The proliferation of legal medical and recreational marijuana throughout the United States has resulted in more strains, products and choices for users than ever.
The wide selection of cannabis strains available also creates plenty of confusion for consumers when selecting sativa, indica and hybrid marijuana products.
In this post, I’ll demystify marijuana terminology and clearly explain the questions to consider when choosing between indica vs sativa vs hybrid marijuana strains.
Medical marijuana applications and edibles are also included and discussed.
The Modern Medical and Recreational Marijuana Market
Things have come a very long way.
Cannabis science, cultivation and marijuana retail are big business across the U.S.
Big, legal business.
And the legal U.S. marijuana economy is only growing and expanding.
Marijuana consumers – particularly medical users – have never had more strains, products or information available.
And marijuana products and choices will only continue to expand and proliferate in the coming years.
One of the most prevalent questions asked by marijuana consumers today – both medical and recreational – is about choosing between indica vs. sativa vs. hybrid marijuana strains.
The Marijuana Basics – Indica vs Sativa vs Hybrid Strains
With so many marijuana products, how does a new medical or recreational user get started with strain and product selection?
It all starts by considering and evaluating indica vs sativa vs hybrid for the intended use and effect of the marijuana product.
Basic Indica Characteristics
The primary effect of indica marijuana will be sedative.
Higher THC varieties will possibly come with a little more anxiety or cerebral stimulation, but the overall effect of an indica will be quite sedative and calming.
Basic Sativa Characteristics
The archetypal sativa experience is generally racy and mentally stimulated and uplifted.
Sativa marijuana can be great for depression and focus and creativity, though there is some risk of anxiety in users who are prone.
Basic Hybrid Marijuana Characteristics
Hybrids are generally that – a hybrid of sativa and indica marijuana strains.
Hybrid marijuana will have a blend of sativa and indica effects, based on whether the strain is indica or sativa-dominant.
Marijuana is Always a Sedative Sooner or Later
While there are a number of characteristics listed above for sativa vs. indica marijuana, it’s important to remember that all marijuana is always going to have a sedative or “downer” kind of effect sooner or later.
It’s not that Sativa will have you bouncing off the walls like you had 4 cups of coffee. Nor will a few hits of indica have you sleeping for hours and hours.
It’s more the subtleties of the effects.
Generally, within 20-30 minutes the sedative effects of any marijuana – indica, sativa or hybrid – will set in.
Marijuana as Medicine – Cannabis Indica vs Cannabis Sativa vs Hybrid Marijuana
The best description I’ve found – that’s both scientific and useful in practice – between indica and sativa marijuana is from author Michael Backes in Cannabis Pharmacy – The Practical Guide to Medical Marijuana.
The description below from Cannabis Pharmacy is worth a careful read or two if you want to really understand what we’re talking about when discussing indica vs sativa vs hybrid marijuana strains.
“The common descriptors used at dispensaries, indica and sativa, rarely determine anything beyond the most basic medicinal effects. Typically, indica is used to describe broad-leafletted varieties that produce terpenes such as myrcene and linalool. More sedating, they produce a more lethargic “stone.” Sativa characterizes narrow-leafletted varieties that produce terpenes such as caryophyllenes and pinenes, which are stimulating and tend to produce more of a cerebral “high.” Selecting precisely the appropriate variety of medicinal cannabis requires an understanding of the variety’s basic genetics and chemistry beyond simplistic indica and sativa designations.”
[Cannabis Pharmacy p. 115]
Indica vs Sativa vs Hybrid Effects
So, indica marijuana is generally sedating, sativa varieties are generally more stimulating and cerebral and hybrid marijuana strains are a combination of sativa and indica characteristics, depending on the percentage of indica and sativa genes in that particular hybrid cross.
Again, keeping in mind that all marijuana is sedative sooner or later.
Strain names and particular strains are the first place new users tend to get confused and off track.
Strain names like Ghost Train Haze, Sour Diesel and Girl Scout Cookies are clearly far from scientific. And they don’t make a lot of sense to the uninitiated.
Names are given to new strains by the original grower. They’re generally made up and usually have some personal significance to the grower, are a pop culture reference or they relate to some property or properties of the particular plant variety itself.
Generally, growers are under the influence of their new strains when they name them.
But, as author Michael Backes points out: “…Then again, someone made up the name ‘Google,’ too.”
(Cannabis Pharmacy p. 112)
If you want a real deep dive on strains, strains names and the various different characteristics of different strains, a great read is The 25 Greatest Strains of All Time by High Times Magazine.
That post will give you a strong look at how different varieties are produced by crossing plants and how inexact a science a lot of this strain and cannabis genetics stuff is.
Next, we’ll get into the deep, practical nitty-gritty of choosing between indica vs sativa vs hybrid.
Traditional Indica Marijuana Effects – “Stoned,” Relaxed and “Chilled Out”
An indica marijuana will generally be more of the traditional marijuana experience of being “stoned” or relaxed after smoking.
Generally, indica marijuana strains are good for anxiety, good for sleep and good for winding down at the end of a workday.
An indica strain is usually not a great idea in the morning on a workday or before anything that requires significant alert focus.
