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If you’re relatively new to the cannabis and hemp flower scene, you may be wondering how to go about picking the right flower strain for you. After all, there are so many great CBD strains to choose from and at the beginning, they all have a tendency to look pretty similar.
In this article, we’ll explain the difference between Sativa and Indica strains, including the common misconceptions that exist about each. Then we’ll tell you how you should go about shopping for CBD flower, to ensure you end up with a strain that suits your needs, enabling you to shop for CBD flower more confidently in the future.
- What is a Sativa Strain?
- What is an Indica Strain?
- Understanding Strain Effects
Sativa vs Indica CBD Strains
One of the many benefits of buying your CBD in pure flower form is that you can choose your own experience by hand-picking your own strains.
Many people, and indeed many websites, will tell you that Sativa will offer you more uplifted, energetic effects as opposed to Indica, which is more sedating.
However, this isn’t necessarily true, as the effects you experience from a particular strain will depend on the individual genetic make-up that affects the cannabinoid, terpene, and flavonoid profile of the plant.
But before we look at those compounds in more detail, let’s take a quick look at where the terms Sativa and Indica came from.
The botanical terms “Sativa” and “Indica” were coined back in the 18th century when cannabis (marijuana and hemp varieties) was first discovered (more in our CBD infographic here).
Sativa plants were discovered by the “New World” growing in Europe and Western Eurasia, where they had been growing for millennia. The term “Sativa” literally means cultivated. It was used to describe hemp plants that were grown purely for their seeds and fiber.
Indica plants grew throughout south and east Asia, but the first samples to arrive in Europe were from India, where the plant got its name from. In India, Cannabis Indica plants were also grown for their seeds and fiber, but also for the production of hashish. It is here that we first came across the plant’s intoxicating and therapeutic properties.
Today’s Strain Terminology
Once you know the strain origins, it becomes more clear that the scientific names “Sativa” and “Indica”, although used abundantly throughout the cannabis and hemp community, have changed over the years in their definition of use.
All intoxicating varieties of cannabis that we know today are actually subspecies of Cannabis Indica and Hemp used to be called Cannabis Sativa, so when people refer to various strains having Indica or Sativa-like effects, they’re unknowingly misusing the terms.
Let’s take a look at today’s strain terminology and what each chemovar is most commonly associated with.
What is a Sativa Strain?
Physically speaking, Sativa hemp plants are taller and have narrower leaves. A Hemp Sativa plant is now more accurately named a Narrow-Leaf Hemp (NLH) variety and a Cannabis Sativa is called a Narrow-Leaf Drug (NLD) variety.
Commonly Associated Effects: Sativa plants are thought to instigate more uplifting and energizing effects in you. Helping you to relax, focus, and feel motivated, therefore much better suited for daytime when you might be socializing, gaming, working, or running errands.
What is an Indica Strain?
Indica plants have broader leaves and the plant is shorter and stockier overall. These plants are now also more aptly categorized as BLH (Broad-Leaf Hemp) and BLD (Broad-Leaf Drug) varieties.
Commonly Associated Effects: Indica is often referred to as “in-da-couch” because of the commonly-held belief that it has more of a sedating, couch-lock effect, better for relaxing, watching movies, and bedtime.
What is a Hybrid Strain?
A hybrid strain is exactly as it sounds, a result of cross-breeding the positive characteristics from two other strains. Sometimes, you may come across strains described as Indica-dominant or Sativa-dominant to reflect which of its parents it takes after the most.
Commonly Associated Effects: As we learn more about the compounds within the plants, farmers and breeders are able to select hybrids that produce more distinct effects, aiming to provide strains that help ease symptoms of anxiety or chronic pain specifically.
How to Identify Sativa vs Indica Nugs
As a general rule of thumb. to identify the difference between Sativa and Indica buds, you just need to understand the way the plants grow.
Sativa buds, like the plants, tend to be longer and thinner. They may be more wispy and fluffy and therefore won’t weigh as much as Indica buds.
In contrast, Indica buds are more dense and bulbous as they grow in a more tight and short formation. So your 3.5g of Indica CBD might look like it’s smaller than your 3.5g of Sativa CBD, at least until you’ve put it through the grinder because the buds often weigh more.
