December 15, 2021

The REAL Difference Between Indica and Sativa

You may have heard cannabis referred to as “indica” or “sativa,” but what do those terms really mean? And why should you care?

We’ve put together this guide to help you uncover the differences between the two species of cannabis, how their labeling is used in your local dispensary, and how to use this information to uncover the best cannabis products for you.

What Is a Strain Exactly?

First, let’s talk about species.

There are two main species of cannabis, indica and sativa. They were first categorized on the basis of their shared biological characteristics, and then further nuanced by their differing effects on the human body. Indica, which originates from the Hindu Kush mountains of India and is characterized by its wide leaves and deep color, is believed to have a relaxing effect on the user. Sativa, known for its long, thin leaves and lighter color, has a more energizing effect.

Most cannabis consumers are familiar with the indica and sativa species only, but there’s actually a third, much less popular cousin in the cannabis family named ruderalis. Ruderalis plants are a bit of an albatross in the cannabis world due to their low THC content and lackluster buds that produce little to no effects when consumed. In other words, it’s not a species often cultivated for consumption.

The job of cultivators is to deliver premium cannabis flower to the market that’s going to give users the benefits and effects they’re looking for, which is why indicas and sativas have become the only species on which growers and distributors focus.

It’s also the reason why the cannabis industry has adopted these terms as a way to categorize cannabis products in the retail environment according to the effects they produce when consumed.

And that brings us to strains…

The term “strain” was originally coined by growers, botanists, and cultivators as a way to better classify subspecies of the cannabis plant.

As agriculture and technology have advanced over the years, cultivators have been able to select and crossbreed both indica and sativa plants in various ways to achieve optimal chemical profiles for better delivery of beneficial applications.

Each of these new profiles is given a strain name,(e.g.,, OG Kush, Sour Diesel, and Super Lemon Haze), and can be described as “indica-dominant” or “sativa-dominant” based on their unique profiles developed through cross-breeding. Throughout history, most plants have been cross-bred, and finding a pure indica or pure sativa today is very difficult.

How Dispensaries Use Strains to Label Products

Dispensaries have one major goal—to make cannabis accessible to as many people as possible. One of the ways they accomplish this is by providing a user-friendly way for customers to choose cannabis products that will produce their desired results.

Legalization has helped to fund cannabis research in a way that we have not seen at any other time in history. Because of this expanded access to research, the understanding of cannabis strains has begun to surpass the simplified effects of just indica vs. sativa. The cannabis community is just now learning more about how the unique cannabinoid and terpene profiles of different plants can actually have a greater impact on the plant’s effects than just categorizing by the two major species alone. Because of this, dispensaries and budtenders are less likely to recommend products in terms of indicas and sativas, and more likely to recommend specific strains or desired effects consumers are looking to achieve.

As our understanding of the plant continues to expand, new categories, and ways of labeling will inevitably hit the retail market. But for now, dispensaries use strain or species-specific labeling as a way to help the everyday user quickly understand the effects that they can expect from certain products without needing a PhD in plant science.

Indica vs. Sativa at the Dispensary

The indica plant is the sturdy little workhorse of the cannabis world. This species was developed in the harsh mountainous regions of Central Asia under extreme weather conditions. As a result, indica plants are known for being short and stocky with broad leaves and larger buds.

Your dispensary is going to use the indica label as a way to identify cannabis products that produce sedating and relaxing effects for users. Common advice for indica-based products is to use them for times when the big chill is your ultimate goal.

Headed for a marathon Netflix session?

Looking to cozy up with a loved one and drift off to dreamland?

Want to unwind after a long, demanding day?

Products labeled as indicas are a great place to start when you’re looking for a chill and relaxed experience.

Sativa plants, on the other hand, are native to regions near the Equator where the summers are long and the winters are short. The heat and humidity of their native climate makes these plants tall and “leggy” with smaller buds.

Sativa products are often recommended by budtenders for people wanting a more “heady”, energetic experience. These products are great for when you’ve got a busy day ahead of you and need to be a high-functioning human (think of them as the espresso shot of the cannabis world…well, that might be a stretch but many sativas are known for their energizing effects). Sativa-leaning products are touted for giving you the energy to be more social and helping to enhance your focus and creativity.

Got a creative project like a painting or photography edit that you’ve been working on?

Or maybe something mundane like cleaning your garage this weekend?

You may want to try sativa-labeled cannabis products as a way to hone in on that perfect productive buzz.

So, what’s the deal with Hybrids?

You might also notice that some products at your dispensary are labeled as Hybrids.

Cultivators use selective breeding to take the most desired attributes from sativas and indicas and pack them into one plant. The effects of hybrid strains are often seen as the middle ground between the uplifting buzz of sativas and the body-relaxing calm of Indicas.

Indica-dominant hybrids, for example, can be bred to help to chill you out just enough to overcome your social anxiety but also give you that energetic boost to be present and engaged at your next gathering.

Sativa-dominant hybrids, on the other hand, can give you the creative buzz you need to tackle your home DIY project, while still being able to enjoy a lazy Saturday afternoon later in the day.

If you’re looking for a well-rounded effect to get you through your day, you may want to try cannabis products labeled as hybrids to see how they work for you.

By labeling cannabis products as indica, sativa, or hybrid, dispensaries are giving users a jumping-off point to find products that meet their different needs depending on the occasion.

How To Pick The Right Strain for You

By using species-specific labeling, your dispensary is helping you to choose cannabis products that will produce the effect that you’re looking for. But your dispensary also intends these labels to be used as a starting point. Think of each species as a fork in the road where you can choose your own adventure from there, and find the right strain for you.  

Once you pick a general direction, you can work with your budtender, and experiment with different strains, products, and doses until you find that just-right-for-you feeling.

Here are a few tips for trying new strains:

  1. Try it in a comfortable environment

When you try a new product, give yourself the space to first figure out how your body will respond before you integrate it into your daily routine.

  1. Listen to your body

The more you understand your body’s response to different cannabis products, the better informed you will be when making future purchases.

  1. Talk to your budtender

Your budtenders are there to help! They are the most knowledgeable people at the dispensary when it comes to the products that are available. Great budtenders are also great listeners, which means that they can help clue you in on which products might be best for you.

For more information about HUUE™ and the HUUE™ product line, visit