Cannabis Indica vs Sativa – Understanding The Difference

If you think smoking cannabis is addictive, try growing it! With the broadening of both medicinal and recreational laws across the globe, many adults are now able to grow cannabis in their own gardens at home.

Many provincial, state and national laws are being changed and included in those changes are up to 10 plants being grown at home. Since California changed their recreational laws on the 1st of January 2019 it is now as easy to buy a gram of cannabis at shops as it is as easy to buy a beer. Within these laws in California, they have included by-laws under Proposition 64 to allow adults over 21 years of age to grow up to 6 plants at home. Since Canada changed their recreational marijuana laws during October 2018, adults of the age 19 and older are able to also grow up to 4 cannabis plants at home. There are conditions and restrictions to, so you should check up on the regulations you need to stick to while tending your cannabis in your own garden.

Growing cannabis has been done on an industrial scale well since the industrial age started and well before then. Hemp was an important cash crop for many farmers in Asia, Europe and even America’s. Hemp is also a variety of cannabis that is used for industrial applications such as for its fiber, oil and many other properties. It was only until the passing of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937 that started the snowball effect of hemp being lumped with “marijuana” as a dependence-producing drug. With the recent passing of the Farm Bill in the USA, many farmers are now having the opportunity to benefit from growing hectares of hemp.

Plant a Seed

There are thousands of varieties of cannabis, mostly the varieties available are hybridized strains of either sativa, indica or ruderalis. These there generally agreed upon sub-species of cannabis have unique characteristics and we will be going into more of these details below. But first, we must also realize that there are a few other cannabis varieties you will come across if you are considering growing at home and looking for the right cannabis strain to grow. Popular feminized ( fem ) cannabis strains are very common and the reason for this is that growers don’t need to sift through the pollen of males that fertilize the female flowers and make more seeds. You will also come across seeds advertised as auto-flowering and these seeds are specifically developed for not being photosensitive and rather start the flowering process automatically. First, let us discuss the basic makeup of the cannabis sativa species of plant.

What is Cannabis Sativa?

Cannabis Sativa is an annual herbaceous flowering plant that is grown for its nutritional, medicinal, recreational and industrial properties. It has been cultivated throughout recorded history and was first documented by the Chinese as early as 3000BC as a medicinal treatment in their book of Pharmacopoeia. Cannabis sativa was first classified by Carl Linnaeus in 1753 and since then there has been much debate about the varieties and sub-species available. Some researchers and scientists debate that there are up to as many 5 species of cannabis sativa available.

The flowers of the cannabis sativa plant are unisexual and plants are either male or female and some also being both sexes, hermaphrodites. It is a short-day and long-night flowering plant and is photosensitive to our seasons, usually, the flowering phase starts during the colder shorter autumn months and completing flowering early winter.

All the cannabis plant parts are harvested at different times and can depend on the requirements of the cultivator. The roots, stems, leaves, flowers, and seeds are harvested for multiple uses and may be processed into oil, hurd, cannabis wood or even recreational cannabis consumer products. The plant itself is made up of over 500 compounds and these include cannabinoids, flavonoids, terpenes, vitamins, minerals, and even amino acids.

Although cannabis is today usually processed for its valuable cannabinoids, THC and CBD are just two of over a hundred cannabinoids found in cannabis sativa. THC and CBD are two of the major cannabinoids found in cannabis sativa and CBD is usually found in large volumes in the hemp variety of cannabis sativa. For cannabis to be defined as hemp it usually needs to contain concentrations of THC less than 0.3%.

The Sub-Species of Cannabis

Human intervention has resulted in the cannabis strains we have today. In the late 20th century illegal across the globe would specifically grow cannabis that was high in the psychoactive cannabinoid THC and today we are seeing many cultivators breeding cannabis that is high or has equal parts CBD and THC. Although times are changing in a developing cannabis market, it is still generally agreed that there are three distinct categories of cannabis, namely indica, sativa and ruderalis.


Indica cannabis plants are normally shorter and stockier than the other sub-species of cannabis. They have much broader and serrated leaves and form denser and thicker buds. Their flowering times are also usually shorter and range from 7 weeks to 10 weeks of flowering. They are originally thought to have been found in the Hindu Mountain range bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan. Indica’s are well known to induce the “couch-lock” or body effect after consuming them.
A good and popular example of indica is OG Kush. Stabilized by many breeders through many seedbanks OG Kush is sold under a variety of names and hybrids.


Sativa cannabis strains are generally found in equatorial regions of the world such as Malawi, Thailand and Colombia and are much taller than their indica sub-species. They can tower to over 3 meters in height and can take up to 16 weeks to flower. Their flowers or buds are much smaller and airer in comparison to the dense indica buds. The high associated with sativa is a cerebral high that leaves you feeling uplifted with lots of energy.
Durban Poison is a classic example of a landrace sativa strain from the port of Durban, South Africa. Well-known for its energizing and potent effects Durban Poison has been crossbred into many popular cannabis strains today.


