Indica, Sativa, And Hybrid: Your Ultimate Guide To Cannabis Strain Types

by Emjay
Emjay's Cannabis Indica Sativa Hybrid Guide. Photo by Ryan Lange

Indica, Sativa, And Hybrid: Your Ultimate Guide To Cannabis Strain Types

“Smoking weed” is a blanket statement for a highly varying and complex experience. What are you smoking? What do you want to pack your bowl with? How do you want to feel, what are you in the mood for?

Cannabis comes in three main varieties that are each unlimited in their unique strain configurations. There’s cannabis indica, cannabis sativa, and hybrid, which refers to strains that are made up of a varying percentage of both indica and sativa. There’s also cannabis ruderalis, a lesser-known fourth type of cannabis that people don’t typically use due to its low THC content. Ruderalis won’t be found in many dispensaries. 

Sativa, indica, and hybrids are the types you’re most likely to run into in the wild. Don’t assume that any type of cannabis will do. Before you buy, make sure you’re choosing the type that will give you the effects that you want.

What makes types of weed different?

The main varieties of cannabis look visually different and generally have different ratios of THC to other compounds. It’s important to know the difference between indica versus sativa. Sativa refers to taller, narrow-leafed plants that produce an uplifting effect, formerly named Cannabis indica ssp. indica. Indica refers to a shorter, broader-leafed plant that produces a relaxing effect, formerly Cannabis indica ssp. afghanica. That’s as far as a scientific classification has ever been able to go. Most of the modern classifications of cannabis are agreements and concessions that we’ve made to be able to tell them apart.

Hemp, for example, was formerly called Cannabis sativa. The hemp plant looks like cannabis, except that it’s been bred to contain less than 0.3% THC by dry weight. Therefore, it does not have the intoxicating effects of cannabis. Hemp actually isn’t a different plant, it’s just a result of selective breeding that focuses on other cannabinoids, like CBD, and not THC.

The only highly distinctive cannabis plant is Cannabis ruderalis. It’s naturally low in THC, and it springs up in the wild across Russia and parts of Europe. Instead of being difficult to grow, it’s the opposite. Rederalis is almost impossible to kill. These plants are very small and have a completely different leaf shape from sativa or indica plants. They stick out like a sore thumb. 

Despite the fact that most cannabis plants come from the same species, weed consumers will tell you that each strain produces different effects. The way they make you feel is the most important difference and will vary person-to-person.

Low levels of THC and high levels of THC will affect you differently. THC is going to offer the most pain relief, sleep aid, and euphoria, depending on the strain. Other cannabinoids like CBD interact with the body differently. CBD has been found to promote relaxation, reduce inflammation, and positively impact your mental state. 

As research grows on the effects of indica, sativa, THC, and CBD, we are learning even more about the minor cannabinoids, of which there are over a hundred. Minor cannabinoids include CBN, CBG, and THCV. These can differ from strain to strain, altering the effects of the weed and changing the body and mind’s perception of the high. Cannabis contains close to 100 different cannabinoids and over 300 other chemical compounds. This is what makes every strain more complicated and nuanced than just the shape of the leaves or how much THC they contain. 

Some people, especially those new to cannabis, might hear anecdotally that sativa can make them anxious or that indica can make them sleepy. This isn’t necessarily the case. How you feel after consuming could be a result of the THC level, CBD level, terpenes, or the presence of minor cannabinoids in the strain. All of these components working together to produce your high is known as the entourage effect.

Strain plays an important role in producing different effects, but it isn’t the “be all, end all” in determining the best kind of cannabis for you. Don’t be so quick to write off one or the other.

Emjay's Cannabis Indica, Sativa, Hybrid Guide. Photo by CRYSTALWEED cannabis on Unsplash

Why is it important to know the difference between indica and sativa?

Smoking weed is nothing like consuming alcohol, which generally affects your body the same way. Cannabis offers you so many options because it’s more than just a single compound or ingredient affecting your body.

Choosing the right type of cannabis will steer the ship for the entire experience. What kind of high are you looking to have? Do you want to be productive and creative? Do you want to get better sleep? Do you want to find pain relief? Do you want a balanced experience that will keep your mood elevated? 

