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Sativa vs. Indica: What to Expect Across Cannabis Types and Strains

Things to consider

The two main types of cannabis, sativa and indica, are used for a number of medicinal and recreational purposes.

Sativas are known for their “head high,” an invigorating, energizing effect that can help reduce anxiety or stress and increase creativity and focus.

Indicas are typically associated with full-body effects, such as increasing deep relaxation and reducing insomnia.

Although research examining these effects is limited, it appears these plants have more in common than previously thought.

In other words, the category, or type, of cannabis may not be the greatest indicator of the effects you’ll experience.

Here’s how to find the right plant for your needs, strains to consider, potential side effects, and more.

What should you look for to understand strain effects?

The often-applied rule of thumb is that sativas are more invigorating and energizing, while indicas are more relaxing and calming — but it isn’t really that simple.

Individual plants produce varying effects, even among the same type of cannabis. It all depends on the plant’s chemical composition and the growing technique used.

Instead of looking at the type alone — sativa or indica — look at the description the grower and dispensary provide.

Oftentimes, the plant types are broken down into specific strains, or breeds.

Strains are distinguished by their individual cannabinoid and terpene content. These compounds are what determine the strain’s overall effects.

Cannabinoids

Cannabis plants contain dozens of chemical compounds called cannabinoids.

These naturally occurring components are responsible for producing many of the effects — both negative and positive — of cannabis use.

Researchers still don’t understand what all of the cannabinoids do, but they have identified two main ones — tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) — as well as several less common compounds.

  • THC. THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis plants. It’s responsible for the “high” or state of euphoria associated with cannabis use. Levels of THC have been increasing as growers try to create hybrids with a greater concentration of the compound.
  • CBD. CBD is non-psychoactive. It doesn’t cause a “high.” However, it may produce many physical benefits, such as reducing pain and nausea, preventing seizures, and easing migraine.
  • CBN. Cannabinol (CBN) is used to ease symptoms and side effects of neurological conditions, including epilepsy, seizures, and uncontrollable muscle stiffness.
  • THCA. Tetrahydrocannabinol acid (THCA) is similar to THC, but it doesn’t cause any psychoactive effects. Its potential benefits include reducing inflammation from arthritis and autoimmune diseases. It may also help reduce symptoms of neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease and ALS.
  • CBG. Cannabigerol (CBG) is thought to help reduce anxiety and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression.

Terpenes

A great deal of attention is paid to the amount of THC and CBD in a given strain, but newer research suggests that terpenes may be just as impactful.

Terpenes are another naturally occurring compound in the cannabis plant.

The terpenes present directly affect the plant’s smell. They may also influence the effects produced by specific strains.

According to Leafly, common terpenes include:

  • Bisabolol. With notes of chamomile and tea tree oil, the terpene bisabolol is thought to reduce inflammation and irritation. It may also have microbial and pain-reducing effects.
  • Caryophyllene. The peppery, spicy molecule may reduce anxiety, ease symptoms of depression, and improve ulcers.
  • Linalool. Linalool is said to help improve relaxation and boost mood with its floral notes.
  • Myrcene. The most common terpene, this earthy, herbal molecule may help reduce anxiety and insomnia so you can sleep better.
  • Ocimene. This terpene produces notes of basil, mango, and parsley. Its primary effects may include easing congestion and warding off viruses and bacteria.
  • Pinene. As the name suggests, this terpene produces an intense pine aroma. It may help boost memory, reduce pain, and ease some of the not-so-pleasant symptoms of THC, such as nausea and coordination problems.
  • Terpinolene. Cannabis with this compound may smell like apples, cumin, and conifers. It may have sedative, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.
  • Limonene. Bright, zippy citrus notes come from this terpene. It’s said to improve mood and reduce stress.
  • Humulene. This terpene is deeply earthy and woody, like hops or cloves. Cannabis strains with this molecule may reduce inflammation.
  • Eucalyptol. With notes of eucalyptus and tea tree oil, this molecule is refreshing and invigorating. It may also reduce inflammation and fight bacteria.

