Strains and Breeding

Cannabis Sativa vs. Indica: what are the differences?

Despite its centrality in human cultures across the globe, the European taxonomists who bequeathed Cannabis sativa its name didn’t quite get it right. When Carolus Linneaus came to naming the marijuana plant’s genus, he thought there was only one species, instead of the three we now know exist. Hence the confusion surrounding the fact that there are three distinct species of the genus Cannabis sativa, one of which is the sativa species.

The confusion compounds when one realizes that in today’s popular lexicon, the terms indica, sativa, and hybrid tend to indicate a set of effects, rather than the taxonomy of a particular strain. But that’s just as well. Most marijuana strains today, especially those under commercial cultivation, are genetic hybrids. Only a handful of pure, or “landrace” cannabis strains are in circulation.

Indica Strains

The indica species of cannabis gets its name from the region where it was “discovered” and classified, in this case, India. But again, in today’s parlance, calling something an “indica strain” indicates a distinct set of effects and sensations, rather than anything having to do with marijuana growth patterns, genetic lineage, or flowering times.

Put simply, “indica” strains are those associated with a strong body-high, feelings of sedation and relaxation. For this reason, indicas are often thought of as the “heavier” strains of cannabis, offering stronger highs that impact the whole body. They’re popular among marijuana users as pain relieving and sleep-inducing strains. Indicas are especially popular among medical cannabis patients.

For marijuana growers and breeders, indica indicates a plant that is short in stature, with broad leaves and darker coloration. Indicas’ shorter flowering cycles help make these marijuana strains more suitable for colder climates and shorter growing seasons.

Sativa Strains

Like indica strains, calling a strain a sativa means something different for marijuana consumers than it does for growers. If indicas are the “downers” of the cannabis family, sativas are the uppers.

Known for invigorating and uplifting sensations, with a high focus in the mind rather than the body, sativas are extremely popular as daytime-use strains and for social occasions. Sativas are also widely associated with the cerebral and creativity-enhancing effects of weed. Hence, they are lauded by artists and other inventive people who use cannabis.

From a botanical perspective, however, sativas are the skinnier, wispier counterpoint to the stocky hardiness of indica strains. They grow taller, have narrower leaves, and longer flowering cycles. In the right climate, ideally warm, those features make sativas production powerhouses.

Hybrid Strains

As the name suggests, hybrid strains of marijuana combine elements from both indica and sativa parents. As a result, cannabis users often consider their effects to fall somewhere between indicas and sativas.

So-called “pure hybrids,” while oxymoronic in name, indicate marijuana strains that are believed to offer a perfect blend or balance of sativa’s energizing and indica’s sedating effects. Other hybrid strains of cannabis tend to place the emphasis on one end of the spectrum or the other. These are called “sativa-dominant” or “indica-dominant,” accordingly.

THC-Dominant Strains

Classifications of marijuana can also indicate the relative concentration of cannabinoids in different strains.. The distinction here is especially useful for differentiating between marijuana strains which are better suited to recreational use and those more geared toward medical or therapeutic applications.

THC-dominant marijuana strains are those recreational users prize most. The following are the strongest THC-dominant strains, as of 2017.

  • Godfather OG // Indica // 34.04 percent THC
  • Super Glue // Hybrid // 32.14 percent THC
  • Strawberry Banana // Hybrid // 31.62 percent THC
  • Venom OG Kush // Indica // 31.04 percent THC

CBD-Dominant Strains

The popularization of cannabidiol’s therapeutic uses has led to a boom in cultivators who breed cannabis strains with high CBD and low THC. These strains of marijuana are not typically consumed for recreational purposes. Their low or negligible psychoactivity means CBD-dominant cannabis strains do not get users high.

Instead, CBD-dominant marijuana strains provide the raw materials for a range of CBD products, like oils, edibles and skin products.

It’s important to distinguish between CBD-dominant strains of cannabis and strains of hemp. Hemp contains only trace amounts of THC and is rich in CBD, making it a popular and legal source for CBD health products.

Landrace Strains

Landrace cannabis strains are invaluable resources. They represent the oldest and purest forms of cannabis that exist. Landrace strains occur naturally and have evolved over thousands of years. They’re perfectly adapted to the climates where they grow.

Perfected over the course of their evolution, landrace plants are large, hardy marijuana plants capable of producing massive yields. They form complex resins highly concentrated with terpenes and cannabinoids.

Landraces grow all over the globe. Except for those that grow throughout South Asia, which are indicas, most landrace marijuana strains are sativas or low-THC hemp varieties. North Africa and Central Asia are regions where ruderalis landrace strains grow.

All modern cannabis strains derive from landraces. Hence their value: landrace strains are the basis for breeding. Breeders could not create new strains without them.



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