What is the Difference Between Indica and Sativa?

February 07, 2023

The main differences between indica and sativa cannabis plants are how they look and their genetic traits. These determine things like effects and aromas. However, almost all marijuana strains today are hybrids.

Effects and factors

The effects of sativa dominant strains are often described as cerebral, euphoric, uplifting, and energizing. The effects of indica dominant strains are described as relaxing, heavy, full-bodied, couchlock, and stoney. So, while it’s ok to describe cannabis products as “sativa-like” or “indica-like” other factors should be considered.

Almost all cannabis strains grown today are hybrids, or combinations that lean more towards sativa or indica. If you didn’t know this, you may have consumed a strain classified as indica or sativa and felt effects you didn’t expect. This is not uncommon. You should also know that you may react slightly differently than your friend to the same strain you both smoked. This has to do with your body’s endocannabinoid system.

Selective cross-breeding of strains by cannabis growers is done to get desired traits like effects and aromas from two parents. Because of this, modern day cannabis consumers should consider factors like a strain’s genetic lineage, cannabinoids and terpenes. This is so that you can find cannabis cultivars that work best for you based on how your body responds.

Sativa and indica plant differences

The top difference between indica and sativa plants is their morphology or their physical characteristics. This refers to the appearance, structure, and shape of a plant. Morphology is influenced by where the plant naturally originated.

Sativa plants

altPure cannabis sativa plants tend to be tall, loosely branched, with thin, narrow light green leaves. They were historically grown outdoors and can reach heights of up to 20 feet when unrestricted by environment or container size.

Sativa varieties naturally originated in equatorial regions. They were originally found in countries such as Jamaica, Colombia, Panama, Mexico, Hawaii, Thailand, and many African Nations.

Indica plants

Pure cannabis indica plants are considerably shorter than sativa plants. Their branches are denser, exhibiting darker green and wider leaves than their sativa counterparts. Traditionally, they are better suited for growing indoors due to their compact size.

Indica varieties originate from mountainous Middle Eastern regions and the Indian subcontinent. They can be found predominantly in countries known for hashish production such as Morocco, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and Nepal.

Cannabis strain lineage and hybrids

If you are curious about a cannabis strain’s genetics, you can ask your budtender if they know a strain’s lineage or research the strain online. If you are familiar with a parent cannabis strain that may clue you into how a hybrid strain will make you feel.

LivWell labels cannabis strains as “indica dominant hybrids”, or “sativa dominant hybrids.” Nearly all of LivWell’s strains are hybrids consisting of indica and sativa strains. A few strains lean heavily to one side of the spectrum, such as Blackberry x Blueberry that is almost 100% pure Indica.

Many of these “pure indica,” and “pure sativa” varieties that were made popular in the last 40 years, originated from the clandestine, small-scale, illegal market. Many of these “old school strains” no longer exist in the recreational or medical realm. This is mostly because they are no longer able to withstand the rigors of large-scale cultivation. More vigorous, productive, hybrid genetics have mostly replaced these “old school” strains over the last 10 years.

LivWell hybrid strains

Most strains produced commercially are strains that are close to an even mix of indica and sativa genetics. This can make accurately classifying hybrid strains a difficult task. If a strain is 50% indica, and 50% sativa, but it looks and feels “sativa-like,” LivWell will classify that strain as a “sativa dominant hybrid.”

The following is a list of LivWell’s cannabis strains that are highly hybridized, and contain a heavy mix of both indica and sativa genetics. Strains like these are usually found to be acceptable by most consumers. If you enjoy consuming cannabis, you’ll probably enjoy one of these strains. They all embody a nice mix of classically desirable traits, to be enjoyed anytime.     

  • Afgooey
  • Blue Diesel
  • Blueberry Headband
  • Cherry Diesel
  • Citral Flo
  • Durban Kush
  • Fluffhead
  • Gelato Cake
  • Jet Fuel
  • Kosher Kush
  • Mandarin Dreams
  • Member Berry
  • Mob Boss
  • Mountain Thunder
  • Pootie Tang
  • Sour Cookies
  • Trill OG
  • Golden Goat


Every cannabis strain produces a unique effect, and there are ways to make educated guesses about a strain besides knowing the lineage. One way is to look at cannabinoids, which are chemical compounds produced by cannabis plants. They work by mimicking endocannabinoids which our body naturally produces.

At licensed dispensaries, strains are often tested for their cannabinoid content, specifically Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). These are reported as percentages of a plant's overall cannabinoid content. THC percentages in cannabis flower usually range from 13% - 26%.

Every batch is slightly different, but knowing a strain’s cannabinoid content, and understanding how they affect you may help aid in your selection. Here are the main ones:

  • Delta9-THC is the most abundant cannabinoid that is psychoactive and intoxicating. THC’s effects have been described as euphoric. 
  • CBD is the second most abundant cannabinoid that is psychoactive but not intoxicating. CBD’s effect has been described as calming.

The chemical varieties of cannabis flower make up its unique effects, known as the entourage effect. It has been found that the combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes are responsible for this. For example, the effects of CBD may be more prominent when taken with a little bit of THC and vice versa.


altSince terpenes are part of the entourage effect, a key way to find a hybrid cannabis strain you’ll like is to ask your budtender if you can smell the buds. Feeling the initial effects a cannabis flower has on you will help you be in tune with what your body needs. Terpenes are the aromatic compounds found in all plants but cannabis plants have a high concentration of them. Each terpene has its unique effects and smells that also influence the taste of the bud.

You can also research common terpenes and ask what the top terpenes in a strain are, which are tested for at grows. Select terpenes in strains based on the mood you are going for such as alpha-pinene for focus or myrcene for relaxation.

Bottom line

The days of breeding pure cannabis sativa and indica strains for commercial use are over. But you can understand a hybrid strain’s lineage, cannabinoid content, and terpenes to help you know what the difference is between indica and sativa dominant strains.  You can even write down the strains you’ve tried and liked in a journal. Happy cannabis flower strain shopping!

Please consume responsibly. This product may cause impairment and may be habit forming. There may be health risks associated with consumption of this product.  State laws impact what dispensaries can and can’t sell to recreational customers and medical marijuana patients. Not every type of product, consumption method, dosage form, or potency mentioned on this blog will be permitted in all locations.

This content is not intended as medical advice. The information provided is meant to encourage cannabis education, not replace direct patient-healthcare professional relationships. Always consult your primary care physician or other healthcare provider prior to using cannabis products for treatment of a medical condition. Any statements contained herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products referenced are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Products are only available where consumption of cannabis is legal.

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