Indica vs. Sativa: Is there a Difference?

You walk into a dispensary and see three categories of flower: indica, sativa, and hybrids. Now you have a tough decision to make. Do you go for the indica, also known as the “in-da-couch”, body-high strain? Or how about the energetic, creative high of sativa? Maybe you want to balance it out and go for a hybrid. “Am I overthinking this?” you think to yourself Well, I’m here to tell you if the indica vs. sativa holy war holds ground or if it’s just a myth.

Marijuana Drink
Photo by Justin Aikin on Unsplash

What Affects Your High?

Before we dive into this indica vs. sativa debate lets first ask ourselves: what exactly goes into producing the sensations you feel after taking marijuana, or so-called “highs”? You know those little hairs you see on your unground marijuana “nugs”? That right there is where the money is. Those little hairs house the cannabinoids (THC/CBD), terpenes, and flavonoids.


Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that are found in marijuana plants. The most well-known cannabinoids are THC (phytocannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). Though we mostly hear about THC and CBD, 113 different cannabinoids have been isolated and identified from cannabis plants. When you smoke or take edibles, those cannabinoids will bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain which is what produces your high.

Why is this so cool?

Let’s think about alcohol for a minute. When you drink alcohol there is only one thing that goes to producing your drunkenness, alcohol. You can have drinks with a high, low, or medium alcohol content and that’s it. Well with cannabis its so much more than that. Although THC is the primary cannabinoid for psychoactive effects, it certainly isn’t the only one. 113 cannabinoids are working in harmony together producing a symphony of effects that all make-up how you feel when you get high. Researchers are only beginning to learn about these different cannabinoids and figuring out how different profiles of cannabinoids produce different feeling highs. We already know from a study done on rats that strains which are more THC heavy will cause munchies, while rats using the strains containing more CBD had less munchies.

Cannabis Indica
Photo by Esteban Lopez on Unsplash

Indica vs. Sativa: Are the
Cannabinoids Different?

Indica vs. sativa plant
Indica vs. Sativa

In regards to the indica vs. sativa debate, there are certainly differences between the cannabis plants that I won’t go into. Physically, the plants look, feel, and even smell different (thank you terpenes). You can read about the physical differences on Leafly, but I want to jump right into the real reason we’re here. Will smoking an indica make me feel different than smoking a sativa?

Neuroscientist Dr. Ethan Russo, states in an interview “There are biochemically distinct strains of Cannabis, but the sativa/indica distinction as commonly applied in the lay literature is total nonsense and an exercise in futility. One cannot in any way currently guess the biochemical content of a given Cannabis plant based on its height, branching, or leaf morphology.” Meaning just because there are physical differences between sativa and indica plants doesn’t mean that affects your high. You need to look at the biochemical makeup (the cannabinoids).

If you take an indica strain and a sativa strain and compare the two cannabinoid profiles they are likely going to be very different. You can also take any two indica strains and see they’re vastly different from each other. Same goes with sativa. The truth of it is, we have been breeding and “genetically modifying” (through breeding) cannabis for so long that most of anything you’ll smoke these days will be a hybrid (even if it’s labeled otherwise). There aren’t enough distinct similarities in cannabinoid profiles in indica strains and sativa strains where we can say ” sativa will give you these effects and indica will give you these different ones”. There is, however, a more specific classification where you can feel the differences of effects, at least moreso than in indica vs. sativa plants.

Read about the affects of breeding our cannabis to be high THC low CBD.

Sativa Cannabis
Sativa flower


The indica/sativa level of classification is way too broad to group the different kinds of cannabis “highs” in my opinion. We can really start to see more consistencies at the strain level and that is how we should be classifying our highs. Researchers looked at strains of legal cannabis in Washington and were able to classify them. Why don’t we talk about “Sour Diesel” high’s rather than sativa highs?

Well, because there are so many strains. It’s easy to put things into 2 groups and say “this group does one thing, the other group does this other thing”.I’ll admit even classifying at the strain level isn’t going to be super accurate because one grower’s sour diesel might be totally different from another grower’s. The truth is each strain and each grow will produce different results from the last. I think one day we’ll be purchasing based on different cannabinoid profiles rather than arbitrary strain names.


Some might be disappointed to learn that the indica vs. sativa differences are a myth. I’m here to tell you that you shouldn’t be disappointed but you should be excited. This means that instead of two classifications we have tens, hundreds, even thousands! There are so many combinations of cannabinoid profiles and researchers are just starting to learn what they all do! I see a future where we will be able to find strains that offer the exact high we’re looking for, all backed by research and science.

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