Indica, Sativa, Hybrid – What’s the difference?

When getting into cannabis, one of the first things you’ll come across is the 3-group classification for strains: Indicas (I), Sativas (S), or Hybrids (H). But what do these words actually mean, and how accurate are these classifications? Let’s go a little bit in-depth on the topic, as well as touching briefly on its origins and other aspects to consider when purchasing your cannabis.

The first on the list is the Indica family, which typically gives a weighted, soothing, and relaxing high when consumed. Indicas are great for use as a nighttime aid for sleep or pain relief, as the physical effects are felt mainly in the torso and lower body. Too much of this “body high” may contribute to the infamous “couch lock” – the experience of feeling so relaxed and calm from your high that your body feels glued or melted to the couch. In its plant form, Indicas tend to be shorter and bushier in stature, carrying short and wide leaves.

With a Sativa strain, the high is more creative and energizing than an Indica. The effects of a Sativa are more cognitive than physical (a “head high” vs. a “body high”), and can improve focus and mood. For this reason, sativas are typically associated with daytime use, and consumers often pair them with activities like running errands or working on creative projects. In its plant form, Sativas tend to be taller and slimmer, with long and thin leaves.

Hybrid strains are, as the name implies, a blend of the two above-mentioned categories. This blend of Indica and Sativa carries over into the effects as well, as Hybrids often start a high experiencing one category (e.g. “head high”) and ending with the other (e.g. “body high”). Each Hybrid strain can lean towards one parentage than the other, and depending on the proportions found in a particular strain, a hybrid can be considered sativa-dominant or indica-dominant. The ratio of Sativa to Indica differs from strain to strain, so no two hybrids are the same!

With that said, the history of this 3-group classification of cannabis tends to paint an inaccurate generalization of effects that has yet to be backed by research. The terms “sativa” and “indica” refer to the botanical classification initially proposed in 1753 by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (cannabaceae sativa) and 1785 European naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (cannabaceae indica). The familial distinction was made to classify the physical appearance of the plant, but due to hundreds of years of cross-breeding, most, if not all, strains on the market today are horticulturally considered to be a hybrid. This accessible method of classifying plants, then, became a way to classify the effect a particular strain may have on an individual. Now, it is a staple of the cannabis community, making us reliant on the (technically inaccurate) naming system.

When it comes to a more spot-on way to categorize cannabis and the general effect a particular strain may have, we should take a look instead at its cannabinoid and terpene profile. Cannabinoids and terpenes speak to the organic chemical compounds found in the plant’s trichomes (i.e., the frosty white coating found on cannabis buds), and are responsible for the effects and aromas a particular strain might have. It’s this combination of cannabinoids and terpenes that contributes to what is known as the entourage effect. The entourage effect was first proposed by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam (the same researcher who discovered THC) and Dr. Shimon Ben-Shabat in 1999 to describe the combination of cannabinoids and terpenes complementing and enhancing one another to contribute to the overarching effect of a particular strain. In other words, when it comes to the entourage effect, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” 

“Okay…your point?” you might be asking.

The point is, it’s the combination of these cannabinoids and terpenes that earns the particular strain its 3-group classification title. In other words, cannabinoids and terpenes are responsible for how the “head” and/or “body” high will play out. This isn’t meant to completely disregard the current 3-group classification. As someone who is also relatively new to the nuances of cannabis, I’ve found the Indica/Sativa/Hybrid system helps in guiding my buying experience. I genuinely believe that the classification’s “outdated” terminology doesn’t necessarily discredit or negate its utility. Instead, I’ve found it provides an easier way of becoming familiar with a diverse range of strains, flavors, and effects, especially when trying cannabis for the first time. And, as one continues on in their cannabis journey and begins to detect the preferred nuances, flavors, and experiences of their high, it becomes more beneficial to the consumer to go beyond the 3-group classification and obtain a little bit more in-depth knowledge on common cannabinoids and terpenes.

In the weeks to come, we’ll be addressing cannabinoids, terpenes, and products we have at Cannabis of Worcester (COW) that cater to particular effects. Stay tuned! In the meantime, be wowed at COW and slide through! We have an array of products that cater to your needs and friendly budtenders that are more than happy to help guide you in your purchase. If in-person is not your speed, feel free to click here to check out our menu online.

Written by Coralys De Jesus

Edited by Laura Ellis


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