Sativa vs. Indica: characteristics, differences and side effects

While sativas are associated with an energizing and invigorating high, indica is a calming and relaxing option. Find out more about these species of cannabis.

Last update: December 19, 2021

When it comes to family Cannabaceae, the sativa and indica species are the best known. And although both are used for medicinal and recreational purposes, the widespread belief is that they act differently.

On the one hand, sativas are associated with an invigorating and energizing effect capable of relieving stress, enhance creativity and improve concentration. On the other hand, indica is linked to relaxation, which could combat insomnia.

However, experts have questioned this classification and point out that instead of talking about sativas and indica, the most correct thing would be to divide the plants into strains or chemovars (chemical varieties).

Trusting the name might not be enough

Although the most common way to differentiate these plants continues to be by names, such as sativas and indica, this might not be enough to guarantee that you get a certain effect you are looking for. This is because even individual plants, even if they are the same type of cannabis, have different effects.

Therefore, instead of just being guided by the name, we must also pay attention to the chemical composition and the cultivation technique. The recommendation is to observe the description made by the grower, the strain or the chemovars within which the plant is classified.

For its part, the chemovars are distinguished by the amount of cannabinoids and terpenes, which makes it possible to determine which is the most suitable strain for a given condition. We show you a little more below.


Cannabinoids are natural compounds present in species of the cannabaceae family. They turn out to be the main causes of its positive and negative effects:

  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): it is the main psychoactive constituent of this family of plants. That is, the compound that produces the state of euphoria.
  • Cannabidiol (CBD): it is a compound that does not produce euphoria. Instead, it is linked to health benefits, such as relieving pain, nausea, and migraine headaches, as well as preventing seizures.
  • Cannabinol (CBN): It is associated with a decrease in symptoms and side effects of neurological disorders, such as seizures, epilepsy, or muscle stiffness.
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol acid (THCA): Although similar to THC, this compound is not psychoactive. On the contrary, it is attributed benefits against inflammation caused by arthritis and autoimmune diseases, as well as it is experimented with to relieve symptoms of Parkinson’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
  • Cannabigerol (CBG): Related to the relief of anxiety, depression, and the symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
THC is the psychoactive compound associated with the consciousness-altering effects of recreational marijuana use.


Although it is true that the THC and CBD content is the one that is usually observed with the most attention, terpenes have also gained importance today. These are found naturally, affect the smell of the plant and provide certain effects to the strains.

Some terpenes are as follows:

  • Bisabolol: it is linked with anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.
  • Caryophyllene: it could relieve anxiety and symptoms of depression, as well as treat ulcers.
  • Linalool: It is believed to promote relaxation and improve mood.
  • Myrcene: known to be the most common terpene. Its benefits include the reduction of anxiety and insomnia.
  • Ocimeno: Its effects include the fact of fighting congestion.
  • Pinene: helps improve memory and relieve pain.
  • Terpinolene: offers sedative, antibacterial and antifungal properties.
  • Limonene: it could lower stress levels and improve mood.
  • Humulene: It has anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Eucalyptol: In addition to reducing inflammation, it may help fight bacteria.

Cannabis sativa vs. Cannabis indica

Once it is clear which chemical compounds to look for in a strain to obtain certain benefits, it is time to learn a little more about these two types of cannabis.

Cannabis sativa

This is a species that grows in hot, dry climates, which includes Africa, Central America and Southeast Asia. In general, these plants They are characterized by being tall, reaching 3 and a half meters. They are thin and with leaves whose shape resembles that of the fingers.

Similarly, they are considered to have high doses of THC and low doses of CBD. In addition to being related to an energizing or invigorating effect.

The most popular sativa strains include Acapulco Gold, Panama Red Y Durban Poison.

Cannabis indica

Native to Central Asia (Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Turkey), this species has adapted to the hostile climate of the mountains, so the plants are usually short and robust, with dense vegetation and thick leaves.

Unlike the C. sativa, indica hemp has higher levels of CBD. Its effects are relaxing, which is why it is recommended to consume it at night.

The three best known indica strains include Hindu Kush, Afghan Kush Y Granddaddy purple.

What are the best strains for certain conditions?

Here’s what conditions could be addressed by the most popular strains of sativa and indica. Remember that this is experimental and there is not yet enough solid evidence or unanimous approval of its medical use in all countries of the world.

  • Acapulco Gold (sativa): fatigue, stress, nausea, pain.
  • Purple kush (indica): chronic pain, muscle spasms, insomnia.
  • Sour diesel (sativa): fatigue, stress, acute pain, anxiety.
  • Bubba kush (indica): insomnia, sharp pain, poor appetite.
  • Granddaddy purple (indica): poor appetite, insomnia, restless legs syndrome.
  • Afghan Kush (indica): insomnia, sharp pain, poor appetite.
  • Super Silver Haze (sativa): stress, anxiety, low energy.
  • Supernatural (sativa): migraine, glaucoma, headaches, low mood.

Risks and recommendations for use

Some of the side effects of using cannabis include dry eyes and mouth, dizziness, lethargy, anxiety, paranoia, rapid heart rate, and hypotension. Of course, consider that most of these risks are caused by THC and not because of the CBD.

Likewise, the form of consumption can increase the probability of experiencing adverse effects. For example, smoking the herb causes irritation to the lungs and airways, which in turn causes coughing and shortness of breath.

On the other hand, oral preparations do not generate these risks. However, they take time to start acting and when they do, the psychoactive effects are stronger and last longer.

Not all cannabis strains are the same. Their differentiation is important to understand the effects and possible therapeutic uses.

Sativa vs indica: how to choose the plant for you?

When choosing the right plant for you, sativa or indica, first you must know what you are trying to treat; be it increasing energy levels or fighting insomnia. Second, you must be aware of how tolerant you are if it is your first time.

Third, consider your medical history. Remember that this plant can cause side effects and even interact with other medications, so it is best to consult a specialist.

Cannabis is not legal everywhere. Therefore, before buying or consuming any type of this plant, you must be aware of the laws of your country.

Also, be sure to consult with a healthcare professional or an expert on this family of plants. In this way, you can evaluate how it can help you and which species, sativa or indica, is the most effective for you.

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