Do Sativa and Indica Strains Really Have Different Effects?

By Kaitlyn M.
Weed strains affect us differently- or do they?

Cannabis is a very interesting substance that can have you giggling while watching the news. It can turn a group of grumpy people into some of the happiest on earth. But depending on the strain you receive, you could be ready to hang out or ready to hit the hay.

Many people feel this has to do with Indica or Sativa strains but is this actually the case? You ask most stoners they will tell you which is their preferred strain and why. Has the cannabis community been right or have we been wrong all along?

We are going to look into whether or not Sativa and Indica strains are really the culprits for the different highs or is it all in our heads? Let’s find out!

What Do Sativa and Indica Mean?

Before we get into whether they exist or not, let's break down what Indica and Sativa strains mean in the cannabis community. Back in the 1700s, several scientists were studying cannabis to determine more about its effects.

One of the most notable ones was Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Lamarck was a French naturalist who was fascinated by the strains as well as the effects of marijuana. Thanks to this guy, we have discovered a lot about the world and he is even the one who coined the modern term of biology. In 1785, Lamarck was studying cannabis that grew in and around India which he decided to name the Indica strain.

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

According to Richard Evans Schultes, an American biologist, Indica strains are usually “relatively short, conical, and densely branched, whereas C. sativa was described as tall and laxly branched.”

Many people have smoked these strains and usually, feel energetic when they smoke Sativa while Indica provides the traditional “couched” high. Some believe this has to do with the THC percentage in each of the strains but there has been much speculation about this over the years. Regardless, the Sativa and Indica differences have become apart of the cannabis culture, even ending up in movies and tv shows.

But according to some interesting research, that is not the case at all.

A Little Help from the Professionals

There are several studies that discuss Indica and Sativa strains, but the best one I found was done in 2016 by the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at the University of Irvine, California. They were able to speak with Dr. Ethan Russo, MD is a board-certified neurologist and a psychopharmacology researcher. He was a Senior Medical Advisor for clinical trials on Epidiolex and Sativex for GW Pharmaceuticals.

For years Dr. Russo has done his research on cannabis so its no question that he knows his stuff. He was asked many questions within this study about the differences in Indica and Sativa strains, and his answers surprised me. Dr. Russo was asked if  Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s simple classification of Indica and Sativa still stands today and he basically said no.

Sativa vs. Indica

Dr. Russo explained,

It is clear that there are many chemotypes of Cannabis: THC predominant, CBD predominant, and mixed types. This is a good basic classification, but it has also been possible to selectively breed for other chemotypes expressing high titers of THCV, cannabidivarin, cannabichromene, and even ones producing 100% of its cannabinoids as cannabigerol, or others with no cannabinoids at all. The debate continues. Some espouse Cannabis as a single species, while others describe up to four: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, Cannabis ruderalis, and Cannabis afghanica (or kafiristanica).

The Truth about Indica and Sativa

Cannabis Plants

The study goes on to speak about the extreme differences smoker report from the two strains, but Dr. Russo explains it's pretty much impossible to determine the genetic makeup of the cannabis plant by its side effects.

He said, “There are biochemically distinct strains of Cannabis, but the sativa/indica distinction as commonly applied in the lay literature is total nonsense and an exercise in futility. One cannot in any way currently guess the biochemical content of a given Cannabis plant based on its height, branching, or leaf morphology. The degree of interbreeding/hybridization is such that only a biochemical assay tells a potential consumer or scientist what is really in the plant. It is essential that future commerce allows complete and accurate cannabinoid and terpenoid profiles to be available.”

But seeing as basically everyone can feel the difference, how is it nonsense? Does this mean Sativa and Indica differences are not real and it's in our heads? No, even though that would be cool it's more complicated than all of us getting too high.

According to this research, it actually has to do with different chemicals naturally found within the strains! Indica seems to contain a high percentage of myrcene, a monoterpene that acts similar to a sedative,  which provides the couched effect. While Sativa contains a high limonene content, which is found within citrus peels and produces the uplifted or energetic mood.

While this is a true distinction, you still cannot determine what your strain is without studying it and breaking down the biochemical content. So, unfortunately, you and your buddies can't smoke a joint and honestly say that it’s a Sativa or an Indica strain.

For more interesting articles like this, head to our cannabis blog!


1. Cannabis indica. Retrieved July 08, 2019 from

2. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Retrieved July 08, 2019 from

3.Daniele Piomelli The Cannabis sativa Versus Cannabis indica Debate: An Interview with Ethan Russo, MD. Retrieved July 08, 2019 from

4. Cannabis strains. Retrieved July 08, 2019 from

5. Myrcene. Retrieved July 08, 2019 from

6. Limonene. Retrieved July 08, 2019 from

About the author: Kaitlyn M.

Kaitlyn is one of our regular contributors to cover Products and Lifestyle. She's living in the palmy Florida.