Ice Cream Cake sits among the newly minted royalty—a cross of Wedding Cake and Gelato #33, both descended from Cookies. Ice CK It is icy and dark purple,

When browsing cannabis strains or purchasing cannabis at a shop, you may notice strains are commonly broken up into three distinct groups: indica, sativa, and hybrid.SATIVA AND INDICA WEED

Most consumers have used these two cannabis types as a touchstone for predicting effects:

But if you look at the chemical “ingredients” inside of indicas and sativas—that is, terpenes and cannabinoids (more on that below)—you’ll notice there aren’t clear patterns to explain why one type would be inherently sedating and the other uplifting.

We know that indica and sativa cannabis strains can look different and grow differently, but this distinction is primarily useful only to cannabis growers.

To find a strain that will provide the desired effect, your best bet is to understand which chemical ingredients make up that strain.

Using Cannabis Guide, you can rely on simple shapes and colors to visually understand what your favorite strains look like, chemically speaking.SATIVA AND INDICA WEED

And when you use the chemical ingredients of a strain to guide your purchasing decision, you’re more likely to find the types of strains that agree with your body.

You can learn more about how the Cannabis Guide works in this walkthrough.

Dive into the Cannabis Guide

In this article, we’ll explore how the words “indica” and “sativa” made it into the vernacular of cannabis consumers worldwide, and to what extent they’re actually meaningful when choosing a strain.

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Indica vs. sativa effects: What does the research say?

The indica, sativa, and hybrid system is no doubt convenient, especially when first entering the vast, overwhelming world of cannabis. With so many strains and products to choose from, where else are we to begin?

“The clinical effects of the cannabis chemovar have nothing to do with whether the plant is tall and sparse vs. short and bushy, or whether the leaflets are narrow or broad.”

Ethan Russo, cannabis researcher and neurologist

A more useful starting point would be cannabinoids and terpenes, two words you should put in your back pocket if you haven’t already. We’ll get to know these terms shortly.


But first, we asked two prominent cannabis researchers if the sativa/indica classification should have any bearing on a consumer’s strain selection. SATIVA AND INDICA WEED

Ethan Russo is a neurologist whose research in cannabis psychopharmacology is respected worldwide, and Jeffrey Raber, Ph.D., is a chemist who founded the first independent testing lab to analyze cannabis terpenes in a commercial capacity, The Werc Shop.

“The way that the sativa and indica labels are utilized in commerce is nonsense,” Russo told .

“The clinical effects of the cannabis chemovar have nothing to do with whether the plant is tall and sparse vs. short and bushy, or whether the leaflets are narrow or broad.”


We blind-tasted cannabis strains and guessed: indica or sativa?

What we need to seek to understand better is which standardized cannabis composition is causing which effects, when delivered in which fashions, at which specific dosages, to which types of [consumers].”

What this means is not all sativas will energize you, and not all indicas will sedate you.

You may notice a tendency for so-called sativas to be uplifting or indicas to be relaxing, especially when we expect to feel one way or the other.

Just note that there’s no hard-and-fast rule and chemical data doesn’t reflect a clear pattern.

If indica and sativa aren’t predictive of effects, then what is?

The effects of any given cannabis strain depend on a number of different factors, including the product’s chemical profile, your unique biology and tolerance, dose, and consumption method.

Understand how these factors change the experience and you’ll have the best chance of finding that perfect strain for you.


Cannabinoids like THC and CBD (the two most common) are the main drivers of cannabis’ therapeutic and recreational effects.


A list of major cannabinoids in cannabis and their effects

Cannabis contains dozens of different cannabinoids, but start by familiarizing yourself with THC and CBD first. Instead of choosing a strain based on its indica or sativa classification, consider basing your selection on these three buckets instead:

  • If you tend to feel anxious with THC-dominant strains or dislike other side effects associated with THC, try a strain with higher levels of CBD.SATIVA AND INDICA WEED
  • Balanced THC/CBD strains contain similar levels of THC and CBD, offering mild euphoria alongside symptom relief. These tend to be a good choice for novice consumers seeking an introduction to cannabis’ signature high.

Cannabis strains present three distinct cannabinoid profiles called “chemotypes.” Space Queen is an example of a THC-dominant strain (as shown by diamond shapes), Canna-Tsu contains an approximate balance of THC and CBD (composed of both diamonds and circles), and Sour Tsunami has very little THC, but elevated levels of CBD (made up of only circles).

It’s worth noting that both indica and sativa strains exhibit these different cannabinoid profiles.


