Types of Strains: Indicas, Sativas & Hybrids, Oh My!

Written by BlackbirdGo May 26, 2018
The Plant

Buying cannabis through a legal market is exciting, but it can also be an overwhelming experience for people who have never been in a dispensary before. After all, for most people who live in states with restrictive drug laws, it is what it is. Acquiring cannabis on the illicit market usually involves meeting a vaguely off-putting, antisocial friend-of-a-friend at their home or in an alley somewhere, and at best you’re given a choice between low-grade or high-grade cannabis. By contrast, walking into a dispensary can feel like the bulk food section at your local grocery store. The choices! So many choices!

Cannabis enthusiasts love having a range of options to best meet their needs. But it can all be a bit confusing for someone who’s never been in a dispensary before. In this article, we’ll be talking about the basic categories of cannabis: indica strains, sativa strains, and hybrid strains.

What Does That Mean For Me As A Cannabis Consumer?

The physical differences between indica and sativa strains are just one piece of a complex puzzle. Genetically, botanists argue about whether they’re the same plant species or whether sativas and indicas are distinct subspecies. The two types of cannabis are very easy to crossbreed and still produce viable new plants, but their geographical isolation and unique physical adaptations do suggest some variance in how these two types of cannabis plants evolved.

While cannabis users have historically considered indica vs. sativa to be the biggest determining factor in the plant’s effects, recent developments in our understanding of cannabis have taught us that terpene profiles are actually the biggest difference between sativa and indica effects.

You may remember from our previous lesson that terpenes are the aromatic compounds that form in the trichomes of cannabis plants. These naturally-occurring compounds do more than just make your weed smell skunky or citrusy; they offer many of the same therapeutic benefits that you’d get from aromatherapy, and they may interact directly with your body’s endocannabinoid system.

So What Exactly Does An Indica Strain Do?

Because indica strains of cannabis produce a sleepy body high colloquially known as “couchlock,” it’s best for cannabis novices to avoid smoking indica strains during the day. They’re essential for pain management, but as many cannabis users jokingly say, indicas will leave you in-da-couch. There’s still much to be learned about the medical applications of cannabis, but a large part of that symptom relief stems from the terpenes that are most commonly found in indica strains.

Myrcene, a cannabis terpene that’s also naturally found in hops used to make beer, is generally found at higher concentrations in indica strains. In fact, according to some researchers, plants with a myrcene content greater than 0.5% on a gas chromatography analysis will produce a more relaxing, sleep-inducing body high that’s typically associated with indica strains.

Other cannabis terpenes are also associated with indica strains and their effects. For example, caryophyllene offers pain relief and anxiety reduction, and it’s found in indica strains. Linalool is another terpene that relieves pain and anxiety, and it’s commonly found in the strong indica strains.

In general, indicas are preferable if you’re suffering from any of the following ailments:
- insomnia
- anxiety
- chronic pain
- gastrointestinal complications like Crohn’s disease or IBS

How About Sativas?

Sativa strains are like the coffee of cannabis. They provide an invigorating, uplifting, euphoric head-high that many consumers feel is motivating and inspirational. For this reason, many cannabis users reach for sativa strains to start their day productively. However, some people find that sativas make it difficult to sleep, which is why many people use sativa strains earlier in the day and gradually transition to indica strains in the evening.

Sativa strains of cannabis are often used to treat the symptoms of depression and anxiety, but be careful if you’re new to legal weed - some sativas offer a head high that can be too stimulating for novices, giving way to racing thoughts that can actually worsen anxiety symptoms.

Many sativa strains include high concentrations of the terpene limonene, which offers mood elevation and a clear head high. Pinene is another terpene that’s associated with mood elevation, and should enhance the sativa effects.

Sativa strains are ideal if you need to feel any of the following:
- happy/upbeat
- social
- active
- creative
- motivated
- productive

If you’re feeling depressed or you’re going into a social situation like a party, reach for a sativa to feel peppy and conversational. If you’re trying to relax, relieve pain, or induce sleep, choose an indica.

Are Hybrid Strains the Goldilocks of Ganja?

In many ways, yes. With the exception of landrace strains, which tend to be either a pure indica or a pure sativa, most cannabis strains are not binary in their categorization. It helps to think of these categories as more of a spectrum, with hybrids occupying a broad range between the polar opposites of sativa and indica.

Most of the strains that you find at your local dispensary are hybrids. Some are very indica-dominant hybrids that offer sedation and pain relief. Others are sativa-dominant hybrids that offer an upbeat, cerebral experience. But many hybrids offer more of a middle-of-the-road approach, blending the body-high of indica strains with the head-high of sativa strains in varying ratios (40:60, 50:50, etc).

Hybrids are generally considered ideal for use at any time of day. If you could only bring one strain with you on a camping trip, for example, you might choose a hybrid strain. These hybrid strains offer relaxing and pain-relieving effects blended with a gentle, upbeat high that’s ideal for hiking or having conversations with friends.

So Which Type Of Cannabis Should I Get?

The answer to that question depends entirely on your needs and your desired effects. Medical patients typically base their strain choices on the specific symptoms they need to treat. Recreational customers choose strains based on how they want to feel: upbeat, conversational, productive, relaxed, sleepy, etc.

Some people prefer to smoke only sativa strains or only indica strains, but in general, most cannabis users enjoy the benefits of both types of weed. Your cannabis choices should be determined by your medicinal needs if you’re a med patient, or by your desired effects if you’re buying as a recreational customer.

When you visit a dispensary, they’ll generally have anywhere from around a dozen different cannabis strains to 60+ strains. Each strain has a unique name, which is typically assigned to that strain by its grower. The name of a cannabis strain can occasionally offer some insight into the effects you can anticipate after consumption. Haze varieties also tend to offer the heavy cerebral effects common to sativa strains (an easy way to remember: sativas can make you feel hazy-headed). Other names are nonsensical, which is why it’s best to look at the cannabinoids and terpenes in a given strain to determine whether it’s right for you.

Take a look at our terpene breakdown from our article on terpenes, then do some research to find out which strains offer high concentrations of the terpenes that you need most. You might be surprised to learn that you could benefit from trying indica strains, even if you’ve considered yourself a ride-or-die sativa lover for years! And don’t get discouraged if you don’t find the right strain on your very first trip to the dispensary; talk to your budtender about which effects you like or don’t like, and they should be able to point you towards a strain that’s right for you.

Photo: Goldleaf