Cannabis Basics

Indica vs. Sativa vs. Hybrid: What’s the Difference?

Hundreds of cannabis varieties are available on the legal market, each with their own unique characteristics. Explore the differences between indica, sativa and hybrid plant types, and learn why there may be more helpful ways to choose the best products for you

Storage jar with dried cannabis

You may know them as sativa and indica — or, more technically, as Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. These are the two most common cannabis plant types, alongside the less common Cannabis ruderalis and hybrids, which are a mix of two or more strains (or cultivars). So what’s the difference between indica, sativa and hybrids?

It was once thought that Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica produced distinct effects, but these names are just botanical terms for the structure of each plant type. As growers cultivate unique hybrid strains and research develops, this classification is becoming less relevant or helpful. Newer, more nuanced ways of choosing cannabis products, such as by their terpenes and cannabinoid content, may be more useful.

Today, there are hundreds of plant strains, each bred for specific characteristics. Read on for a breakdown of the basic differences between indica, sativa and hybrid, the potential effects and how to choose the right products for you.

Indica vs. sativa vs. hybrid: Appearance

Each cannabis plant type has its own characteristic appearance, with differences between the leaves, overall shape and height, thought to be influenced by the growing regions the plants originated in. Here’s an overview of how each one typically looks.

Cannabis sativa

illustration of Cannabis Sativa leaf

Originating from South America, the Caribbean and Africa, this species can grow quite tall (up to 25 feet) and has long, serrated light green leaves — it’s typically taller and more slender than Cannabis indica. Cannabis sativa L, more commonly known as hemp, is typically grown for industrial use and is regulated to ensure the plants do not contain more than 0.3% THC.

Cannabis indica

illustration of Cannabis Indica leaf

This species comes from the Hindu Kush mountain range within Afghanistan and Pakistan. Indica plants are generally faster-growing, bushier and up to six feet shorter than Cannabis sativa, with dark green leaves.

Cannabis ruderalis

illustration of Cannabis Ruderalis Leaf

This species is short, stalky and shaggier than the others, with light green leaves. It tends to be rugged and autoflowering, which is ideal for breeding — it’s used mostly by breeders to enhance their hybrids.


illustration of Cannabis Hybrid leaf

The appearance of hybrid plants can’t be generalized, as it depends on which varieties were used in the cross-pollination process.

Popular cultivars by plant type

For each of the different plant types, there are certain cultivars or strains that have become popular with consumers. Each one has its own unique look, aroma, taste and other characteristics. Explore these common popular strains, which may be marketed under Licensed Producers’ own proprietary names.

Plant Type Popular Strains
Sativa Mandarin Cookies
Ghost Train Haze
Jack Herer
Mango Haze
Tangerine Dream
Indica Wappa
Pink Kush
Black Cherry Punch
Wedding Cake
Hybrid Blue Dream
White Widow

Indica vs. sativa vs. hybrid: Potential effects

You’ve maybe heard the idea that consuming indica leads to finding yourself “in-da-couch,” because indica is thought to produce more calming effects, while sativa is thought to be energizing. Because hybrids are a mix of the two, it’s not possible to generalize about their effects. Consumers are discovering, however, that the specific plant type may not be the most reliable indicator of potential effects.

More reliable ways to choose products

Beyond referring to plant types like indica and sativa, you can take other plant characteristics into consideration when you’re choosing products. You’ll find this information on the product label or packaging, or on the Authorized Cannabis Store’s website. Consider these factors the next time you’re selecting a product.

Explore the top five most common terpenes found in cannabis:
  1. The cannabinoid profile. It’s important to know how much THC and CBD are in the products you choose, but you’ll also find less common “minor” cannabinoids like cannabigerol (CBG) and cannabinol (CBN) popping up. These cannabinoids also play a role in the effects of cannabis, although more study is needed to understand how they work in the body.
  2. Terpene content. Research is showing individual terpenes may have a large role to play in the potential effects. These naturally occurring fragrant oils give cannabis is distinct aromas and tastes — they can be earthy, woody, spicy or herbal, diesel or cheesy, and even citrusy or sweet.
  3. How the cannabinoids and terpenes may interact. Some believe in the theory of the “entourage effect,” which is the idea that cannabinoids and terpenes work together to influence the overall effect of cannabis. Consider keeping a log of the effects you experience and the cannabinoid and terpene content of the products you consume to understand their effects.

How to choose the right product for you

Choosing the right cannabis product for you involves many factors, including the method of consumption, the amount consumed, the product’s intended effects and your own personal tolerance. Every individual reacts to cannabis differently, and the effects can vary even if you consume the same product twice.

Consumption method

How you consume cannabis — whether by inhalation, ingestion, oral absorption or topical application — will influence the experience you have, particularly in terms of the timing of the onset and duration of the effects. For example, inhaling smoke from a joint and ingesting an edible product will produce different effects because of the differences in the way the THC and other cannabinoids enter your bloodstream.

Intended effects

Ensure you read the product label and any information carefully to understand whether the Licensed Producer has formulated it in a way that is intended to produce specific effects. For instance, edibles and beverages may be labelled as “fast-acting” or “quick onset” if they have been created to produce effects more immediately — within five to 10 minutes, for example, instead of 30 minutes to two hours.

Your individual factors

The biggest factor to consider when choosing a product is you: Your physiological makeup is unique, so your response to cannabis will be too. The endocannabinoid system is directly affected by the cannabinoids you consume in cannabis, and this interaction is different for everyone.

Personal factors that influence the potential effects of a strain may include your:

  • weight, sex and age
  • personality and current mood
  • previous experience with cannabis
  • frequency of consumption
  • health history and genetics
  • existing mental health conditions
  • metabolism and recent food consumption

Learn more about the endocannabinoid system

Tolerance is another individual factor to consider. Regular cannabis consumption may cause your body to become accustomed to a specific amount of cannabinoids like THC, so you may need to consume more to produce the same effects. Reducing your consumption may reduce your tolerance, so consider the amount of THC and CBD in the products you choose. You may also decide to stop consuming cannabis altogether and take a tolerance break, or T-break.

While sativa, indica and hybrid plant types are one way to choose products, other factors — terpenes, cannabinoid content and individual factors like genetics and tolerance — are also at play when it comes to the potential effects of cannabis. Read all the product information provided by Licensed Producers, visit an Authorized Cannabis Store and do your own research to find out which cultivars work for you.

Terpene Spotlight:
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Methods of Consumption