Indica vs Sativa vs Hybrid. You may have heard those words. You might even be familiar with them. Well, don’t get too comfortable. The language of cannabis is changing. The words Indica and Sativa are not accurate terms. Strain is another word that’s not quite right. In this article, we’ll explain why these words miss the mark and why everyone still needs to use them. If your head’s spinning, don’t worry. At the end of the day, we promise you’ll know everything you need to know to choose the best cannabis for you!
Understanding What Strains Mean
Somewhere along the way, we started using the word strain to identify different cannabis cultivars. We call Green Crack a strain. We call Super Silver Haze a strain. But the word strain is borrowed from microbiology and is used to describe a genetic variant or subtype of a bacteria, fungus, or virus. A more appropriate term for plants would be cultivar, which refers to cultivated plants.
Nevertheless, the word strain is commonly used, and it’s not going away anytime soon. It remains useful to the extent that everyone understands it. We will use the terms strain and cultivar interchangeably in this article.
How are new strains created?
To create a new cultivar, a breeder uses pollen from a male plant to pollinate a female plant. This causes the female plant to produce seeds. Those seeds are then grown to identify the females with the traits desired by the breeder. Typically, these females are not identical. There may be different female plants with different traits that the breeder likes. We call these phenotypes. Northern Lights #4 is a phenotype. Gelato #33 and Gelato #41 are phenotypes. While phenotypes have the same parent genetics, they may look, taste, and smell differently.
In this way, cannabis plants are just like humans. If mom and dad have five kids, they may express variations in their eye color, hair, build, and personality.
How many cannabis cultivars are there?
This is the definition of a moving target. Breeders are creating new strains daily. The widespread consensus is that there are between 700 and 800 cannabis cultivars. But even this guesstimate is suspect. Cannabis is still illegal in most of the world, and underground breeders keep their secrets well. There could be hundreds of unidentified cannabis strains in the black market that we don’t know about yet. The possibilities are limitless.
What do Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid Mean?
In cannabis culture, the words “Indica,” “Sativa,” and “Hybrid” are commonly used to divide strains into three effects-based categories. The problem is that reality doesn’t align with the language. Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid are not very accurate terms to describe the effect of a given cultivar. Moreover, pure Indica and Sativa are close to extinction. Almost everything on the dispensary shelf today is a Hybrid.
How did we get here? The old language hasn’t caught up to the new reality because cannabis has evolved faster than the language of the culture. Thousands of years ago, Indica and Sativa were pure landrace cultivars indigenous to their geographical regions. They remained unchanged for millennia until cannabis breeders grabbed the reins of evolution in their quest to create effects-specific cultivars. That changed everything.
Today, the old Indica and Sativa landraces have been bred with thousands of other strains to create the next ChemDog, OG Kush, or Jack Herer. But what makes these cultivars unique is not their distant Indica or Sativa parentage.
Why Cannabinoids and Terpenes are Important
The different cannabinoid and terpene profiles in a given cultivar make cannabis cultivars different. There are over 100 different cannabinoids and 400 different terpenes. These cannabinoids and terpenes influence each other and interact with the human endocannabinoid system in the “entourage effect.”
Chemovar is an emerging term invented to characterize cannabis by its cannabinoid and terpene profile. Unfortunately, we are not ready to use chemovar because we don’t know enough about cannabinoids, terpenes, and how they interact with the human endocannabinoid system. We will get there, but not today. So, we are pretty much stuck with the old language: Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid.
Now that we’re back to the common usage, let’s get back to the most essential thing: Knowing how to use those terms to empower you to communicate about cannabis.
What is Sativa?
Cannabis Sativa is native to South and Central America, Africa, and Southeast Asia’s equatorial regions. Sativa includes marijuana and hemp cultivars, which have been used in industry, medicine, and nutrition. Sativa comes from the Latin word for “cultivated.” They are tall and thin with long, narrow leaves.
Sativa is known for its head high. Cerebral, uplifting, and energizing, if you’re looking for weed to help you get things done, Sativa cannabis strains are a good choice.
What is Indica?
French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck discovered Indica in the 18th century when he observed cannabis plants that were short, squat, and bushy, with broad leaves. Struck by the stark differences from Sativa, he gave it the name we still use today: Cannabis Indica. Indicas originate from India, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tibet.
Indica plants are shorter and have wider leaves than Sativas. Typically, they may also have a shorter flowering cycle, making them preferable for indoor cultivation.
Indicas are known for their body high. Often used to wind down at the end of the day, they are also preferred for treating pain, muscle spasms, anxiety, and insomnia.
What are hybrid cannabis strains?
Did we trick you? The answer is just about everything on the dispensary shelf is a hybrid. Some cultivars may be Indica dominant, and some may be Sativa dominant, but they’re all hybrids.
It all depends on the cultivar.