Choosing your variety allows you to curate your experience. You might want to keep multiple types on hand so you always have the right bud for the occasion. You’re a lot less likely to have a bad high if the weed you’re smoking is designed for the moment you’re living in. There is a common phrase: indica means “in da couch,” and sativa means “increased energy.”

All cannabis strains have been bred and cross-bred for so long that misidentification of strains happens all the time. Since every grower decided to try their hands at hybrids, the exact percentages of indica and sativa in each can be a little jumbled up. Without viewing the lab results from testing or knowing the strain’s exact lineage, it isn’t always apparent whether a particular plant is indica, sativa, or a hybrid.

This is why it’s important that you buy from a licensed, lab-tested cannabis brand (like every company available on Emjay). Many unlicensed growers don’t have as good of a lineage on each strain. The companies in legal markets are held to a higher standard. They are required, through regulations and lab testing, to accurately report what strain they’re selling you and how much THC it contains. 

Emjay's Cannabis Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid guide. Photo by Diyahna Lewis on Unsplash

What is indica?

Indica is a wide-leafed cannabis plant. Its flowers are a popular nighttime choice for cannabis consumers. Indica is often used for relaxation, pain relief, and sleep regulation. The level of “chill” you experience depends on the strain of indica you use, its terpene profile, and other cannabinoids. Even though there are some general rules about which strain is used for which purposes, at the end of the day, it’s still a percentage game. It’s also highly individualized.

What does the indica cannabis plant look like?

The indica plant has short, fat, fanned leaves and a wide stature. As it grows, indica plants appear chubby and have thick foliage. Some indica flowers will be short and dense in stature, curving up into little round orbs. Most of the time, the buds are darker and fuzzier than sativa buds. This isn’t always the case. Looking at the flower of a plant is never as reliable of an indicator as looking at its leaves.

What are the effects of indica cannabis?

Indica is usually the best fit for someone who wants to feel relaxed, happy, and sleepy. Indica is your nightcap. It’s not something you want to smoke if you’re getting ready to clean your house. It’s something you should smoke when you already have your pajamas on.

Indica has a reputation for causing “couch lock,” which is something you’re probably familiar with if you’ve smoked before. If you’re on the couch and so comfortable that you’d rather watch Netflix than go out, it sounds like couch lock. 

Couch lock is a more common experience with high THC strains in the indica family. Lower THC strains are less likely to produce the kind of sedative, relaxing body high.

What are the benefits of indica cannabis?

After a long and stressful day at work, you don’t want to come home and get wired. You want to wind down. Indica strains will help reduce stress and facilitate some chill time. People commonly use indica to promote relaxation and get better sleep. Indica has been found to reduce anxiety and even alleviates medical ailments, such as those of people experiencing seizure disorders like epilepsy.

A lot of people find that the body high indica boasts helps to relieve tension and discomfort in their muscles. Its wide range of cannabinoids, including CBD, helps to promote relaxation within the body, helping to release stiffness and making it easier to find a comfortable position to lounge in. 

Another benefit of indica cannabis is its flavor. Since indica is such a short, robust plant, its aromatic terpene compounds are heavily concentrated. This makes for a sweeter, richer flavor profile in some cases. You’ll notice that many strains of indica or hybrids are named after sweet foods, like berries or desserts. 

The terpenes of the plant are often reminiscent of the aromatic compounds of foods that come from plants. While your cannabis won’t taste exactly like cookies, you might be able to pick up some flavor notes that remind you of your favorite sugary snack. 

Best indica strains to try

The best indica strain to try depends on what it is you want. If you’re looking for a mellow experience or a more intense experience, check your THC percentages before you buy. The terpene profile and cannabinoid stats are even more useful in order to find the best indica strain for you.

Indica’s chill factor comes not from the THC, but from every cannabinoid working together. Find the percentages of each on the package of cannabis, as those numbers will give you the complete picture. 

