Indica, Sativa, Hybrid — What's The Difference?

A few of the most common terms you’ll ever hear at a dispensary or when referring to the cannabis industry in general are three terms: “indica” “sativa” and “hybrid”. If you’re new to cannabis you may be wondering what the difference is between the three. You may also be wondering how and why certain strains exist in the first place.


Through thousands of years of selective breeding, almost every single strain under the sun is technically a hybrid, though most dispensaries still use indica, sativa, and hybrid to label their strains. Here’s everything you need to know about this interesting cannabis-industry nuance.

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What’s the difference between indicas, sativas, and hybrids?

When you see the terms indica, sativa, or hybrid at the dispensary, think of it like this: these terms are used to describe feelings and effects, and not genetics.


Even though all strains are considered hybrids (we’ll touch more on that in the sections below), some strains feel more relaxing while some feel more energizing. Strains labeled “indica” typically refer to strains that feel physically soothing, sedative, and likely to give you a case of the munchies. Strains labeled “sativa” on the other hand are more likely to make you feel energized, focused, and creative. Strains labeled “hybrid” typically fall somewhere between the two.


Is it true that all strains are hybrids?

To put it bluntly, yes. Every strain out there is a hybrid cross between other strains. Cannabis has been cultivated for medicinal purposes for thousands of years and has always been a widely accessible plant. The use of cannabis as medicine grew in popularity and spread like wildfire throughout Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and India. It was prescribed by old-timey doctors for everything from earaches to childbirth.


With that said, farmers and cultivators selectively bred certain strains to make more medicinal strains that combated different symptoms and ailments. Some were bred to provide physical relief and others were bred to provide mental relief. In order to do this, they had to cross the pure strains with each other to create hybrids.


Pure strains are also known as “landrace” strains. At the time, they were either totally indica or totally sativa. But after crossing different landrace strains from different regions to each other, they were then inbred, cloned, and backcrossed over and over again to bring forth many of the strains we have today.


With that in mind, practically all of the strains we have today are hybrids from these original strains, many of which no longer exist at all.


Cannabis Classifications

These days, indica, sativa, and hybrid refer to the effects of any given strain. There has been a lot of dispute within the cannabis industry about whether or not these terms should even be used since they’re confusing.


Why? Because of the scientific classification of cannabis. There are two different types of cannabis according to science: Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Sativa. They’re not what you think they are, though.


Cannabis Sativa plants are hemp plants. They don’t produce much THC and definitely don’t cause many effects. They are typically used for hemp rope, textiles, and paper.


On the other hand, Cannabis Indica plants do produce THC. Cannabis Indica is a term that encapsulates the cannabis plants that do get you high — and includes strains labeled as indicas, sativas, and hybrids.


Cannabis Sativa: hemp

Cannabis Indica: cannabis


When you shop at a dispensary, you are only ever purchasing Cannabis Indica — even if its labeled as a sativa or a hybrid. That’s not to say that it feels like an indica. It can feel like anything, but in scientific terms, it’s known as Cannabis Indica.


Super confusing, right? If you’re only buying Cannabis Indica at the store, why does the dispensary label it as a sativa, an indica, or a hybrid?


To put it simply, just to make it easier on average consumers. When you go to a dispensary, you’re usually looking for a specific type of high due to personal preferences, needs, and interests. Some people like a stony body high while others prefer an energetic, euphoric mental effect. Others are looking for a mix of both for medicinal reasons.


Typically we label strains that cause a body high and promote physical relief as an indica. Indica strains usually contain CBD and CBN in addition to THC along with several relaxing terpenes that give the strain its effects in a phenomenon known as the entourage effect. A plant’s genetics actually mean very little when it comes to effects. A plant could be made from two pure sativa strains and still feel like an indica, so they’re labeled as indicas.


The same can be said for sativas. We label strains as sativa or sativa-dominant when they contain mostly THC and more energetic terpenes. They’re labeled sativa for their effects and not their genetic makeup or lineage.


While all Cannabis Indica strains are hybrids, we still label them as indicas or sativas based on their appearance and the type of effects they promote. Dispensaries and cultivators use this labeling to make it easier on consumers who are looking for products with specific effects. It makes it easier to explain how a strain or product will feel without breaking down the nuances of cannabinoid and terpene profiles and the entourage effect to every patient or recreational consumer.


Why do people think all strains are hybrids?

Simply put, the pure landrace strains have all been mixed up and watered down so much at this point that they’re all technically hybrids. The genetics have all been mixed over thousands of years that there is really no true indica or sativa strain.


Are there any pure sativas or indicas left?

Technically no. Since humans have had their hands on cannabis for thousands of years, there are no true landrace strains left. We do however have a lot of really old strains that are considered landrace strains.


Skunk #1 for example is considered an Afghanistan indica landrace strain. Colombian Gold is considered a Colombian landrace sativa strain. There are others too, like Panama Red, Kona Gold, and Durban Poison.


With that said though, these strains have only been documented since the early 60s. Hundreds of years of accidental pollination, selective breeding, and random acts of nature went into those strains before they became popularized and were given names.


They do still display some of the most prominent representations of indica and sativa strains in the Cannabis Indica family, though. So even if they aren’t technically pure, many people still consider them to be pure.


All in all, the difference between indicas, sativas, and hybrids boils down to their effects. While all of them are technically hybrids these days, their labeling makes it easier to determine what type of effects you’ll experience from them. Indicas are more physical and relaxing while sativas are more energizing and cerebral. Hybrids fall somewhere between.


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