Indica vs Sativa: An Introduction to the Major Cannabis Types

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I was never the type of person who got offered marijuana. Something about me — my habit of taking the front row seat in class, perhaps, or maybe my rapt attention during D.A.R.E. presentations — must have signaled to people that I was very, very eager to just say no. Consequently, I never got the chance to say it.

Flash forward 20 years and I’m living in Seattle down the road from Uncle Ike’s, a big, beautifully branded dispensary. By this time, I’d finally had the chance to try marijuana once or twice — a half-burned roach during a college party, some skunky shake smoked out of an apple at a beachside bonfire — but somehow I’d never had any success getting a buzz. I figured I needed something stronger, but I was afraid to go too strong. I had some vague idea that different strains offered different benefits, but I didn’t even know enough to type in a Google search. Every day, I passed Uncle Ike’s wishing I had the knowledge to go in and ask for what I wanted, but feeling too embarrassed to admit how little I knew.

Further Reading

Maybe you’re like me, a former straight-edge coming late to the party. Maybe you’re a person of high moral and ethical standards, for whom the recent legalization finally made it okay to partake. Or maybe you’ve been lackadaisical when it comes to pot, smoking whatever your friend/older brother/roommate happened to bring home.

Whether you’re eager to improve your knowledge or just hoping not to look like a total noob when you walk into a dispensary, consider this article your cheat sheet to the different types of cannabis on the market today. Though as I discovered, most dispensary workers love to educate people about the difference between strains. What they don’t love having to explain is that your inability to get high isn’t because your weed variety isn’t strong enough — it’s because you’ve been smoking it wrong. No matter which variety of cannabis you choose, just make sure you’re actually inhaling, OK?

Terms to Know

  • THC: Tetrahydrocannabinol is the psychoactive component that produces the high.
  • CBD: Cannabidiol is a similar component that can enhance your mood, but will not make you high.


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Also known as “in da couch,” this variety of cannabis gives you more of a body buzz (as opposed to a heady “high”) and leaves you more relaxed. Oddly enough, indica strains tend to have a lighter THC concentration than sativa (more on that in a moment), even though they result in a more “stoned” sensation. This ultra-mellow type of pot, characterized by shorter plants with fat leaves, is perfect for insomniacs and the type who wake up in the middle of the night worrying about stuff. It’s also a good option for alleviating physical conditions like muscle pain and even seizures.

Popular indica strains: Kush and Northern Lights


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Thinner leaves, taller plants, and longer flowering cycles characterize the sativa variety of cannabis. The strain of choice for the “wake and bake” crowd, the THC-heavy sativa gives you more of a heady high as opposed to a heavy stoned feeling. Some strains can even act more like an upper than a downer, providing positive energy that is particularly helpful in creative and cerebral endeavors. If you’re trying to finally write your novel or have to put together a PowerPoint presentation, this bud’s for you. Sativa is also said to be helpful for depression, social anxiety, and even ADHD.

Popular sativa strains: Sour Diesel and Lemon Haze


Despite cannabis having been around and in use for thousands of years, it’s still undetermined whether indica and sativa are truly separate species of the plant. Regardless, hybridized strains of the two have become quite popular among smokers who want a little bit of everything. The first hybrids appeared in the United States in the 1970s but really came into their own during the ‘90s when hydroponic cultivation technology allowed growers to really geek out.

Today’s hybrids tend to be indica-dominant or sativa-dominant, which means it’s a good idea to decide what direction you’re leaning toward before buying. If you’re looking for a nearly perfect balance between the sedative effects of an indica and the euphoric energy of a sativa, keep your eyes peeled for Blue Dream, a California strain that has achieved legend status.

Popular hybrid strains: Blue Dream


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The second most plentiful cannabinoid in the marijuana plant, CBD is the yin to THC’s yang. It produces that nice, mellow relaxation without the psychoactive effects (what your grandpa might call the “reefer madness”). If smoking pot makes you anxious, paranoid, or prone to hallucinations, a CBD-heavy strain will probably be your cup of tea. It’s also good for people who are exclusively interested in the medicinal effects of cannabis, such as pain and stress relief, mood disorders, and other chronic physical and mental issues.

Thanks to the booming interest in medical marijuana, growers have developed cannabis strains that offer an equal ratio of CBD to THC; one such strain is ACDC. However, some CBD-heavy strains can go as high as a 22:1 ratio of CBD to THC. If that’s what you’re after, look for a strain called Ringo’s Gift.

Popular CBD strains: ACDC and Ringo’s Gift

Once you’ve mastered the types, consider pairing your weed with wine.

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