Understanding Ancient Herbs | The Difference Between Cannabis Sativa and Indica
For many, when they think about cannabis they assume this term refers to a singular plant. Mainstream media enjoys compressing this topic in a blanket term of simply, “marijuana.” However, much like any other crop, cannabis comes in two distinct species: Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica. Although marijuana is among the oldest crops utilized by mankind, throughout recent years many hybrid strains have blossomed.
When we look at cannabis through therapeutic goggles, the differences between sativa and indica are striking. Although both species offer overlapping similarities in terms of psychoactive effects, researchers are continuously uncovering how these species – and subsequent strains – differ from one another.
The Morphology of Cannabis | Physical Identifying Markers
The physical characteristics of both cannabis species are starkly different. Cannabis sativa tends to grow in larger, tree-like groupings capable of growing in upwards of 20-feet. The loosely branched plant features narrow leaves with an average 9-leaf count. Cannabis indica species are much shorter and tend to appear as mid-height bushes. The leaves feature a wider appearance with an average 7-leaf count.
Beyond The Bush | Psychoactive Effects of Cannabis Species
The differences between species spans far deeper than its exterior qualities. Although there is much debate regarding the actual differences between these species, preliminary studies have found cannabinoid concentrations significantly vary from one strain to the next. Therefore, the psychoactive effects experienced by users will also vary (1).
Cannabis Sativa Characteristics
Sativa strains are regarded as offering a greater euphoric high when compared to its counterpart (2). Users generally experience a generalized uplifting in mood and a reduction in stress. This is due to its high concentration of THC, which is the primary cannabinoid responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis (3).
Because of its high THC to CBD ratio, users feel more energetic and generally recommend this species for daytime consumption when the user needs relief from specific symptoms without feeling drugged or “spaced out.”
Cannabis Indica Characteristics
Indica strains were originally cultivated throughout the Middle East and in Eastern Europe. Its introduction to Western civilization didn’t occur until the late 20th Century. Up until this point, Westerners primarily utilized sativa-based cannabis species. Therefore, the psychoactive and therapeutic effects of indica strains came as quite a shock (4).
Unlike sativa, which is characterized by its uplifting, euphoric effects, indica produces a much stronger sedative effect. Due to the higher CBD to THC ratio, indica strains stimulate a “heavier” psychoactive effect that promotes muscle relaxation and sleep (3).
Navigating Strains | Selecting Species for Symptom Relief
For the recreational user, selecting a cannabis strain is based upon the experience they wish to have. However, patients wishing to activate the therapeutic value of cannabis must carefully select a species based upon the symptoms and ailments they wish to treat. For example, patients wishing to alleviate pain should choose a species high in THC, while patients seeking to naturally treat insomnia should select an indica strain rich in CBD.