  • Blueberry is a well-loved, “best of both worlds” indica. It has a decent THC to CBD balance and usually clocks in at under 30% THC. This is a great indica for the seasoned smoker.
  • Zkittlez is a beloved indica-dominant strain commonly found on the market today. Hovering around 60% to 70% indica, depending on its cultivator, the effects of Zkittlez are uplifting, adding a sense of joy and calm to users. People also report feeling relaxed and it aiding in sleep.
  • Purple Punch and Champagne Wedding have a lot in common, usually testing close to  20% THC. You’re more likely to experience the relaxing benefits of indica without the couch lock when you choose a lower THC strain.
  • The Toad is a really strong indica, frequently testing at over 30% THC. If you’re a very experienced smoker looking for an indica that really delivers, give The Toad a shot.
  • Northern Lights can significantly vary in its THC percentage but is generally known for its balanced high. Northern Lights flower usually sits between 15% and 25% THC, making it a great fit for people who want a mellow high. Northern Lights vape concentrates can be upwards of 80% to 90% THC.
Emjay's Indica, Sativa, and Hybird Guide. Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

What is sativa?

Sativa is generally regarded as a cannabis variety ideal for the daytime. People who declare themselves to be high-functioning cannabis users may gravitate towards sativa strains. Sativa makes it enjoyable to do something creative like artwork, laundry, cooking, meditating, or even exercise like running and yoga. It offers a mellow but uplifting high. 

What does the sativa plant look like?

Sativa plants can grow to be very tall, some scaling as high as 20 feet. They are narrow, wispy plants with thin, pointy leaves. Sativa flower is typically fluffier and less dense, covered with little tendrils. As the buds dry, they become denser as the moisture content dissipates. 

What are the effects of sativa cannabis?

Sativa often has an energizing or uplifting effect. The strains are typically higher in THC than CBD, which shifts the balance from relaxation to a mind buzz. Some people find themselves lost in thought or in a contemplative mood from sativa’s heady high. 

There are cannabis consumers who express that they don’t prefer sativa because it makes them feel anxious. The head high, combined with the tendency to introspect, makes sativa a more mentally interactive experience than indica. With indica, people want to relax. With sativa, people tend to find themselves using their imaginations and creativity.

This introspective effect of sativa that many people associate with anxiety or paranoia is usually a result of high THC strains. Low THC strains will create a milder high, reducing the potential for unwanted side effects. Less THC means less high effects. Sativa can go as low as 8% THC, making it the ideal choice for new smokers or people who aim not to get too high. 

What are the benefits of sativa cannabis?

People use cannabis sativa as a way to feel high, a bit euphoric, as well as energized at the same time. A lot of people feel like sativa gives them an extra push of motivation to take care of tedious things, like cleaning the house or raking the yard. It makes a dull day a little more exciting.

Most sativa fans feel like this strain increases their alertness. They tend to report less mind fog. Time doesn’t drag for them, and they don’t feel as sleepy when they use it. It’s easier for them to be productive and go about their routines with sativa. They’d rather turn to indica at night when they’re looking to doze off.

Sativa is the strain to get your brain going. Your gears will turn. Magical things will start to happen.

Best sativa strains to try

Sativa strains come in low, mid, and high THC varieties. If you’re new to cannabis, go ahead and stick to the lower side. Trying to kick off the training wheels too soon will make for a rough ride. People with a strong THC tolerance fare better with higher THC varieties of sativa. Smoke a little bit, see how you feel after half an hour, and dive back in if you’re ready.

Here are some of the best sativa strains popular in today’s marketplace:

  • Banjo and Orange Cookies are great beginner Sativas. They’re also great for anyone who prefers a gentle head high. These strains are generally under 20% THC, depending on their grower and genetic makeup.
  • Blue Dream is technically a hybrid, but it’s sativa-dominant. That little bit of indica in the mix mellows out the head high of the sativa, making for a balanced effect. Blue dream comes in low-medium to medium THC, its flower tests anywhere from 15% THC to 30% THC. 
  • Silver Haze and Durban Poison are higher THC sativas, capable of producing a stronger high. These are great strains for experienced cannabis users who understand how their body reacts to THC. They usually clock in at over 30%. 
  • Peach Ozz will leave you feeling just peachy. This strain has a little kick of CBD, helping to relax you while it inspires your mind. Its decent amount of THC is enough to get you feeling good without sending you.
Emjay's Cannabis Indica, Sativa, Hybrid Guide. Photo by Kym MacKinnon on Unsplash

What are hybrids?

