Indica and Sativa: what are the differences?

The main categories of Cannabis Light

Since they were introduced more than 200 years ago, the terms “indica” and “sativa” have been used as the main method of classifying cannabis plants based on their visual characteristics and presumed effects. However, in this modern era of cannabis, does the centuries-old distinction between indica and sativa still hold true?

What are Indica and Sativa?

Sativa and Indica are universally recognized as the two main types of Cannabis. Although humans have been using this plant for millennia and have known its properties, its classification into different varieties dates back to the 18th century. At that time, the Swedish botanist Charles Linnaeus, convinced that there was only one variety of Cannabis, assigned the name Sativa to the known type.

A few years later, in 1785, French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck noted that Cannabis from India had psychotropic effects that were absent in Cannabis circulated in Europe. This observation led him to deduce the existence of two varieties of plants, and so it was that he named the Indian variety Indica.

At present, Sativa and Indica remain the most common variants, although in the last century Russian botanist D. E. Janichevsky identified a third species, mainly widespread in Russia, known as Ruderalis.

Is there a difference between the effects produced by Indica and Sativa?

Some studies claim that there is a clear distinction between Indica and Sativa, especially in terms of appearance, but over the years more and more hybrid varieties have emerged that have actually blurred these differences. This attenuation has been aided by growing market demand, which has often led to crosses between Indica and Sativa varieties, resulting in new types. Currently, identifying pure Indica or Sativa plants has become complex.

In addition, aesthetically similar plants may have completely different active ingredients. For this reason, there is a recent inclination to classify products as Sativa-dominant or Indica-dominant, based on the type of plant they are most similar to.

At the scientific level, there is no unified consensus on the classification of Cannabis. While some scholars recognize the distinction between Indica and Sativa, others show some misgivings about it. However, it is undeniable that the two varieties have different aspects that characterize them.

Genetic differences

Research indicates that from a genetic standpoint, it is impossible to determine whether a cannabis plant is Indica or Sativa. There are no differences in genes that can justify a different cannabinoid composition. What mainly emerges from the studies is the need not to rely solely on these genetic distinctions, but rather to consider the specific terpene profile of a given cannabis plant to identify its characteristics.

The differences between Indica and Sativa cannabis are, in fact, phenotypic. This means that, according to several studies, including one conducted by Dalhousie University in Canada and Wageningen University in the Netherlands, the terms Indica and Sativa often do not reflect the true genetic and chemical makeup of cannabis plants. In addition, Cannabis Sativa is thought to have a predominance of THC, while CBD predominates in Indica. Read this article to learn more about the difference between THC and CBD.

Scholars examined hundreds of cannabis samples, finding that the Indica and Sativa designations are often labels that do not correspond to the plants’ actual genetic makeup and levels of active ingredients.

Appearance of the Plant

The first difference concerns the appearance of cannabis plants. Sativa is characterized by a tall, sparsely branched structure with narrow leaves, sometimes reaching heights of more than 4 meters, making it suitable mainly for outdoor cultivation. In contrast, Cannabis Indica is shorter, more branched, with wider leaves, and is also suitable for indoor growing. The inflorescences of sativas are lighter, long, tapered and fluffy. It is likely that a Sativa flower bag will give the impression of containing much more material, due to the lower density. In contrast, Indica inflorescences are typically much more compact and dense.

Provenance and Diffusion

The characteristics of plants are closely related to their origin. Sativa is native to tropical areas and grows wild in countries such as Colombia, Vietnam, Thailand, Mexico and some regions of Africa. It has a longer flowering time than the Indica variant. The latter is mainly found in the cold, mountainous areas of Nepal or the Indian subcontinent, with shorter flowering times and ability to survive colder temperatures.


Distinguishing Indica and Sativa plants on taste alone is not easy since certain aromatic phytochemical compounds called terpenes are responsible for the vibrant taste and smell of the herb, and each variety contains different proportions of these molecules. Indica flowers offer sweeter, richer honey and fruit flavors, while sativa plants produce more intense aromas with pronounced earthy notes.

Flowering times

If we just look at the time factor, Indica varieties are characterized by much faster flowering, being able to bloom in as little as 45 to 60 days after planting. This represents perhaps the most obvious difference between Indica and Sativa, as the Sativa takes much longer to complete the flowering process. For a Sativa to boast a noteworthy flowering, a period of 60 to 90 days from initial planting is required. However, the Sativa takes less time than the Indica for the vegetative growth phase that precedes final flowering. Therefore, the total time required by the Sativa eventually turns out to be equivalent to that of the Indica.

Do Indica and Sativa generate different effects?

In addition to morphological differences, the cannabis community is able to distinguish indica from sativa strains based on the effects generated by the buds. In fact, almost all cannabis users agree that sativa varieties are stimulating and energizing, while indica varieties are deeply sedative.

It is important to note that the effects of light cannabis can vary greatly from individual to individual and depend on many factors, including personal sensitivity, dose, and method of use. Also for this reason, talking about differences between Cannabis Indica and Sativa makes little sense, read this article to find out more! According to the currently accepted classification, the genus includes only one species, Cannabis sativa. Other previously recognized species, Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Ruderalis, are currently regarded as mere phenotypic variants. However, the distinction continues to be in use, especially with regard to the recreational market and, in some cases, is also used in the medical-scientific field.

The terms “sativa” and “indica” date back to the 18th century and were coined to classify cannabis based on significant morphological differences. Although more than 200 years have passed, these terms continue to be used to describe the effects of different varieties of cannabis, even though they lack substantial scientific basis.

Our understanding of cannabis is growing rapidly, along with our ability to analyze its chemical composition in modern laboratories. Meanwhile, accessibility to cannabis is increasing due to policy changes. Under these circumstances, it might be appropriate to consider abandoning the centuries-old “indica/sativa” nomenclature in favor of more scientifically supported approaches based on the chemical composition of the plant.

At NativaCBD, we deal exclusively with inflorescences from 100% Light Cannabis Sativa. What about you, what do you think of this nomenclature? Let us know in the comments!

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