuana evaluation to start getting relief you can trust today!

Check out Louisiana Marijuana Card’s Blog to keep up to date on the latest medical marijuana news, tips, and information. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to join the medical marijuana conversation in Louisiana!


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