Technically, almost every strain is a hybrid. Since cannabis was federally prohibited in the U.S. in 1937, its production was forced into the shadows.. A lot of what we know as sativa has a little bit of indica in its lineage, and vice versa. It’s very difficult to find a cannabis phenotype that’s purely one or the other, although the legalization of weed has made it easier for growers to experiment and find the original lineage of certain strains.

In many ways, hybrids are botanical science experiments. A lot of them came to be when growers decided that they wanted to breed two strains together. This process could balance out promising strains of indica or sativa by upping the calming effect or boosting the head high. Hybrids give you that “some of column A, some of column B” effect. It all depends on whether indica or sativa is the dominant strain of the hybrid. 

Hybrid strains are going to be the most common type, with many people pledging their allegiance to hybrids above sativa or indica. Hybrids offer a uniquely curated experience, depending on their unique symphony of cannabinoids and terpenes. Seasoned smokers can definitely tell the difference. 

What do hybrid plants look like?

Hybrid plants produce four-pronged leaves. They have one large pointed leaf flanked on either side by two smaller leaves. You know that iconic image of a weed leaf is fanned out, with one large leaf straight up in the middle and three leaves reaching out on either side? That doesn’t happen with hybrid plants. 

Hybrid plant leaves look a little bit like sativa and a little bit like indica. This can be perceived as fatter sativa leaves or thinner indica leaves, depending on how you choose to look at it. If a strain is dominant in one variety, the leaves will probably look most like the dominant type. 

What are the effects of hybrid strains?

Each hybrid is going to have a different effect due to its blend of strains. The best way to understand and experience the effect of a hybrid strain is to smoke it as flower before you try any other form, like concentrates for example. You’ll be able to see and understand the intensity and duration of the hybrid strain’s effects in its pure form. You can move up to concentrates or edibles in strain variety once you feel like you have a better understanding of that particular flower.

What are the benefits of hybrids?

The benefits of hybrids vary because their parent plants vary. Because of their range, they cannot be as solidly defined as the benefits of indica or sativa strains. A hybrid can produce any number of effects, in the range from calm, creativity, anti-anxiety, to pain relief and relaxation. The biggest general benefit to hybrids is that they’re the definitive way to find your “Goldilocks” moment with weed. If sativa is too energizing and indica is too sedating, it’s easy to find a hybrid that’s just right. 

Some people may be put off by weed because they find that neither extreme works for them. They don’t want to get stuck in their head writing a musical sequel to Hamilton, and they don’t want to fall asleep on the couch before the show starts. Hybrids help to define that fine line so you can walk it better.

Hybrids are also great for non-committal people. If you don’t want to be stuck in an energizing high well past your bedtime and you don’t want to feel stuck to the couch, it’s easy to find a hybrid that will provide you with the flexibility that you need. 

What are the best hybrid strains to try?

There is a nearly endless variety of hybrids. Many respected cannabis cultivators breed an indica parent plant with a sativa parent plant to crossbreed anything their heart desires. Some hybrid strains have become well known and well-loved over the course of decades. Growers get creative with their pairings.

Similar to cultivation, finding the best hybrid strain is also a passion project. That’s why there are so many to choose from. Hybrids are like the fusion cuisine of cannabis. Everyone has a chance to put their own unique spin on strains through genetics, and debut it to the world with pride. 

The best way to predict how a hybrid will work is to get to know its mom and dad. The parent plants will each have their own unique set of effects. Generally, the indica will work to mellow out the sativa’s effects and visa versa. Research or try strains in the hybrid’s parent lineage, and you’ll figure out your favorite balanced concoction.