Popular Indica Strains
That article is a good read and it will illustrate the difference in effects between even different strains of indica marijuana.
Can Indica Make You Depressed?
If you tend toward depression, an indica strain can make you slightly depressed or increase existing depression.
At a minimum, an indica can induce more fatigue, inertia and lack of motivation than would be present with the depression alone.
With the above said though, an indica marijuana can be an exceptional help for the insomnia that can sometimes accompany depression.
If sleep problems accompany or are precipitated by depression, an indica in the evening may be the answer.
Keep reading to learn how edible marijuana products may be an even better option for sleep problems.
Is Indica Good for Anxiety?
In a word, yes. The sedative effect of a good indica marijuana will be pretty strong and likely help with anxiety significantly.
One exception being with very high-THC indica marijuana. Over 25% THC or so and the THC can cause some anxiety, even with an indica.
Does Indica Make You Tired or Sleepy?
Indica marijuana can definitely make you tired or sleepy. As I described above, working with this trait of the marijuana is the best solution.
Indica marijuana can be an exceptional sleep aid when used with that intention.
Indica is Great for Sleep
If sleep is a problem, indica marijuana is a good starting point.
Archetypal Sativa Effects – Creative, Cerebral and Uplifted
Sativa strains have names with words like Haze, Diesel or some kind of fruit or citrus in them.
They generally have a citrus and fuel smell and have a lot of yellow and orange “hairs.”
Sativa strains tend to make the mind more creative and alert. They can also cause anxiety with novice users, particularly the modern, very high-THC varieties.
Sativa Marijuana and Creativity
Under the right conditions and the right setting, a sativa marijuana can be very stimulating creatively. Artists, writers, videographers and other creatives may want to experiment with a good sativa before high-level creative work.
Popular Sativa Strains
Names with Haze, Diesel or citrus fruits in them are often given to sativa strains.
Below are a few popular sativa strains that have been around for a while.
Ghost Train Haze
Does Sativa Give You Anxiety?
One of my major emotional issues has always been anxiety. Though yoga, meditation and other practices can do a lot for anxiety, a strong sativa can bring on some significant anxiety and even a panic attack in someone prone to them.
Go easy, slow and careful and be particularly careful with high-THC strains and varieties.
Sativa for Depression and Anxiety?
When depression comes with anxiety, sativa marijuana can be a good choice during the depressive cycles of the depression/anxiety cycle.
Sativa for Depression
As stated above, sativa marijuana can be an exceptional medicine for depression under the right conditions.
Sativa for ADHD
Because of its ability to stimulate focus and creative work, a good sativa marijuana can help ADHD in certain cases and conditions. It’s worth experimenting with for adult users with ADHD or some other attention disorder or issue.
Sativa for Appetite
Sativa marijuana can be exceptionally stimulating to appetite. Those with appetite and/or weight loss can benefit from the appetite stimulation that accompanies sativa marijuana.
Remember: All marijuana stimulates appetite to one degree or another. This is where the term “the munchies” comes from.
Hybrid Marijuana Strains – The Best of All Worlds?
On a personal level, I find hybrid strains to be the most generally used and useful to me as a regular, medical user of marijuana.
Particularly when I’m buying a larger amount of a single strain, I always consider a hybrid to be a safer buy than a large amount of sativa or indica. The former may have me a little too anxious when used continually and, with an indica only day after day, I’ll be a little too dopey, sluggish and lethargic overall.
Sativa-Dominant Hybrids vs. Indica-Dominant Hybrids
Just as the name implies, a sativa-dominant hybrid strain will have a more cerebral and racy effect.
An indica-dominant hybrid marijuana will have a more sedative effect, again based on the indica being dominant in the hybrid cross.
Selecting Marijuana Strains Step by Step in Practice – Indica, Sativa or Hybrid?
Regular cannabis users tend to select marijuana based on:
- Indica vs sativa vs hybrid first
- Then for preferred strains
- Then for what’s available, on sale, available in higher quantity at a discount, etc.
If regular users insist on sticking to two or three strains, cannabis use – especially medical – can become more stressful than necessary.
Further, even the same strain name from a different grower can be a very different marijuana product.
Most growers try to keep a steady supply of popular strains coming, but cannabis is a natural product and it does have to grow and dry over several months before sale.
It won’t be long before a regular user is faced with out-of-stock favorite strains and the choice between no marijuana and trying a new cannabis strain.
This is where the basic indica vs sativa vs hybrid designations shine as descriptors for marijuana product selection.
New Strains and Better Deals
The proliferation of marijuana strains and dispensaries means that new strains are always appearing and some strains are sold in different quantities and at different price points than others.
When trying new strains, broad classifications like indica vs sativa vs hybrid are useful to at least understand the basic effect or temperament of the cannabis product in question.
First, Evaluate the Broad Classification of Sativa, Indica, Hybrid or Specialized Medical Marijuana
Here, simply look at broad classification – indica vs sativa vs hybrid. In some cases, there are high-CBD varieties and other niche medical applications like CBD-only.
An indica is more relaxing and grounding.
A sativa marijuana will be more stimulating and uplifting.
Hybrid marijuana has some combination of the two effects, based on the genetics.
