Indica x sativa: Desmistificando o debate

We bet that all cannabis users have heard of the terminology Indica and Sativa to describe the effects of marijuana. Come with us and let’s dive into this topic!

Girls In Green believes that almost all cannabis users have come across the terminology Indica and Sativa to describe this amazing plant – be it its effects on the body, leaf structure or even different regions for its cultivation. As much as such terminology has been used extensively in the past, we know that this is an extremely dichotomous and simple way to describe and categorize cannabis.

There is a huge debate where many believe that this terminology is not so relevant, since most of the strains that we find today are hybrids – a crossover of Indica and Sativa.

We believe in the importance of terminology, but even more so that we are always up to date and informed in discussions like this, which until today generate so many debates around the world in the cannabis community!

To learn more about this, we will talk a little bit about the history of cannabis, how it was first classified and what are the cultural perspectives of this theme nowadays.

Come with us dive in a bit more knowledge about our favorite plant!


A little about indica, sativa and hybrids

Popular knowledge suggests that strains of sativa are the ones that cause the most euphoria, causing that “energetic chapadeira” effect and more cheerful – many report that it is a cannabis that works like a coffee. The indica ones, in turn, were judged to be the best for relaxing, getting zen, sleeping – more therapeutic, the famous strain that leaves you stuck on the couch.

Well, in fact, studies already show that this is not 100% true. When we look at the chemical profile of each of them, there is no reason to believe that one of them will make you go electric, and the other will make you go black. That’s because much of the power of cannabis is linked not only to cannabinoids, but also to terpenes.

Terpenes and terpenoids (present in cured cannabis) directly interfere with how the effects of marijuana will unfold on everyone’s body. They have medicinal benefits and, when combined with cannabinoids, synergize in the human endocannabinoid system.

Ed Rosenthal, cannabis guru known for his books, publications and studies (and even his own strain, the Ed Rosenthal Super Bud!), Talks a lot about the subject. In one of his texts, which we translate here on Girls in Green (to the portuguese version), he talks about how terpenes are the revolution and alter the discussion of that topic.

For him, “few genetics are really ‘pure’ indicas or sativas, considering the extensive crossbreeding of genetics today, makes it even more difficult to find out what are the characteristics of the effects of one or the other. What really determines the impact of a given variety is: how the concentration of cannabinoids and their index will interact with the profile of terpenes, and this is where we find a small correlation between a given profile of terpene and an effect that would be sativa or indicates.”

But then, what is the difference?

The biggest differences between these herb varieties are in geographic origins, physical characteristics, uses and cultivation.

The real differences between sativa and indica

In 1753, the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, considered the “father of modern taxonomy”, published for the first time the scientific name Cannabis sativa. The term sativa simply means “cultivated”, which suggests that Linnaeus used that name due to the high incidence of the herb in Europe at the time. In studies on the subject, researchers consider that sativa has been suggested in western Eurasia and especially in Europe, where it was widely used for the strength of its fibers. It was also used medicinally by the presence of THC, a psychoactive found only in the herb.

A little later, in 1785, the European naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck described and named a second species: Cannabis indica, which received its name because it is “native to India”. It, in turn, has the potential to produce high amounts of THC, and is used for the production of hash and marijuana at the time.

With time and the spread of the plant, confusion with the nomenclature begins to happen. Although most of it, used as a drug, is of the species C. indica subsp. Indica, the domestic growers started to call it sativas, due to the similarity between the leaves of the plant to those of this species. But experts guarantee: the original sativa produces very little THC, and, based on traditional taxonomy, this information passed on by many is incorrect.

To simplify this whole story:

What we now call cannabis sativa (tall plants, with thin, elongated leaves) is nothing more, nothing less, than Cannabis indicates ssp. Indica, that came from Caribbean countries. Unlike the original sativa described by Linnaeus, it contains a large amount of THC.

The lower plants, with wider leaves and darker tones, which we currently call cannabis indica, were originally called Cannabis indica ssp. afghanica – as it comes from regions in the Middle East, India and South Asia. It was there, too, that the oldest hashish extractions were made.

Hemp, which gives rise to fibers used in the manufacture of paper and fabrics and does not have significant levels of THC, is what has traditionally been described by Linnaeus as Cannabis sativa, from Europe and western Asia.

Scientists believe that both indica and sativa have a common ancestor, which they call C. ruderalis. They ended up differentiating themselves by the climatic conditions where they sprouted or were deliberately cultivated, giving rise to what we know today – but, unfortunately, this cannabis granny is already extinct.

What we can conclude after that is that the biggest difference between them matters much more to growers than to users. That’s because they need different climates and conditions to develop, in addition to being physically different!

Who’s who in the growroom

About the chemical profile: what to know

Two of the best known and most present cannabinoids are THC and CBD. Here on the blog, we have already explained why they can make you more or less anxious according to their amount in cannabis!

One of the biggest theories related to cannabis genetics involves both. According to her, plants that produce high levels of THC have genes that encode the enzyme THCA synthase. This enzyme is responsible for converting CBG to THCA, which becomes THC when heated. They are generally considered to be indicative by those who do not use the traditional nomenclature.

On the other hand, some plants have the genes that encode the CBDA synthase enzyme. This enzyme converts CBG to CBDA, the precursor to CBD. These plants are generally considered to be sativa. Based on this, indica plants have high levels of THC, while sativas have high levels of CBD.

The problem is that, today, many crosses produce varying amounts of both enzymes. Some researchers believe that this is due to the hybridization of gene sets, which explains why some sativas are rich in THC and some indicate they are not. Others, like the neurologist Ethan Russo, call this “total nonsense”.

He points out that it is impossible to predict the cannabinoids present and the effects that each plant will cause only by its physical appearance. Ethan’s proposal is to abandon the indica x sativa system and focus on the concentration of cannabinoids present in each genetics to group them and thus classify them.

For him, the reality would be something like this:

Type I: dominant THC, with relatively low CBD index

Type II: CBD and THC balanced

Type III: CBD dominant, usually less than 0.3% THC, legally classified as hemp.

These differences can be seen in the strains, which must be chosen according to the effect of each of these substances on your body:

Indica X sativa: the real deal

Much assisted debate and research read later, we realize that there are two strands that clash a lot:

  • That of traditional taxonomists, who named species for their chemical properties;

  • That of growers and users, who also created their nomenclatures through the experience of use and cultivation.

  • You can find many differing opinions on the internet, but our advice is: get to know the chemical profile of your favorite strains, their cannabinoids and terpenes, and you will never need to be confused with indica or sativa again.

How do you like this kind of information? Share your thoughts with us and let us know if you have any questions!

See you all soon!


Clarke RC, Merlin MD. Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press; 2013.

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