Popular Sativa Strains
The most popular cannabis strains are the blue-ribbon champions of selective cannabis breeding. Their unique blends of cannabinoids and terpenes give them a distinct appearance, structure, flavor, and aroma. Some of the more popular Sativa strains include:
No one knows Blue Dream’s origins. It can be traced back to Santa Cruz medical marijuana collectives, but the trail ends there. Blue dream is one of the most popular Sativas in history, yet no breeder has ever stepped up to claim her.
It’s all speculation, but some say it may be a cross of Blueberry and Super Silver Haze from Humboldt Seed Organization or a Blueberry and OG Kush cross from Mystic Seeds. Another theory is that Blue Dream is a hybrid cross of Haze with a Blueberry-leaning Indica from breeder DJ Short.
Relaxing yet cerebral and stimulating. A great strain if you just want to sand the rough edges from the day and do your thing stress-free.
THC-dominant (18% THC)
Myrcene, caryophyllene, and pinene.
Chemdog is one of the greatest Sativas of all time, and one of the most prolific parent strains ever. As a result, many of the best Hybrids on the dispensary shelf today have some Chemdog in them.
In June of 91, Greg Krzanowski (AKA Chemdog) buys a zip from two stoners in the parking lot of a Grateful Dead show. The bud is so fire he gets a couple of ounces shipped to his house in Massachusetts after the show. One ounce ends up having 13 seeds. Greg sprouted 4, and Chemdog was born.
A complete mystery.
Creative, uplifting and euphoric.
THC-dominant (18% THC)
Myrcene, caryophyllene, and limonene.
Pungent diesel fuel.
Super Silver Haze
Amsterdam’s Green House Seed Company and the breeders Shantibaba, Mr. Nice, and Neville Schoenmaker created this Sativa-dominant hybrid. It was a first-prize winner at the High Times Cannabis Cup in 1997, 1998, and 1999.
Super Silver Haze combines Skunk#1 (25%), Northern Lights #5 (25%), and Haze (50%).
Energetic and uplifting with a long-lasting body high.
THC-dominant (20% THC – Trace CBD – 1% CBG)
Myrcene and beta-caryophyllene
Spicy and herbal with citrus and skunk.
Popular Indica Strains
Let’s look at some of the more popular Indica strains and see what differentiates them.
Tahoe OG Kush
Tahoe OG is heavier than your typical OG Kush. Tahoe OG was created by breeder Ganja Guru in the Lake Tahoe/Mammoth region.
Unknown OG Kush phenotypes.
She’s lazy, couch-locked, with a heavy body high. Just chill. You’re in good hands.
Limonene, myrcene, caryophyllene
Grand Daddy Purple
Ken Estes was paralyzed and wheelchair-bound after a serious motorcycle accident in the 70s. Estes still went on to become a master grower and breeder. He created Grand Daddy Purple (“GDP”) as an alternative to narcotic pain pills.
GDP is most likely a cross of Purple Urkle and Big Bud.
Relaxed and couch-locked, it may help with pain, stress, and muscle spasms.
Myrcene, caryophyllene, and pinene.
Violet, grapes, and berries.
This cultivar hit Cali dispensaries around 2005. That’s all we know. It’s definitely a gift. From God? Maybe. You decide.
GDP crossed with OG Kush
God’s gift will deliver you to a chilled-out dream state, leaving you at peace with all that is.
Myrcene, pinene, caryophyllene
Popular Hybrid Strain
Some of the most popular hybrid strains are so legendary that everyone’s heard their name. Strawberry Cough is one of them and has an amazing origin story as well.
Many people credit the writer and cultivator Kyle Kushamn for Strawberry Cough. But Kushman tells a different story. In his version, he helped out a novice grower who gifted him this tiny clone with two little leaves. When he got home and opened the bag, an overpowering strawberry scent wafted up. Meet Strawberry Cough.
Strawberry Cough is a cross of the Indica Strawberry Fields and Haze.
Uplifting with a soaring clarity.
THC-dominant (19% THC – 1%CBD)
Myrcene, caryophyllene, and pinene.
How Do I Find the Right Weed Strain for Me?
You know the language. Just think of Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid as slang for the effects you’re looking for. If you ask your budtender for a Sativa, they know you mean something uplifting. Similarly, if you ask your budtender for an Indica, they know you want something relaxing. Of course, you can also just describe the effects you’re looking for. Every budtender should be able to match strains with the effect you’re looking for. And since we’re talking strains, you can use the words strain and cultivar interchangeably.
The bottom line is that regardless of what these words actually mean, budtenders everywhere are trained to think in these terms. Brands market cannabis using these terms. We communicate about cannabis with this common language, whether or not it’s scientifically correct. In the end, finding the right strain is almost always a journey. Take your time. Enjoy every step.
WHTC has the Best Weed Strain For You
At WHTC, our experienced staff loves cannabis and is passionate about helping you find the best strain for your needs. So stop by anytime to learn more about cannabis strains, or browse our online menu and order online for pickup or delivery!