Sativa, Indica or Hybrid: What’s the Difference?

If you’ve ever browsed through the cannabis catalogs of places like Leafly and Sensi Seeds, you’ve probably been amazed at the sheer number and variety of cannabis strains out there. If you are new to the game, it can be quite confusing and overwhelming. So let’s start with the basics.

You’ll notice that different strains are described as either sativa, indica or hybrid. But what does that mean, exactly?

Well, cannabis is a genus, or family of plants, which includes 3 different species: cannabis sativa, cannabis indica, and cannabis ruderalis (which grows wild in parts of Russia, contains little THC, and is rarely cultivated for recreational or medical use). So sativa and indica are actually two separate species of pot, which originated in different places, and have their own unique qualities and effects.

Take a look at this awesome infographic which breaks down the difference between the two main branches of the cannabis family tree.

image credit:

I know that’s a lot to take in. To sum it all up:

Cannabis Sativa

  • taller plants and thin, pale leaves
  • higher in THC
  • uplifting, energizing
  • mental or head high
  • stimulates appetite
  • treats depression, ADHD, anorexia

Cannabis Indica

  • shorter plants with thicker, darker leaves
  • higher in CBD
  • calming, relaxing
  • mostly body high
  • suppresses nausea
  • treats chronic pain, anxiety, epilepsy, insomnia


However, after ages of cannabis cultivation, selective breeding and cross pollination, there are very few remaining strains which are purely sativa or indica. Most of the weed on the market today are hybrids, created from both sativa and indica stock, and combining both of their effects in different ways and degrees.

A strain like GDP (Granddaddy Purple), for instance, is a hybrid with mostly indica characteristics. It’s often classified as an indica, but is technically an indica-dominant hybrid. Whereas a strain like Trainwreck is also a hybrid, but it’s extremely sativa-dominant, so it’s characteristics are completely different. While GDP typically leaves you all relaxed and mellow, Trainwreck hits you with a head high that will pick you up and bliss you out.

Then you have strains like White Widow or Blue Dream, which are more balanced hybrids, combining the “couch lock” full body relaxation of an indica with the famous sativa head high and euphoria, in equal measure.


Keep in mind that these are merely general tendencies, NOT absolute truths. There are many factors that determine the qualities of any given strain, and how it will affect you — not the least of which is your own body chemistry. Besides THC and CBD, there are many other cannabinoids and chemical compounds (like terpenes) which influence the scent, taste and effects of different cannabis strains.

Each strain totally unique, and will vary from grower to grower — even batch to batch! And of course, each user is unique as well. Just because a strain affects most users in a certain way, doesn’t guarantee that it will do the same to you. But if you use this information as a guideline, it can help you navigate the dizzying variety of cannabis strains available today.

And if you’re wondering where to start, then go check out our list of the 15 most popular cannabis strains!


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About Ben Neal

Ben is a freelance writer and family man from Kansas City, MO. He believes in cannabis as a medicine for mind, body and soul... and he believes that everyone on Earth has a right to it.

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