You’ve probably seen these terms floating around the cannabis world for years, but what’s the difference between indica and sativa? So glad you asked.
The first thing you need to know is that there isn’t a definitive answer. It’s not like you’re asking what 2+2 is, or what’s the best flavour of ice cream (it’s mint chocolate chip by the way, and we won’t be taking questions at this time). The terms indica and sativa can refer to a few different things, and none of them are scientifically proven.
The first appearance of “sativa” was in 1753 (that’s a long time ago). Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus was under the impression there was only one species of cannabis, which he named cannabis sativa. Of course, Linnaeus was wrong, but we’ll let him have this one. He didn’t know any better. Fast-forward a few decades, and you’ll find French scientist Jean-Baptiste Lamrack. He proposed that there were actually two species of cannabis: Cannabis sativa, which was cultivated in Western Continent, and Cannabis indica, which was a wild species growing in India and its surrounding countries.1
If you’re looking for super-simple definitions, sativa means “cultivated” and indica means “originating from India.”
Now, the terms indica and sativa are used by some as a way to identify types of weed, specifically certain strains and how they make you feel. There’s really nothing to back this besides anecdotal evidence, but they’re still fairly common terms when referring to cannabis. Some people use the term indica to describe strains with effects that are more sedating or physical in nature.
On the other hand, some people use sativa to describe strains that are more cerebral or energizing. Again, and we cannot stress this enough, this is just how people have decided to categorize the plants. Each strain of cannabis will affect people differently. Just because something is labelled as an indica strain or a sativa strain doesn’t mean you’ll feel the same effects as someone else—that’s all related to the THC and CBD content (psst...you can find out more about that here).
An easy way to remember what kind of strain indica refers to is think of “in the couch,” because indica effects are often more sedating in nature. An easy way to remember sativa is...well that it’s not an indica. There’s no clever saying for this, but if you know one, you’ll know the other.
There you have it—a basic rundown of how the terms indica and sativa are used in the cannabis landscape. None of these are hard-and-fast facts, except for the names of those scientists, but it’s always fun to learn about the way people use words, right? Right.
1. Pollio A. The Name of Cannabis: A Short Guide for Nonbotanists. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res 16 Oct. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5531363/.