indica dominant

Sativa vs Indica Dominant: Medical Strain Differences

Now that weed is legal in most states in some form, conscientious users of medicinal marijuana are scratching their heads over what to buy from local dispensaries across the country.

With many options to choose from, it’s no wonder why there are so many questions.

The short answer is there are two dominant strains of marijuana that are used medicinally: Indica dominant and Sativa. And users must choose between the two based on the desired outcome.

This blog is a buyer’s guide to medical marijuana that will help you answer the question of which one to buy?

Indica Dominant vs. Sativa

Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica are two main types of medicinal marijuana strain but choosing one over the other means of shopping for the most desirable predicted outcome.

A major difference between the two is the ratio of THC to CBD in Sativa dominant strains heavily favors THC more than in Indica dominant strains.

The higher THC is said to account for the psychoactive effects and feelings of euphoria associated with Sativa dominant strains.

Here’s a snapshot of the known effects.

Cannabis Indica Effects

Cannabis Indica is known for the following effects:

  • Provides a “body-high”
  • Patients experience feelings like “body-melt” and heaviness
  • Sedating experience

These reported effects are different from that of Sativa, as shown below.

Cannabis Sativa Effects

People who buy Sativa benefit from:

  • A high that affects the mind more than the body
  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Uplifting experience

These reported effects are said to give patients a psychoactive experience.

Cannabis Sativa

The Cannabis Sativa plant is taller and skinnier than it’s Indica dominant counterpart. These trees can reach unmatchable heights, some up to 20 feet. The leaves are usually lighter and thinner than other strains.

In its natural environment, Cannabis Sativa is found in Columbia, Mexico, Thailand, and parts of Asia.

It has a longer vegetation period than Indica, which means the buds are higher in THC. The result is a buzz that’s cerebral and euphoric.

Cannabis Sativa contains terpenes that give off a strong aroma. Generally, the cannabis Sativa buds are skunkier. The aroma can range from fruity to earthy, or even like diesel fuel.

But if you have a really smelly product, the odds are you selected a Sativa strain.

For those battling fatigue or other conditions associated with sluggishness, Sativa is a good choice due to its natural propensity to stimulate and uplift.

If you’re feeling a little down reach for a blue goo strain of Cannabis Sativa. Contrary to what the name may suggest, it won’t leave you feeling blue. This strain stimulates while offering good feelings and relaxation.

Cannabis Indica

Cannabis Indica dominant plants are denser and darker in color than their Sativa cousins. These smaller plants have less of a yield than Sativa. With a shorter vegetation period, Indica plants have less THC.

The result is a lower ratio of THC to CBD, which usually offers a body high more than a mental one.

Patients may report feeling like their body is heavy or sinking to the floor. This sensation, called body melt, comes with general relaxed, listless feelings.

This is good for people who feel high strung or hyperactive, and those just seeking to relax.

A popular variety of Indica is Northern Lights, which is commonly grown in Afghanistan or Thailand.

In this variety, terpenes offer a sugar and spice aroma that flows from buds covered in clear to white crystals. In addition to making users feel relaxed, Northern Lights offers patients a feeling of happiness making it a great choice for anyone seeking a good Indica buzz.


If you’ve made it this far, it appears you have two choices. But that’s not entirely true.

Modern science allows budtenders to grow hybrid strains that offer the best of both worlds.

These strains offer both upbeat stimulation and relaxation. If you want to relax but you’ve got to get things done, a hybrid could be right for you.

Common hybrid varieties include:

  • Blue dream
  • OG Kush
  • GSC
  • Pineapple Express
  • White Widow
  • Cheese
  • Tahoe OG Kush
  • AK-47
  • Bubble Gum
  • Banana Kush
  • ACDC
  • Juicyfruit; and more

Choosing one of these strains provides relaxation, with the added bonus of a psychoactive high.

Science Considerations

It’s important to understand the science behind what goes into “getting high.” The feelings you get from taking in marijuana do not arise because a strain is Indica or Sativa.