Sativa in-depth

  • Origin:Cannabis sativa is found primarily in hot, dry climates with long sunny days. These include Africa, Central America, Southeast Asia, and western portions of Asia.
  • Plant description: Sativa plants are tall and thin with finger-like leaves. They can grow taller than 12 feet, and they take longer to mature than some other types of cannabis.
  • Typical CBD to THC ratio: Sativa often has lower doses of CBD and higher doses of THC.
  • Commonly associated effects of use: Sativa often produces a “mind high,” or an energizing, anxiety-reducing effect. If you use sativa-dominant strains, you may feel productive and creative, not relaxed and lethargic.
  • Daytime or nighttime use: Because of its stimulating impact, you can use sativa in the daytime.
  • Popular strains: Three popular sativa strains are Acapulco Gold, Panama Red, and Durban Poison.

Indica in-depth

  • Origin:Cannabis indica is native to Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and Turkey. The plants have adapted to the often harsh, dry, and turbulent climate of the Hindu Kush mountains.
  • Plant description: Indica plants are short and stocky with bushy greenery and chunky leaves that grow wide and broad. They grow faster than sativa, and each plant produces more buds.
  • Typical CBD to THC ratio: Indica strains often have higher levels of CBD and less THC.
  • Commonly associated effects of use: Indica is sought after for its intensely relaxing effects. It may also reduce nausea and pain and increase appetite.
  • Daytime or nighttime use: Because of its deep relaxation effects, indica is better consumed at night.
  • Popular strains: Three popular indica strains are Hindu Kush, Afghan Kush, and Granddaddy Purple.

Hybrid in-depth

Each year, cannabis growers produce new and unique strains from different combinations of parent plants. These cannabis hybrids are often grown to target specific effects.

  • Origin: Hybrids are typically grown on farms or greenhouses from a combination of sativa and indica strains.
  • Plant description: The appearance of hybrid strains depends on the combination of the parent plants.
  • Typical CBD to THC ratio: Many hybrid cannabis plants are grown in order to increase the THC percentage, but each type has a unique ratio of the two cannabinoids.
  • Commonly associated effects of use: Farmers and producers select hybrids for their unique impacts. They can range from reducing anxiety and stress to easing symptoms of chemotherapy or radiation.
  • Daytime or nighttime use: This depends on the predominant effects of the hybrid.
  • Popular strains: Hybrids are typically classified as indica-dominant (or indica-dom), sativa-dominant (sativa-dom), or balanced. Popular hybrids include Pineapple Express, Trainwreck, and Blue Dream.

Ruderalis in-depth

A third type of cannabis, Cannabis ruderalis, also exists. However, it isn’t widely used because it usually doesn’t produce any potent effects.

  • Origin: Ruderalis plants adapt to extreme environments, such as Eastern Europe, Himalayan regions of India, Siberia, and Russia. These plants grow quickly, which is ideal for the cold, low-sunlight environments of these places.
  • Plant description: These small, bushy plants rarely grow taller than 12 inches, but they grow rapidly. One can go from seed to harvest in little more than a month.
  • Typical CBD to THC ratio: This strain typically has little THC and higher amounts of CBD, but it may not be enough to produce any effects.
  • Commonly associated effects of use: Because of its low potency, ruderalis isn’t routinely used for medicinal or recreational purposes.
  • Daytime or nighttime use: This cannabis plant produces very few effects, so it can be used at any time.
  • Popular strains: On its own, ruderalis isn’t a popular cannabis option. However, cannabis farmers may breed ruderalis with other cannabis types, including sativa and indica. The plant’s rapid growth cycle is a positive attribute for producers, so they may want to combine more potent strains with ruderalis strains to create a more desirable product.

Potential side effects and risks

Although cannabis use is often associated with potential benefits, it can also produce unwanted side effects.

  • dry mouth
  • dry eyes
  • dizziness
  • anxiety
  • paranoia
  • lethargy
  • increased heart rate
  • decreased blood pressure

Most of these effects are associated with THC, not CBD or other cannabinoids. However, any cannabis product can produce side effects.

