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Strains Explained: the difference between Indicas and Sativas

There’s a lot of talks about Sativa, Indica, and how they impact the cannabis experience. Many myths and misunderstandings float around about the topic, so let’s get to the bottom of it: what’s the real difference between Indicas and Sativas? 


What You Need To Know About Indica 

Cannabis Indica is a short, bushy plant with wide leaves. It grows faster and provides a higher yield than other members of the cannabis family. Generally, Indica’s have higher levels of CBD and lower levels of THC than Sativas. But, Indicas can still contain high levels of THC—just with the additional high CBD content. 





So… what is Sativa?  


The Cannabis Sativa plant grows tall and thin, and has narrow leaves. It appears lighter shades of green than its sibling Indica. Sativa plants take longer to grow and mature, and require more light during the process. They are known for having high levels of THC and low levels of CBD. 


Historically, THC-Dominant Sativa has been the most commonly consumed cannabis. This is slowly changing with access to new information about strains, cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. Canadians now have the ability to seek out and to purchase out niche cultivars that suit their needs. 

 

The Third (Forgotten) Cannabis Strain: Ruderalis


There is a third (and often forgotten) strain of cannabis. Cannabis Ruderalis is a short plant with thick leaves. It survives well in hostile environments, and generally produces high contents of CBD with low levels of THC. 


It goes through a process of “autoflowering” where it flowers on its own, regardless of changes to the environment. This allows for a relatively ‘hands-off’ cultivation experience for growers. 


Due to its high levels of the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD, Ruderalis previously had very few known uses. In recent years, it's proven extremely beneficial to licensed cannabis breeders: Ruderalis crossed with Indica or Sativa will result in an autoflowering hybrid with higher CBD content.  


If you’re having some trouble imagining the difference between the three, here is a visual….



 

Cannabis Hybrids Explained 


All modern cannabis is some form of hybrid. Cannabis hybrids are created when a breeder “crosses” two strains. This will create a new variety of cannabis that has desired elements from both of the strains.

 

How Strains Impact Cannabis


Cannabis classification is a young and exciting area of study. We’re constantly learning new ways to categorize and describe our plants. Discoveries have found that strain is not the only factor influencing the makeup of the plant. 


The hardline duality of Sativa and Indica is a classic cannabis myth. 


Cannabis shoppers often assume that a Sativa will provide a specific experience and Indica will provide another, but there is so much more nuance to cannabis than that. That’s like saying that every soda will taste the same. A lot goes into the composition of a flavour. 


In addition, individuals will experience strains in different ways. Nobody has the same taste in food, drinks, desserts, wine or music—we all have our unique interpretations. 


An individual's cannabis experience is partially impacted by the strain, but also by the combination of terpene, flavonoid, and cannabinoid content.


How many times have you heard the phrase “just try a different strain”? Next time someone says that, tell them “it’s not just about the strain”. 


It’s about the specific cultivar. 



The Difference Between Cultivars and Strains 


But wait… what is a cultivar? 


Think of it as a word mashup of “cultivated variety”. 


It might seem confusing, but the difference is simple: 


The word strain is used to categorize a cannabis plant as Indica, Sativa, or Ruderalis


The word cultivar is a unique variety of cannabis with its own specific combination of cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and strain ratios. Cultivars are bred to carry specific traits in these categories.  


When you hear people talk about named “strains” like White Widow, Northern Lights, or other classics like Purple Haze, they are actually talking about cultivars. 


Still confused? Here are some quotes that might help:


"The word strain is borrowed from microbiology and is used to describe a genetic variant or subtype of a bacteria, fungus or virus. A more appropriate term to use for plants would be cultivar, which refers to cultivated plants."

--Cannabis Now 


"A cultivar is a sort of functional grouping of plants based upon the fact that they fit a certain criterion—the trait or traits the breeder was looking for in selecting the cultivar in the first place."

--Plantlaw.com




Strains, Cultivars, and YOU!   


As a cannabis consumer, what does all of this mean for you? 


When you’re at a dispensary or shopping online, different cultivars will be labelled information about their strain, cannabinoid content, and sometimes even terpenes and flavonoids. 


For example, our White Widow is a hybrid with 40% Indica and 60% sativa. It has a THC content of approximately 24% and a CBD content of 1%. This strain gets its name from the fact that it is literally blanketed in white crystals. When it comes to smell, you can expect a citrus and peppery scent that is accompanied by a lemony aftertaste.


Without even diving into terpenes and flavonoids, it’s clear that strain isn’t everything. It’s a great way of classifying cannabis plants, but there are more elements to consider when making an informed cannabis purchase. 


Want to know more? We’ve also built guides to cannabinoids and flavonoids (and we always have new content on the way)


If you’d like to hear more about our new strains and stay in the loop about where you can find them: sign up for our newsletter to hear our latest updates!