Indica vs. Sativa: Know the Difference

// January 21, 2017
Marijuana indica bud

If you walk into Wealth Shop, you’ll see a large selection of strains separated into two sets: indica and sativa (and their hybrids). Cannabis is categorized this way because the two species have different physiologies, histories, and effects on the consumer. In the image above, the indica is to the left and sativa is to the right.

Plant Physiology

There are some very distinctive physical differences between the two plants. The cannabis sativa plant is usually tall and sparse, and its leaves are long and thin. It can grow up to 18 feet tall in the right conditions, but the average sativa plant is about 8-12 feet tall at full maturity. Cannabis indica, on the other hand, is shorter and fuller, with wide leaves. This means that the smaller indica plants are more suitable for indoor hydroponic growing, while sativas are often grown outdoors or in greenhouses. There is also a significant difference in the time it takes crops to mature; the flowering cycle of an indica strain is about 8-12 weeks, while a sativa is quite a bit longer, about 10-16 weeks. Sativas tend to have higher yields, meaning that a single sativa plant will likely produce more bud than an indica plant.

Origins & History

Indica strains are thought to have originated from the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is why many of the most potent strains of indica are dubbed ‘kush.’ The bud from these plants tends to be stickier, as the plants originally produced more resin in order to protect themselves from that area’s harsh climates. Sativa strains can be traced back to the warmer climates closer to the equator. The cannabis sativa plant was the first to be classified, in 1754 by a biologist named Carl Linnaeus, and was thought for decades to be the only type of cannabis in existence. It wasn’t until 1758 that another biologist, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck discovered the second species in India, hence the name indica.


For the budding cannabis enthusiast, it’s good to remember that, generally, sativas are more well-suited to creative pursuits, social situations and daytime indulgence, while indicas are more appropriate for enjoying your favourite book or movie, or as a sleep aid before bed. Recent studies suggest that compound called myrcene, which is abundant in indica strains, is what contributes the the body high and feeling of relaxation. Myrcene is one of the natural oils called terpenes, which are produced by the cannabis plant. These oils are responsible for the distinctive smells and tastes of various cannabis strains, and there has been an explosion of research around these compounds in the past few years. As a result of the differences in terpenes, sativas often have an earthier aroma, while indicas frequently smell fruitier.

While all this is good information to remember when picking out a strain that suits your preferences, it’s also important to keep in mind that everyone reacts differently, and there are a number of factors besides just the taxonomy of a strain that can influence how it makes you feel. It’s always best to start off with a strain whose smell and appearance appeals to you, and experiment a bit. Figure out what works for you!

By Galen Robinson-Exo