If you walk into a dispensary selling marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes, you will notice there are three separate groups of cannabis; sativa, indica, and hybrids. Most recently, researchers now know that on a molecular level, there’s no difference between an indica strain and a sativa strain of marijuana. Still, consumers and retailers still use the classification system because it’s the only one available, which makes pinpointing the best strains for each person’s end goal a trial-and-error process.


Indica and sativa are the two most commonly used classifications of cannabis plants. Both strains can be found with varying THC/CBD cannabinoid concentrations. The name Indica originally referred to the geographical area (India) in which this marijuana plant was grown. The first known published description of this second known species of cannabis was in 1785 by French soldier, biologist, botanist, naturalist and author Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Prior to his publication, Cannabis sativa was the only known species of this plant.

“Scientists have now realized through molecular testing that there is just one species of cannabis, cannabis sativa L. The reason it can look and act so differently in the body from strain to strain is because the environment in which the plant is grown can change its flavor and effect profile while maintaining its genetic base. Factors like the temperature, humidity, soil nutrients, sunlight, and altitude can all affect how a person who smokes, vapes, or eats a marijuana product from that strain will physically react,” says  Jeff Chen, the Director of the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative.


Cannabis indica differs from cannabis sativa in key areas such as height and stature, intermodal length, leaf size and structure, bud size and density, flowering time, and odor. Indica plants tend to grow shorter and bushier than the sativa plants, and have wide, short leaves with short wide blades, whereas sativa strains have long leaves with thin long blades. The buds of indica strains tend to be wide, dense and bulk, while sativa strains are likely to be long, sausage-shaped flowers.

Indica strains are known for their beneficial physical effects such as relief from muscle aches, spasms and pain, headache and migraine pain, reduction of seizures, anxiety and stress relief, general body pain relief, and easing insomnia symptoms, whereas sativa is better known for providing a strong and uplifting head high, generating feelings of wellbeing, euphoria, and feelings of ease.


The sativa strain can also stimulate uplifting, cerebral thoughts, increasing focus and creativity, fight depression, and alter mental perception. While each species of cannabis has its physical, mental, and emotional benefits, indica strains can be very effective in providing a deeper level of physical relaxation than can be achieved by consuming cannabis sativa.

Again, these guidelines are not necessarily true of all strains classified as either indica or sativa, so experimenting with both to see what works well for you is ideal.


Sativa and indica strains can be mixed together to form hybrid strains of marijuana, yielding plants that offer a wide range of medicinal benefits to the consumer. Because sativa and indica buds have different medicinal benefits and effects, certain strains can be targeted to better treat specific illnesses. One of the best indica strains is Original Gangster (OG) Kush, a popular indica-dominant hybrid strain from Southern California with THC levels as high as 20%. Another popular strain known as Kush refers to a subset of strains of Cannabis indica. The origins of Kush Cannabis are Afghanistan, Northern Pakistan, and North-Western India, with the name coming from the Hindu Kush mountain range.


At Hightops, we recommend a trial-and-error approach to pinpoint the marijuana strains that work well for your needs. Inform your budtender of the desired effects you are looking to achieve and don’t be afraid to try different strains and types, keeping track of what works and what doesn’t. As always, we are here to help, so do not hesitate to ask on your next visit!