A fairly recent entrant, ruderalis is said to have originated from Eastern Europe, near the Russian border. What sets ruderalis apart from other sub-species is the fact that it is not limited to photoperiod for flowering but will automatically flower after 21- 30 days of vegetation. They only grow 1 to 2.5 feet tall and have strong and sturdy stems. Ruderalis strains have been brought indoors and used to influence new hybrids of cannabis varieties due to their faster flowering times and not being photosensitive.

Lowryder was the first successful ruderalis strain made commercially available and after years of stabilising the genetics of cross-bred strain of Northern lights and a Mexican Ruddy ( Ruderalis ), the Joint Doctor seedbank launched Lowryder in 2003.

Other Cannabis Varieties

Below I will take you through a quick overview of other cannabis varieties you may come across online or offline. Having an understanding of the most common cannabis varieties will help you make a better decision before acquiring seeds.


Often seedbanks will break down seeds into a couple top categories. You will often come across regular seeds which distinguish seeds that may be crossbred for future generations of hybrid varieties or crossbred to make inbred lines ( IBL’s ). Regular seeds will produce both male and female plants.


Sinsemilla is the Spanish word meaning “without seed” and is what top cannabis cultivators look for in a growing operation. Because cannabis in nature is generally wind-pollinated to make future seeds it is hard to control the pollination of male and female genetics. Cannabis growers mostly only want female plants as these are the plants that produce flowers or buds and are high in THC or CBD. Many seed banks now offer feminized seeds and this is achieved through to processes, namely rodelization or the use of colloidal silver.

Rodelization is the process of a cannabis plant fertilizing itself. This can be done through stressing a female plant so that make pollen sacks are produced and it self-fertilizes itself in a controlled environment.

The use of colloidal silver as a spray on female plants causes pollen sacks to appear and again like rodelization, assists the female flower to self pollinate itself using the strong female genetic traits.


Many seedbanks offer auto’s or auto-flowering cannabis genetics. These are cannabis plants that do not require seasons to induce flowering but rather automatically flower after a given period of time. As mentioned above, this is a very strong genetic trait of the sub-species ruderalis and all auto-flowering cannabis strains have ruderalis bred into them.


Hemp is making a coming back since leaving our history books for the best part of the last 60 years. Hemp is a variety of cannabis defined as less than 0.3% THC. The main cannabinoid found in hemp is CBD and one of the main reasons hemp is making such a big comeback to the cannabis industry. Although CBD was first isolated in the 1960’s it was a misunderstood cannabinoid thought to be a precursor to THC. Since then as well as the development of technology it has been established that CBD is an abundant cannabinoid that is very similar to THC in its molecular makeup. CBD is also popular since it does not contain any psychoactive effects compared with other cannabinoids like THC and is readily used in medicinal treatments and medicines. Recently the US Food and Drug Administration approved their first CBD ( Hemp ) based medicine known as Epidiolex. Epidiolex is used to treat rare forms of epilepsy and is extracted from hemp varieties of cannabis.


Landrace denotes strains that have been localized in their regions. Cannabis was originally located in Asia thousands of years ago and been shipped and traded across the globe. Landrace genetics have localized to their environments and cannabis cultivators have kept certain traits of this genetics. It is not easy to find landrace strains these days and most stains available commercially have been hybridized and stabilized for years. Landrace strains to consider would be genetics like Malawi Gold, Durban Poison, Colombian, Pakistani Chitral, and Afghani Kush.

“Arjan always considered these landraces very important for the breeding process because they are the bases that have been selected by nature,” Franco told us, “The [span of time] over which nature does this is so huge that they are not replicable by man under any conditions — not indoor, not outdoor, not in any way.” Greenhouseseeds.com


To find pure sativa, indica or ruderalis strains would be like finding a needle in a haystack. Today often seedbanks denote their strains as sativa or indica dominant. Cannabis strains have been inbred and cross-pollinated since the 1970s and these strains have been stabilized into viable and authentic seeds that usually contain homogeneous traits such as plant size, aroma, taste, cannabinoid profiles etc.

The Future of Cannabis

Through the many studies being conducted and the current state of the cannabis industry we are seeing certain companies genetically mapping cannabis strains and their profiles. With the thousands of brand names of cannabis strains looking deeper at the molecular level of the cannabis, makeup makes more sense. Researchers are now able to identify cannabis through not only their cannabinoid makeup but also through the terpenes and flavonoid profiles of the strains in question. Already in California the phenomena of “ dip and dab” is taking the industry to a new level. The resins of cannabis are being extracted and cannabis customers are able to now choose their own varieties of cannabis from THC/CBD levels through to aroma’s and tastes.

Concentrates are fast becoming the established norm for cannabis connoisseurs due to the potency and clarity of the associated effects. Concentrates are usually very rich in cannabinoids and have less carcinogenic material present when dabbing. For instance, in the near future, you will be able to choose your “indica” variety of cannabis as well as choose its cannabinoid profile and add aromas and flavonoids all through concentrates.


Origins of cannabis: