Historically, cannabis has been separated into two species, cannabis indica and cannabis sativa. This distinction was first made in 1785 by French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. He noted that the cannabis plants he had found in India (indica) were intoxicating, while the cannabis plants grown for hemp in Europe (sativa) were not. But it’s not really as simple as that.
In appearance, sativa has narrow leaves, grows about twice as tall as an indica plant, and is less bushy than indica. The two species are thought to have different intoxicating effects, in general.
- euphoric and energetic
- contemplative and cerebral
- best for daytime use
- relaxing and calming
- physically inert, or ‘couch lock’
- best suited for nighttime use
There are enough exceptions to this general rule to prevent simplicity in this, too.
Active Ingredients and Medical Properties
Of the 112+ cannabinoids (psychoactive compounds) in cannabis, the two that get the most attention are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). THC is largely used to treat nausea, and CBD is thought to be an anti-seizure medicine, and both show a wide spectrum of other medical uses.
Generally, sativa plants have higher CBD:THC ratios while indica plants have higher THC:CBD ratios. What complicates this general division is the wide variety of strains available in each species, and the variety between those strains. Some sativa strains have more THC than some indica strains, and production of CBD is just as varied.
Professional and amateur growers have been very busy breeding new strains. Leafly currently lists 423 sativa strains, 646 indica strains, and 1109 hybrid strains. They don’t try to include all strains that exist.
What Hybrid Marijuana Is
Most growers who are developing new strains are trying to enhance a particular set of qualities that the parent strains possess, or combine one strain’s qualities with another’s. If one strain is indica and the other is sativa, the result is a hybrid.
This gets more convoluted yet. If a breeder crosses a sativa strain with a hybrid, the result is still a hybrid, but with stronger sativa influence. Some breeders are creating hybrids with cannabis ruderalis, a short, low-THC species that starts flowering without a change in light-hours. There are hundreds of new strains every year.
For consumers, it doesn’t really matter. Decide which effects you want to achieve with cannabis consumption, and search one of the many online databases for a strain that delivers the results you want. The odds are good that the strains that suit your purposes will be available in sativa, indica, or hybrid varieties.