The method of use may increase your risk for side effects, too.

For example, smoking or vaping cannabis can irritate your lungs and airways. This may lead to coughing and respiratory problems.

Oral cannabis preparations, such as gummies or cookies, are less likely to affect your overall respiratory health.

However, the effects are felt more slowly and typically aren’t as strong.

Sativa and indica are the two main types of cannabis plants. The often-applied rule of thumb is that sativas are more invigorating and energizing, while indicas are more relaxing and calming — but this is an immense oversimplification. Here's how to find the right plant for your needs, strains to consider, and more.

Drowsiness

Updated on January 25, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer

Why Does Marijuana Make You Tired

As a medical marijuana patient, you may deal with frequent drowsiness due to your medication. Or, perhaps you want to try cannabis medicine, but you worry it will make you too tired to function. Either way, you want to know everything you can about cannabis and tiredness so you can medicate yourself in the best way possible. While marijuana can cause drowsiness, there are of ways to manage it. We’ll give you the low-down.

About Medical Marijuana Side Effects

Just like any other medication, weed can cause unwanted side effects. But, due to its versatility, medical marijuana has some side effects that certain patients consider a benefit. For instance, some folks want marijuana to make them tired so they can get a good night’s rest. Other possibly beneficial side effects include increased appetite and reduced saliva production.

Other side effects generally don’t help patients, but they tend to be mild and easy to handle. These include giddiness, anxiety and memory issues.

Overall, the positive effects of medicinal cannabis are typically worth the potential side effects. Marijuana has low potential for addiction, many ingestion methods and the ability to tackle a lot of symptoms at once.

How Does Cannabis Make You Sleepy?

To understand how marijuana causes tiredness, we have to delve a bit into the chemistry behind it. Cannabis contains numerous components called cannabinoids. When we talk about cannabinoids, we usually look at the two most prevalent ones in the marijuana plant: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

While THC causes the “high” we associate with cannabis, CBD does not. In large doses, THC can make you tired after you feel the initial high. It communicates with the receptors in your body and brain related to your sleep/wake cycle. As it interacts with those receptors, it causes a feeling of sleepiness.

Scientists also think a compound called myrcene contributes to weed’s ability to sedate you. Some studies suggest that myrcene has a sedative effect and relaxes the muscles. It also seems it can enhance the effects of THC, making its sedative effect stronger.

Which Kinds of Cannabis Medicine Can Make Me Tired?

Just about any kind of marijuana product can make you feel sleepy, but some are more likely to do so than others.

The biggest defining factor for sedation is the type of marijuana strain used in the product. Indica strains have a higher chance of making you drowsy than the other type of strain, sativa.

Also, medications that affect the entire body or brain tend to cause sleepiness more than other ones. These include edibles and patches.

Managing Marijuana-Related Drowsiness

If you don’t use marijuana medicine as a sleep aid, you have many options for managing the drowsiness. Patients who deal with sleepiness from weed medication usually don’t have to discontinue their treatment once they figure out how to handle it.

The best way to manage cannabis sedation is simply to pick a strain that doesn’t make you tired. As opposed to indica strains, sativa strains boost your energy levels. If you don’t want that extra lift, you can choose a hybrid strain that balances the effects of sativa and indica strains.

In the case that you must use a medication that causes sleepiness, you can try taking it before your bedtime. You can sleep off the drowsiness. If you can’t take your medication before bed, take the same precautions that you would with any drug that causes sleepiness. Don’t operate anything that can cause harm like a car or heavy machinery.

Marijuana-related drowsiness mostly only impacts your short-term ability to perform tasks. As long as you manage it effectively, you don’t have to worry about its impact after you finish taking cannabis medicine. Patients shouldn’t worry about this side-effect having a long-term effect on their life.

Learn About Cannabis’ Perks

As you can see, marijuana-related exhaustion is nothing to worry about. Check out the benefits of medical marijuana that make up for this side effect, and talk to a doctor who knows about cannabis for more information.

Learn why some cannabis users experience drowsiness as a side effect and how to combat side effects to get the most out of your cannabis. ]]>