Indica Dominant and Sativa Dominant – Hybrids Have an Additional Sub-Category
When evaluating hybrid marijuana, a sativa-dominant hybrid strain will be more uplifting and giggly without being overly racy or anxiety provoking.
An indica-dominant hybrid will be more sedative and calming, but not generally put you to sleep like a full indica can.
Author’s Anecdote: I find I really gravitate to hybrids when buying in large quantities. I never want to have just a lot of sativa around or just a big quantity of indica. Smoking all sativa all day will have me too anxious and all indica will have me getting nothing done.
Second, Evaluate the Cannabinoids in the Strain
The major cannabinoid in most any strain will be THC or tetrahydrocannabinol. This is the intoxicating compound and the one marijuana is known for.
The next most predominant cannabinoid will be CBD or cannabidiol [Wikipedia link] which will be anti-inflammatory and anxiolytic, but not intoxicating like THC.
Generally, there is negligible CBD in marijuana unless it’s specifically grown for that purpose as high-CBD or CBD-only medical marijuana.
If you want to go on a deep dive on the major cannabinoids – THC and CBD – you can read my post CBD and High-CBD Medical Marijuana – The Principal Guide.
Amount of THC
The amount of THC will determine how much “punch” the strain has. For serious pain or major depression as examples, these strains have a lot of THC in a little marijuana and give quick relief in a medical application.
For novice or recreational users, a lot of THC isn’t generally needed or advised. A lot of negative “marijuana makes me anxious” stories are due to someone with low tolerance and experience getting too much THC, too fast.
Strains with THC amounts of above 25% THC can be anxiety provoking and energizing regardless of being sativa, indica or hybrid marijuana.
There are some other cannabinoids that are pretty specialized like CBG and CBN. These are slowly surfacing in dispensaries now also.
Finally, Evaluate the Predominant Terpenes in the Strain
Terpenes, and the predominant two or three in a particular strain, will determine a lot about the effects of the strain as well as how smells and tastes when used.
Myrcene tends to be relaxing and anxiolytic. When found in a sativa strain, this terpene can cut the anxiety a bit.
Caryophyllene is generally considered to be an anti-inflammatory.
Is another anxiolytic terpene and some consider it to have a positive effect on the digestive system specifically.
Anyone with an inflammatory bowel disease like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease will want to look for marijuana strains with limonene.
Want to learn everything you need about medical marijuana for ulcerative colitis and inflammatory bowel disease? Read my popular post Medical Marijuana for Ulcerative Colitis – The Principle Guide.
Pinene is another one with significant medicinal properties. Properties like anti-depressant and anti-inflammatory effects in some users.
Online Strain Selectors – Leveraging Technology When Choosing Between Indica, Sativa and Hybrid Strains
At this point, the majority of marijuana available in a local dispensary will have some reviews or customer feedback and a reasonably experienced bud tender can likely help a lot with strain selection.
Beyond a good dispensary, good bud tenders and customer feedback, there’s also an entire internet of reviews, feedback and other data and information about marijuana strains online.
Leafly Strain Selector and Reviews
On Leafly.com you can use their strain selector to choose from indica, sativa and hybrid strains and then filter further based on terpenes, desired effects, what the strain helps with and other parameters. You can also limit your search on Leafly to only nearby dispensaries with the strain in stock.
You can check out the Leafly Strain Selector here: https://www.leafly.com/strains
Effects of Smoking Marijuana vs. Cannabis Edibles
Smoking or vaping marijuana flower or concentrate generally results in an intense “high” that comes on fast and diminishes over an hour or so, dependent on the user and their tolerance for THC.
Edibles tend to have a slower onset of about one to three hours depending on a number of factors.
The effects of marijuana edibles will generally be longer lasting than smoked or vaped marijuana concentrate or flower.
What’s the Different between Sativa and Indica Edibles?
Though the basic characteristics of sativa vs. indica vs. hybrid marijuana remain with edible marijuana products, there are some differences and nuances.
The effects of edibles are more subtle.
Indicas are slower acting and less sedative.
Sativa marijuana strains will be slower acting and less racy when ingested as an edible.
Edibles for Sleep
One place edibles shine is as a sleep aid.
People with depressive or depression-related insomnia like me – the classic waking up between 1 and 3am and not being able to go back to sleep – can really benefit from marijuana edibles or an oil tincture.
Because edibles and oral tinctures are slower-acting, I generally stay away from Indicas and more gravitate to hybrids, sativas and one-to-one THC/CBD products for sleep.
An appropriate dose of an edible or tincture can really help some users fall asleep, sleep deeper and stay asleep.
In conclusion, choosing between indica, sativa and hybrid marijuana strains is straightforward when considering indica vs sativa vs hybrid, but becomes more complex when we get into individual strains, niche hybrids, artisan medical growers and terpenes.
As a general rule, its indica for sleep and anxiety, sativa for depression, pain and lack of appetite and hybrid strains for combination or hybrid of indica vs sativa effects.
Have you seen these rules apply in your own use of medical marijuana, marijuana edibles and tinctures? Have you noticed others I didn’t list here? Leave a comment below and let me know!