Indica Vs Sativa – Does It Really Matter?


I have consumed cannabis for two-thirds of my lifetime. I haven’t consumed longer than some, but I find that I have consumed more than most people I run into these days at dispensaries and cannabis events. The cannabis consumer experience has changed a lot since I started consuming. The way cannabis is acquired is much different, the amount of options is exponentially greater, and what consumers look for has changed.

No one used to really care about indica sativa when I first started consuming. People were still smoking brick weed on the West Coast, and whether or not someone claimed that their cannabis was indica or sativa, it was often just pretendica. On the special occasions when something extra special rolled through town (called ‘kill bud’ in Oregon back in those days), people usually had no idea what the genetics were that they were buying. If it smelled good and looked good, that was enough to feel satisfied as a consumer. The best kind of cannabis was often times whatever cannabis you could find.

I grew up like many cannabis consumers, seeing pictures in magazines like High Times of indica and sativa plants and big photos of dried flowers. But that was in the magazines. In real life most of us didn’t have the option of being picky. Times have changed a lot. There are now over 500 cannabis dispensaries with active licenses in Oregon alone as of this post, with over 200 more pending. Cannabis is everywhere. Consumers have become more sophisticated as reform has spread and new personal and entrepreneurial freedoms are available to people.

Consumers want to know why one option is better than the other when they walk into a dispensary. Patients want to find a particular strain that works the best at helping treat their condition(s). Indica and sativa became the defacto categorization model that the industry has operated off of for quite awhile, which combined with strain names, is largely how many consumers narrow down their choices when making their dispensary purchases. Some consumers just ‘THC shop,’ looking simply for the strain with the highest THC at any given dispensary. But for a large chunk of the rest of consumers, one of the first things they ask budtenders is to point them either to the indica strains or sativa strains depending on their desired effect.

Indica strains tend to provide a more sedative, ‘couch lock’ high, whereas sativa strains tend to provide a more euphoric effect. If someone is having trouble relaxing they would want a pure indica strain, and for someone that still needs to get things done during the day, a pure sativa strain would be more desirable. It’s a simple system, but definitely has its limitations. For cultivators indica versus sativa is a more important thing because it determines a plant’s size, but for consumers it can be really misleading. Hybrid strains (combine sativa and indica genetics) are very common in the industry now.

Standard cannabis testing does not determine the presence of indica or sativa genetics, nor does it validate whether the strain name provided is valid or not. Standard cannabis testing looks just for what the law requires (contaminants and cannabinoid levels). There are some exceptions. Phylos Bioscience for instance has cutting edge testing that shows the genetic lineage of cannabis strains. Testing labs like Phylos have been stepping up what they are looking for and yielding much more applicable information than just whether a cannabis harvest is indica, sativa, or a hybrid strain.

Of course, if a certain plant is pure sativa or indica, or a hybrid that is very heavy in one direction or the other, then it matters. But that is becoming a rarer thing every day that goes by. Cross breeding is common, and about the only way to know for a fact that a strain is indeed the name that people are claiming is if you received it straight from a reputable seed breeder. Anything short of that and it’s anyone’s guess what the true genetics are of their strain(s). To summarize, indica versus sativa does matter, but only to a point. Consumers need to take indica and sativa claims with a grain of salt.

What consumers should be much more interested in is terpene profiles, solid lab testing that provides as much details as possible, and what particular cultivator grew the cannabis. We have all smoked a certain strain grown by one cultivator and loved it, just to purchase the ‘same strain’ from another cultivator and been greatly disappointed. Desirability can even vary from harvest to harvest with the same cultivator. Terpene profiles and accurate potency levels (not ‘lab swapping’ testing levels) are what consumers will be after more and more as time goes on, and that will drive quality, consistent cultivation methods among skilled cannabis producers.

How do Weed News readers feel? Do you base every dispensary purchase off of the indica versus sativa model? Or do you look for more? Or do you think it’s all a bit overblown? Sound off in the comments section below.

Johnny Green
About Johnny Green 2241 Articles
Johnny Green is a cannabis activist from Oregon. Johnny has a bachelor's degree in public policy, and believes that the message should always be more important than the messenger. #LegalizeIt #FreeThePlant