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Sativa Vs. Indica – What’s in a Strain Name?

Updated: Sep 29, 2023

Graphical presentation of the differences between Sativa, Indica,  and Hybrid Strains


Many people ask about the differences of sativa vs. Indica.  The rising popularity of CBD and other cannabinoids has led to a huge variety of products on the market.  Manufacturers are always innovating and coming up with new and exciting options.  Increased legality also means more people have access to cannabis products.  The only downside to all these new products is the confusion they can sometimes create.  One of the most common points of confusion we encounter is understanding the difference between Indica and Sativa.  Often, this isn’t important.  For example, topicals typically don’t come in “strain specific” versions.  But people who ingest any cannabis derived product may benefit from a deeper knowledge of the nuances of strains. 

As you may know, people consume cannabinoids for a wide array of benefits. People use CBD to support optimal sleep, help with anxious feelings, aid in workout recovery, and help with chronic discomfort. 

If you have used CBD for any of the concerns listed above, you may have noticed that there are often different products recommended for specific uses.

  The fact is that CBD is CBD and it can help with all of the above and more.  However, there are other compounds in the cannabis plant that can enhance certain effects.  What this means is that certain versions of the plant are best for discomfort and others may be better for sleep.

Graphical presentation of the Health Benefits of CBD for Body and Mind


This article is about cannabis, but it is also about Hemp. Just to be confusing – they are sometimes the same thing, but sometimes they are different.  When it comes to extracting cannabinoids, they are the same plant.  Many people refer to CBD as “hemp extract,” but the truth is that CBD is only one component of hemp extract.  And, in this case, hemp is a legal classification, not a species.  The industry grows “hemp” for the extract side of the industry. It is not the tall, fibrous plant grown for textiles.  Those plants contain very few cannabinoids.  This latter type of cannabis is known as “industrial hemp.”  For clarity – much of the hemp industry calls the plants they use “phytocannabinoid rich” hemp (or PCR hemp).

When the farm bill was updated in 2018, the low THC (less then 0.3%) plant used for extracting CBD and other compounds was classified as “Hemp.” However, these plants are simply a selectively bred version of the same cannabis that is commonly called “marijuana.”

  • The recreational and medicinal cannabis industries grow their plants for high THC.

  • The Hemp Industry grows their plants for low THC and high CBD, CBG, etc.

 But it’s all cannabis.  And the two most common species of cannabis are sativa and indica.



If you are interested in “fine-tuning” your cannabis experience, then understanding more about the unique types of cannabis may help you on your journey.  Cultivators have developed thousands of specific strains of cannabis. 

The vast majority of plants derive from the two species Cannabis sativa and Cannabis Indica.  Both contain beneficial compounds including CBD, CBG, CBN, THC, Etc.  However, they have unique properties that set them apart as well. 

It is worth noting that terpenes are the primary reason Sativas and Indicas often have different effects.  Terpenes are the aromatic compounds in all plants that give them unique aromas and effects.  All Essential oils are the distilled or cold pressed concentrated terpenes from plants.  Cannabis happens to be an incredibly terpene rich plant, so the effects can vary dramatically based on the terpene profile in the plant .


Bright Green Mature Sativa Hemp Flower Unharvested
Hemp Flower

We start our exploration of Sativa vs Indica with a look at the species sativa.  These strains grow tall and skinny and have light green leaves. They grow in abundance around the world.  Central America, South America, and Southeast Asia in addition to the USA grow many sativa plants. Expert growers use the physical appearance of the plant to tell it apart from Indica.

Consumers like Sativa CBD strains for daytime use. Sativa strains commonly increase energy levels and creativity. The terpenes (aromatic compounds in the plant) found in Sativa strains commonly relate to a more uplifting experience than those found in Indica. Pinene and limonene are two terpenes often found in sativas.


For example, pinene smells like pine trees and its effects include alertness, shaper memory, and general euphoria. Be aware – consuming too much of a sativa containing high THC levels may lead to anxiety.  Small amounts are often better, especially for those prone to panic attacks. 


THC, which is found in cannabis legally classified as “marijuana,” but not “PCR hemp” eases pain, asthma, and may increase appetite. Studies show that some sativa strains naturally have more THC than CBD. Therefore, blenders often add the terpenes from a specific strain to the finished product.  This is likely the case in any finished product other than the actual smokable flower. .



Indica varieties grow shorter and bushier than sativa and have fatter leaves. Some famous indica strains originated from the Middle East. Indicas help people relax at the end of the day and get better sleep. They can even cause “couch lock.” Thus, the phrase, “Indica into couch.” They may be perfect for relaxing with a movie, but are not so great if you need to get something important done. Also, Indica may help to reduce anxious feelings and stress.

Want to relax, ease the worries of the day and take a mental and physical “load off”? Then enjoy a good Indica. These help relax muscles and ease tension.

Keep in mind that you may feel drowsy, so be prepared to slow down and “chill.”

Indica strains cause drowsiness and relaxation because of their terpene profiles. While each strain contains a unique blend of terpenes, common ones are myrcene, linalool, and humulene. Lavender contains a high concentration of linalool, which is what makes it so relaxing. While some of the terpenes in Indica plants elevate mood, they are usually in calming combinations rather than energizing ones.

Pure Indica strains are often hard to find as so much cross breeding has occurred over the centuries. However, if you look for them you can find them. Granddaddy Purple and Northern Lights are two examples of pure indicas.


Growers combine strains and create new strains all the time. Hybrid strains come from combinations of indica and sativa types. Many times it is possible to discover the specific genetics that lead to a strain. For example, Blue Dream is a popular 50/50 hybrid mix of Blueberry (indica) and Haze (sativa). It leaves most consumers feeling calm and relaxed, but not locked to their couch. Other strains may lean sativa or indica. This means they have more of one than the other and so may lean uplifting or lean sedating, but still land somewhere in the middle.

Indica plants are shorter than Sativa. Its leaves are broader, and it is suitable for colder temperatures. Over time, growers mixed the genetics of indica and sativa plants to create hybrids, which have characteristics of both, with an ideal harmony of relaxation and energy. Truthfully, there are very few PURE indicas or sativas anymore due to so much cross-breeding over time. One popular pure indica for example is the Northern Lights strain, but they are increasingly rare!


Here at Blue Lotus, we create and choose products for a variety of effects. In our oils, we use food grade organic oils to create sativa and indica terpene profiles. Choose products with “calm,” “relax” and “sleep” in the names for indica type experiences. Choose “wellness,” “energy,” and “relief” for more uplifting or middle of the road experiences.

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