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  • Olivia Castro

What is the Difference between Sativa and Indica Marijuana Strains?

We want to talk to you about some of the basics: indica and sativa. We’re sure you heard of them! They are super common cannabis terminology that even those who know nothing about cannabis, know these terms. But what is indica and what is sativa? Is there really a difference between the two? Can I use these terms to measure the effects of a marijuana strains? We’re going to answer these questions for you today!

Here at Tennessee Marijuana Card, you can always get all the information you need. We are not only here to advocate for the legalization of medical marijuana in Tennessee but we also are a news source for all things marijuana in the state on our blog!

In today’s article, we will be sharing with you the origins of the 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 once Tennessee has a fully formed medical marijuana program. Here’s a guide on all you need to know about indica and sativa!

Where Did Indica and Sativa Come From?

To understand the debate surrounding indica and sativa, we first need to look at how the two terms came about and the history behind marijuana taxonomy. Indica and sativa have both been part of the marijuana terminology since the mid-1700s. In Species Plantarum, published in 1753, Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus names the psychoactive cannabis plant Cannabis sativa.

By the late 1700s, French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck identified Cannabis indica as a separate species than Cannabis sativa. These two classifications were 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 a third cannabis variant, Cannabis ruderalis. This classification was based on the flowering traits of the cannabis plant as opposed to 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 made their mark by identifying three species of cannabis: indica, sativa and ruderalis. But instead of making these categories based on physical appearance or flower budding like previously, 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 claimed that there was only one cannabis species in existence which they called Cannabis sativa and that the subcategories of sativa and indica were only created by human inaction with the plant.

As you can see the taxonomy of marijuana has been ever changing and shifting and still is to this day! 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 attributes that come into play such as terpenes and cannabinoids. These were not previously taken into the taxonomists account.

This is a lot of shifting in terminology but regardless we do know this to be true. The categories of indica and sativa were only meant for botanists, not pharmacologists; meaning that the indica and sativa groups actually point less to specific effects on the body, like one may think, and more towards just the plant's physical appearance.

So why do we still use these terms if they were originally meant for just botanists and not pharmacologists? Great question! We still use these terms to this day because their true meaning has shifted in a more social sense. Today, when we’re talking about sativa, we are generally talking about the cannabis variety that has tall, narrow leaves that is believed to give an energizing, mindful 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. Both of these terms are still used to create broad, general categories for thousands of marijuana strains.

Indica vs. Sativa

There are better ways to gauge the effects of a specific marijuana strain, but indica and sativa are the two most common terms frequently within the cannabis community.

Generally when people are talking about indica versus sativa strains, they are referring to indica as being physically relaxing and sativa as having an uplifting cerebral effect. Indica is great for unwinding and perhaps “Netflix and chilling” for the night while sativa is better for getting those tasks marked off your to-do list. There are also hybrid strains that give you a good mix of the two!

What is Sativa?

Sativa strains 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 helping alleviate stress and anxiety. They can also sharpen your focus and boost your mood, creativity and motivation.

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

Popular Sativa Strains:

Here are some popular sativa strains that you can keep an eye out for once Tennessee has a fully functioning program:

  • Sour Diesel

  • Super Lemon Haze

  • Super Silver Haze

  • Strawberry Cough

  • Durban Poison

What is Indica?

Have you ever heard of the saying “in da couch?” That is referring to the full-body effect that indica gives off making your body feel calm, relaxed and heavy. Indica strains are great for patients who need help relaxing or are dealing with insomnia.

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

Popular Indica Strains:

Below are some popular indica strains that you can look forward to trying once Tennessee has a fully formed medical marijuana program:

  • Granddaddy Purple

  • Bubba Kush

  • Northern Lights

  • Blueberry

  • Purple Punch

What Are Hybrids?

There are also hybrid strains that give you the best of both worlds! Hybrid strains are bred from both indica and sativa plants. Because the breeding of marijuana plants has been done for so long and often secretively due to prohibition, most marijuana plants are hybrids of both indica and sativa so finding a pure indica or sativa plant is actually something that is very rare. Most strains are erroneously referred to as indica or sativa when in fact 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 which is the “parent” strain.

Popular Hybrid Strains:

  • Gelato

  • Wedding Cake

  • White Widow

  • Pineapple Express

  • OG Kush

What Are the Best Indicators of Strain Effects?

You should think about indica, sativa and hybrids as three ways of categorizing marijuana. These categories alone are really 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 by what they look like, not by their effects. If you want to know more about the specific effect a strain will have, you should look more at the cannabinoid and terpene profile.


Marijuana has hundreds of different chemical compounds that form together to create the effects that specific strains give off. Two of these main cannabinoids, which I am sure you have heard of, 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 a non-psychoactive compound, but can still give medicinal effects. Both THC and CBD have strong properties that help aid anxiety, PTSD, inflammation, insomnia, pain and so many more medical conditions!

Marijuana has so many different cannabinoids that work within the body so it is best for beginners to start by making themselves familiar with THC and CBD first. When dispensaries open and 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 base your selection on THC and CBD.

THC-dominant strains are better for those that are up for experiencing the typical “high” that is associated with marijuana use. 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. This can help balance out some of those effects!

CBD-dominant strains only have a very small amount of THC which is great for patients who do not want to experience the psychoactive effects of marijuana. These 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 more mild psychoactive effect while also giving you symptom relief! A balanced strain is great for those who are beginners to medical marijuana use.


Other than cannabinoids, terpenes are the next contributing factors of marijuana to keep your eye on. Terpenes are basically the “aromatherapy” aspect of marijuana. They are the aromatic compounds that are often found in plants and fruit such as lavender flowers, oranges, thyme, peppermint, peppercorn and 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. This is how specific terpenes work to treat specific medical conditions!

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. As the Tennessee medical marijuana program takes shape, 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 Tennessee 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.

If you have any questions, call us at (833) 781-5611, or simply book a medical marijuana evaluation to start getting relief you can trust today!

Check out Tennessee Marijuana Card’s Blog to keep up to date on the latest medical marijuana news, tips, and information.

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Jul 23, 2022

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