What does indica, sativa, hybrid and CBD mean and what is the difference between them?

Published Jan 29, 2019 02:58 p.m. ET

When looking at cannabis products in-store or online, you will often see that strains are divided into a few different groups. If you haven't spent much time familiarizing yourself with the culture before now, these labels likely mean very little to you. If you do have some knowledge and experience, then chances are most of what you know is heavily based on myth. The questions I most often asked are: What is the best way to choose a strain?  And are the stereotypes of these strains a good indicator of what can be expected of the effects? If not, then what is the difference?

Indica is often thought to have a calming or sedating effect. Generally sought after by those with problems sleeping and people who are looking for a more "intense" full body high. It is usually recommended for those who suffer from chronic pain, muscle spasms, seizures and more.

Sativa is generally touted as a more mild head buzz, allowing you to indulge while remaining energetic and alert. Marketed more towards those who want to be able to consume while still staying active and more alert.

Hybrid is just a mix of Sativa and Indica and breaks down into three categories of its own. Even hybrids are 50/50. For people looking for a nice even mix of both worlds. Then there are Indica dominant hybrids (over 50% indica) and Sativa dominant hybrids (over 50% sativa).

CBC strains tend to be used for their medical benefits and will not get you high.

The truth about how sativa and indica strains will affect you is a bit more complicated. There is now a fair amount of data from several studies that show there is very little evidence to suggest that indica or sativa have any consistent pattern of chemical profiles that would make one primarily relaxing and the other stimulating. What we do know is that both strains look different and grow differently, but that information is more relevant to those who cultivate then it is to the people consuming it. Unfortunately, these misconceptions don't appear to be going away anytime soon. A majority of the current market is misleading customers by catering to what the majority believes rather than educating.

So why is this categorization so widely used if it isn't necessarily relevant to consumers?

The words Indica and Sativa were first used in the 1700’s to describe the different species of cannabis.


Cannabis Sativa was named by Carl Linnaeus and described hemp plants found in Europe and

Eurasia. Hemp was harvested there for its fiber and seeds. Cannabis indica was named by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. It described the psychoactive varieties of cannabis discovered in India, where it was harvested for hashish production, seeds, and fiber.

Though most varieties we use today were originally cannabis indica, both terms are commonly used to organize the many strains we have available now. Sativa is currently described as a tall and narrow-leaf variety of cannabis. Indica is now defined as broad-leaf plants with a more sedating or calming effect. For reference, hemp is not an intoxicating variety and is harvested industrially for fiber, seeds, and CBD.

If you shouldn’t decide on a strain solely because of the implied effects of Sativa vs Indica, what else can you use to decide?

Well, there are several things to take into consideration, but here I will cover the basics. The most commonly noted information available to the average consumer is the THC and CBD content. Are you a new user? If you are then your safest bet may be to start with the lower end THC content. Allowing yourself the chance to gauge its effects and maintain complete control over your first few experiences. It also lessens the chances of having some of the rare side effects that new users are most prone to like panic attacks.

Are you trying to treat a medical condition? If the answer is yes, then you may benefit more from CBD strain. Traditionally used for medical benefits. CBD is an anti-inflammatory and anastalgic. CBD has been shown to help treat many with chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. CBD only strains will not get you high. CBD is found in most strains of cannabis. If using for medical benefits then the higher percentage of CBD should be a priority.

Still not sure how to choose or where to start? Time and a bit of experimenting will help build up your confidence and comfort levels. It is important to remember that just like with alcohol, individuals often experience the same strains very differently from one person to the next. Regardless of where you choose to begin, it is essential to ask questions and to know what to look for when hunting for the “perfect” strain.



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