Here are a few of the most popular hybrid strains available today:

  • OG Kush is one of the most beloved hybrids. It is the definition of dank, and you’ll have a hard time finding a person who would turn it down. It’s believed to be a cross between a Californian Chem Dawg and a Hindu Kush from Afghanistan. It’s tests somewhere between 20% and 30% THC and boasts a full-bodied flavor and a very intense aroma. 
  • Gelato and all of its variations are often a medium-strength THC hybrid with the energizing effects of a sativa and the relaxation effects of an indica, producing a mood that can only be described as “enthusiastically chill”. Gelato’s lineage, born out of Northern California, was first bred by the Sherbinskis family, and its legendary cultivator and founder Mario Guzman, and the Cookie Family. Also called Larry Bird, Gelato is said to be a cross between Sunset Sherbet and Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies.
  • Pineapple Express is a real hybrid strain, not just a beloved Seth Rogen stoner comedy. Pineapple Express is believed to be cross-bred from the sativa Hawaiian and the hybrid strain Trainwreck. Pineapple Express is a hybrid hard-hitter, and people tend to use it to stimulate their creativity. If you’re an artist or a musician, you’ll probably appreciate this hybrid. 
  • Girl Scout Cookies hybrid strain was created by crossing OG Kush with Durban Poison. Its lineage goes back to the legendary Northern California growers collective called the Cookie Family and Berner, the founder of popular brand Cookies. Commonly called GSC for short, it blends a head high with a body high, and is described as feeling euphoric. If you’ve ever wanted to feel like your weed is giving you a big hug, step into the sweet embrace of Girl Scout Cookies. It’ll hold you from head to toe. 
Emjay's Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid Guide. Photo by Ryan Lange on Unsplash

How to find the right cannabis strain

The variety of strain counts for a lot, but it shouldn’t be your primary motivating factor in what you want to consume cannabis. In broad, simplistic terms, if you have stuff to do, you probably want a Sativa. If your weed is going to be your Netflix companion, you probably want an indica. But there’s really a lot more complexity involved here. 

Don’t write off sativas because they tend to have more THC, and don’t write off indicas because they are often strains that are high in CBD. If you had a bad experience with one or the other, the most important thing to realize is that not all sativas or indicas are the same. You might have had a particular strain that was either too strong or too weak for your tastes.

If you had a sativa that put you through the roof, it may have been above 20% THC. If you vaped it as a concentrate, it was definitely above 20% THC. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to switch to indica. It usually means you need something that packs less of a punch. There’s no shame in going for a lower THC strain, just like there’s no shame or stigma in preferring a beer to a shot. 

If you tried a sativa and you didn’t like it because it didn’t help you relax, that’s because it wasn’t the perfect balance for you. You needed an indica for that, or a relaxing, comfortable hybrid If you tried an indica to relax and it didn’t work, try an indica with more CBD. 

Expect trial and error with strains. You won’t love every strain you try, and that’s normal. Your unique body works the way it’s supposed to. You just need to find a strain that compliments you perfectly.

The internet is a pretty amazing thing, especially now that weed is becoming legalized throughout the entire country. Smokers are able to candidly review strains and discuss their experiences with different varieties. Shopping for weed is no longer a completely different experience from shopping on Amazon. On Emjay, you can view ratings and read some first-hand strain testimonials. 

Contribute to the review system as you go. Other people helped you determine what strain to try. Your experience can help other people make the same decision. Help the world keep building a knowledge base where people can refer each other to their ideal strain.

Find the right strain for you with Emjay

Emjay wants you to find the perfect strain of weed to meet your needs. You don’t even have to come to uswe’ll come to you. We deliver flower, vapes, edibles, pre-rolls, wellness products, CBD, concentrates, and weed accessories directly to your doorstep. We’ll even bring you a lighter. We’ve got you taken care of. Place your order, and we’ll get it to you in about half an hour. 

You can search for your preferred strain and browse your options. We list the THC content of every strain we sell, making it easier for you to pick something strong enough (or mellow enough) to suit your tastes. Don’t change out of your sweatpants to go down to the dispensary. Keep them on, and we’ll bring the good time to you.

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