Understanding Strain Effects
Rather than choosing your strain based on whether it’s Indica or Sativa, what you really need to look at is the chemical composition of the plant.
To date, scientists have identified 483 unique chemical compounds within the cannabis plant and the presence of these compounds, namely the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, are what dictates the plant’s overall effects.
Although CBD will be the dominant cannabinoid in any hemp strain you buy, there will also be numerous other minor cannabinoids present that can potentially affect the overall feeling of a strain.
In total, there are 113 different cannabinoid compounds that can be present in the hemp plant and research is only beginning to unearth the therapeutic and recreational potentials of them, including CBG, CBN, CBC, CBDA, delta-8 THC and, THC (although in hemp, THC content will always be less than 0.3%).
Early research into CBG for example, the “mother” or “stem-cell” cannabinoid, suggests that it may have great potential for anxiety and depression. Many people find CBG-dominant strains make them feel relaxed and blissful.
On the other side of the spectrum, you have CBN, a cannabinoid that appears in more aged plants, which is reported to make you feel very relaxed in a body-heavy kind of way, perfect for nighttime.
Effects commonly associated with Sativa plants can actually often be found in plants that are harvested earlier, for whatever reason. The later a plant is harvested, the more likely it is to have Indica-associated effects.
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However, it’s a lot more complicated than that! As well as the cannabinoids affecting how the plant will make you feel, you also have a number of dominant and minor terpenes within each hemp strain.
Terpenes are hydrocarbons that can be found in many plants and are vital in the plant’s defenses, helping to repel bacteria and fungi, as well as attract predators to eat pests. They are also responsible for the way the plant smells and tastes.
Terpenes are the primary ingredients of essential oils and anyone familiar with the practice of aromatherapy will know that the presence of limonene in a plant (from citrus) will affect you differently from linalool (lavender).
Limonene has been used in aromatherapy for millennia to help you feel energized and it can help increase levels of serotonin and dopamine in certain areas of the brain. Linalool also affects the serotonin receptor, but has sedating effects and is widely used to help treat insomnia.
Terpenes are also thought to possess their own unique therapeutic effects and there is also evidence to show them working in synergy with cannabinoids, to produce more enhanced effects in what is known as the entourage effect.
Flavonoids (from the Latin flavus, meaning yellow, not flavor) are phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables, giving them their color. In nature, they help a plant attract pollinators and protect them from pests, disease, and UV damage.
There are many different types of flavonoids, some of which are unique to the type of plant they’re found in. The unique flavonoids within cannabis and hemp have been named cannaflavins and early research suggests they might have a heap of healing benefits.
Flavonoids are also thought to help contribute to the plant’s entourage effects, where all of the compounds work together to produce more potent effects than they would be able to on their own.
Although incredibly understudied, cannaflavins are thought, by some, to be the future of cannabis medicine. Only now are scientists looking into how the flavonoids in cannabis and hemp can be synthesized for their therapeutic and pain-relieving properties. Cannaflavin A and Cannaflavin B, in particular, are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties 30x that of aspirin.
The Sativa vs Indica Myth
Saying that Sativas are good for daytime and that Indicas are more suited to nighttime use is somewhat similar to saying that white wine always goes with fish and red wine always goes with meat. Just like wine, hemp is far more complex and cannot be categorized so simply by the way it looks.
When you hear someone say that they prefer the way Sativa CBD strains make them feel, what they really mean is that they prefer the commonly associated effects such as feeling energized and focused, over deep relaxation.
The best way for you to choose a strain is to read the strain-description provided by the company selling it. Having studied the heritage of the plant, seen the lab reports confirming the dominant cannabinoids and terpenes within it, and having tried it, they’re speaking from a position of experience and authority.
Everyone has slightly different preferences and you may find a strain affects you slightly differently from others, which is why we offer bundles and sample packs, in which you can try all of our favorite daytime or nighttime strains at a discount. You can also shop by the effect you want, to help narrow down your search for the perfect Green Unicorn strain.