If you’ve ever used aromatherapy to relax or invigorate your mind and body, you understand the basics of terpenes.

Terpenes are aromatic compounds commonly produced by plants and fruit.

Secreted by the same glands that ooze THC and CBD, terpenes are what make cannabis smell like berries, citrus, pine, fuel, etc.

“Terpenes seem to be major players in driving the sedating or energizing effects.”

Jeffrey Raber, Founder of the Werc Shop

“Terpenes seem to be major players in driving the sedating or energizing effects,” Raber said.

“Which terpenes cause which effects is apparently much more complicated than all of us would like, as it seems to [vary based on specific] ones and their relative ratios to each other and the cannabinoids.”

There are many terpenes found in cannabis, and it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the most common—especially myrcenecaryophyllenelimonene, and terpinolene, since they’re the most likely to occur in pronounced levels in cannabis.

Three sativa strains that exemplify the diversity of terpenes found in cannabis. Ghost Train Haze is terpinolene-dominant (orange), Super Sour Diesel is limonene-dominant (yellow), and Green Crack is myrcene-dominant (blue).

If you can, smell the strains you’re considering for purchase. Find the aromas that stand out to you and give them a try.

In time, your intuition and knowledge of cannabinoids and terpenes will guide you to your favorite strains and products.

Biology, dosing, and consumption method

Lastly, consider the following questions when choosing the right strain or product for you.

  • How much experience do you have with cannabis? If your tolerance is low, consider a low-THC strain in low doses.
  • Are you susceptible to anxiety or other side effects of THC? If so, try a strain high in CBD.
  • Do you want the effects to last a long time?
  • If you do, consider edibles (starting with a low dose).
  • Conversely, if you seek a short-term experience, use inhalation methods or a tincture.

There are many factors to consider when choosing a strain, but if you find that indica strains consistently deliver a positive experience, then by all means, stick to what you know.SATIVA AND INDICA WEED

However, if you’re still searching for that ideal strain, these are important details to keep in mind.


What are cannabis terpenes and what do they do?

CBD vs. THC in indicas, sativas, and hybrids

Could it be that indicas and sativas feel different because they produce different levels of THC and CBD on average?

To find out, we used lab-sourced data to determine the average abundance of each cannabinoid across sativa, indica, and hybrid strains (excludes CBD-dominant and balanced strains).


 So it’s unlikely THC accounts for perceived differences between indicas, sativas, and hybrids.

But are there any notable differences in CBD abundance for CBD-containing indica, sativa, and hybrid strains?

Once again, there are very little differences on average between indica, sativa, and hybrid CBD levels.

Terpenes in indica, sativa, and hybrid strains

We know that terpenes are responsible for the different aromas found in cannabis, and early research suggests that they may deliver unique therapeutic benefits.

But to what extent do they make a strain energizing or sedating? And are there patterns that would explain why indicas and sativas sometimes feel different?

Let’s take a look at lab data illustrating terpene trends among indicas, sativas, and hybrids.

Above, you’ll find the levels at which indica, sativa, and hybrid strains tend to produce common terpenes.

They tend to present relatively similar patterns in terpene profiles with some interesting points of variation—one of which is terpinolene.

Some terpinolene-dominant strains you’ve probably seen or heard of include Dutch TreatJack HererGolden Goat, and Ghost Train Haze.

You’ll find terpinolene in many strains related to these, like Jack crosses (e.g., XJ-13J1Chernobyl) or Golden Goat hybrids (e.g., Golden PineappleGolden Ticket), indicating that there may be genetic consistency.


Still, a majority of sativa strains are not terpinolene-dominant. But if you’ve tried terpinolene-dominant strains in the past, you’ll have likely noticed they’re similar in effect.

What this suggests is that strains with similar cannabinoid and terpene combinations may offer more reliable consistency in effects.

Terpene profiles also allow us to deepen our understanding of potential variations within each cannabis type. Let’s take three hybrid strains for example—ACDCChernobyl, and OG Kush.

All three of these are “hybrid” strains, but each may deliver very different effects.

Although each categorically identify as “hybrids,” they’re vastly different strains on a chemical level.

ACDC is a gentle CBD strain commonly chosen by those who are sensitive to THC and its anxious side effects.

Chernobyl is a blissful and uplifting strain that is preferred by many for daytime activities.

OG Kush delivers a heavy-handed punch of euphoria that is commonly chosen by seasoned smokers or reserved for evening sessions.SATIVA AND INDICA WEED