In actuality, there are two main components that determine how someone feels when they decide to use medicinal marijuana. Those are cannabinoids and terpenes.


Cannabinoids are the molecules that interact with the endocannabinoid system in a marijuana user’s body.

That’s right. The body has a system that is designed for cannabinoids like CBD, THC and the natural ones that form in your body.

In a perfectly functioning human endocannabinoid system, endocannabinoids are produced within the body and connect to receptors. This process controls everything from mood to memory to weight and even liver function.

Certain disorders can be impacted by the endocannabinoid system. Marijuana can be substituted for the body’s own endocannabinoids in a medical capacity.

That’s because CBD and THC molecules also cause a reaction. But the reaction is different for each.

THC interacts well with CB1 receptors. CBD can bind with CB1 or CB2 receptors as well as other receptors in the body, offering a body high.


Terpenes are the elements that give marijuana its characteristic smell, or smells, rather.

Strains have been known to smell like fruit, flowers, dirt, fuel and more.

Terpenes present themselves as oil in the glands of the bud. They exude from the same place as cannabinoids in the plant.

However, terpenes aren’t just for the smell. There are several types of terpenes found in marijuana and a wide variety of other organic matter. These include:

  • Myrcene: aroma is herbal and earthy
  • Pinene: aroma of pine
  • Limonene: aroma of citrus
  • Caryophyllene: aromas like spicy peppers and wood
  • Linalool: smells like lavender
  • Terpinolene: aroma of pine and florals
  • Terpineol: aroma of lilacs
  • Phellandrene: peppermint aromas
  • Carene: smells pungently sweet
  • Humulene: hops and coriander scented
  • Pulegone: notes of rosemary and peppermint
  • Sabinene: holiday scents like orange spice and mint
  • Geraniol: aroma is rosy and floral

Each produces a different smell. This could be citrus, like Limonene. Or lavender, like Linalool. Each also has a significant impact on the human body.

Terpenes can assist with conditions like:

  • Insomnia: a sleep disorder in which patients have trouble getting restful sleep
  • Inflammation: like with an infection or injury
  • Asthma and bronchitis: illnesses or a respiratory variety
  • Anxiety and depression: and other mood disorders
  • Muscle spasms and pain: generalized pain or from injury
  • Infection and fungus: antiseptic and antifungal properties of terpenes

Because of the wide range of benefits humans get from terpenes, marijuana enthusiasts are learning there is a lot more to the science behind a high than cannabinoids.

Choosing a Strain

Patients use marijuana to treat a number of conditions.

Because science has proven the endocannabinoid system is valuable in regulating a number of important functions of the mind and body, cannabis can be used to treat everything from anxiety and sleep disorders to dementia.

But no matter what the condition you are trying to treat there is one million dollar question:

What variety is right for you?

Those choosing a strain should consider their own body and tolerance. Beginners, or people who have never used marijuana with any frequency, may want to choose a more mild strain until they learn their body’s preference.

If you suffer from a condition that would be benefitted by more relaxation or stimulation, that could be a deciding factor in what kind of strain you need.

Hybrids could offer a good starting point for any situation.

Another consideration is whether or not you are interested in smoking it. Smoking a bud is not ideal for everyone. Those patients who aren’t interested in inhaling a combustible may choose a strain based on what’s available in a different form.

Making Sense of Indica vs Sativa

If this leaves you with more questions than answers, that’s because choosing between Indica dominant vs Sativa strands is just the tip of the marijuana iceberg.

There are a number of considerations that people shopping for medical bud should consider. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • What’s my personal comfort level with marijuana?
  • How much experience do I have with this product?
  • What conditions am I using marijuana to treat?
  • How do I want to use marijuana? Smoking it? Edibles?

The answer to these questions begins to create a profile for the conscientious marijuana patient. Users can take this information to their local budtender to get recommendations on products.

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