The two strains of cannabis, cannabis indica and cannabis sativa, differ in size, shape, smell, and potency. Although these strains are different, they are often combined by marijuana farmers to create hybrid strains. People mostly refer to them as simply “indica” or “sativa.” The most significant difference outside smell and appearance is that the use of indica results in a more relaxed, sleepy feeling, while sativa usually gives a cerebral, creative high. Sativa also has a much higher THC to cannabidiol (CBD) ratio than indica, resulting in stronger psychological effects like hallucinations and paranoia and long term health problem such as loss of memory and cognitive function.

Both plants are used to cultivate hemp, a durable fiber from the stalk of the cannabis plant.

Comparison chart

Cannabis indica versus Cannabis sativa comparison chart
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Introduction Cannabis indica is a strain of the cannabis plant (more popularly known as marijuana) used for medicinal and other purposes. Cannabis sativa is a strain of the cannabis plant (more popularly known as marijuana) used for medicinal and other purposes.
Popularly known as Indica Sativa
Origin Afghanistan, India, Pakistan South America, Thailand
Leaf shape Wide, compact clusters. Thin leaves spread apart.
Medical uses Relaxes muscles, relieves pain, schizophrenia. Energy, fighting depression and anxiety, appetite stimulant.
Psychotropic effect Physical relaxation, sedation. Cerebral high, bringing out creativity and energy.
Commonly used during Nighttime Daytime
THC content Low ratio to cannabidiol High ratio to cannabidiol
Maturity 6-8 weeks 10-16 weeks
Popular strain Purple Kush Hawaiian
Plant appearance Stout and bushy Tall
Average plant height 5 feet 15 – 20 feet

Psychotropic Effects (a.k.a. "High") of indica vs sativa

For those who use marijuana to achieve a buzz, indica and sativa plants provide different results.

The indica species is said to cause a “body” high. Users report feeling relaxed, warm, sleepy, and unmotivated after using indica as a drug. Users often reserve indica for nighttime use to aid in sleep.

Sativa plants provide a cerebral high, and are associated with mildly hallucinogenic experiences. Sativa is also reported to provoke creativity and rapid thinking. Users sometimes use sativa as a drug during the day to get a mental “energy” kick. Sativa is also associated with paranoia that sometimes results from using cannabis as a drug.

THC and CBD Content

Of the 70 or more cannabinoid compounds found in cannabis, the two main substances are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC is psychotropic, i.e. causes a strong reaction inside the central nervous system, stimulating feelings of mental euphoria. CBD is non-psychoactive - it is more relaxing and is not prone to anxiety or strong psychotropic reactions. Inhaling high amounts of THC is know to interfere with memory recall. Studies show that when acting with THC, cannabidol staves off memory loss that can be caused by THC.

Indica has a lower ratio of THC to CBD, i.e. it has higher CBD content. Cannabidiol produces fewer psychological effects, which may be why the indica species is associated with a “body” high and relaxation, and is better when it comes to medicinal use as chances of anxiety and paranoia are lower.

Conversely, sativa has a high THC to CBD ratio, which means that it can induce stronger psychological effects like paranoia, extreme anxiety and hallucinations.

Medical Uses

Medical marijuana is a popular alternative to Western medicine in many cultures. Recent legislative changes in Europe and North America have allowed some jurisdictions to offer medicinal cannabis to interested parties. Both species are used for a variety of medical purposes according to practitioners of medical marijuana.

Specifically, indica is used as a sleep aid, to relieve inflammation, to fight seizures, relax muscles, and to cure migraines. It is also favored as an alternative treatment for schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease. Sativa is often used as an appetite stimulant, antidepressant, muscle relaxer, and anti-nausea aid. This video compares the effects and appearance of indica and sativa:

Physical Characteristics


Cannabis indica is much stouter than sativa and has a more bush-like in appearance. Cannabis sativa grows on average up to 5 feet tall.


The leaves of the indica are broader than sativa and grow in a bundle. Sativa leaves are thinner, but appear spread out like an open hand. It is the leaf of the sativa plant that is most often used as the symbol for marijuana in popular culture.


The aroma produced by each species is very distinct. Indica gives off a distinctive skunk-like aroma. Sativa may also smell “skunky,” similar to beer – but often smells like freshly cut grass.

Cannabis indica plant (left) and cannabis sativa plant (right)
Cannabis indica plant (left) and cannabis sativa plant (right)


Formerly, cannabis was classified as a member of the mulberry family, but was later reclassified as a member of the hops family. Because cannabis indica grows in a bush, cannabis farmers grow the species indoors. Sativa plants are known to reach 20 feet tall or more, and are usually grown outside in warm or tropical climates.

Cannabis indica is more popular because of how easily and quickly it grows. The plant often reaches full maturity in as early as 8 weeks, which means it can be harvested earlier and more often than sativa. The plant also yield more buds than sativa.

Sativa plants, though they may take up to three months to fully mature, are prized for their THC content and deeper psychotropic properties.

Some strains of cannabis are more popular than others on account of their effect and accessibility.

Pure Strains

Pure Indicas are originally found in hash producing countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Morocco and Tibet. Afghani is the most common strain and several newer strains incorporate these genetics. The most common pure strains of indica are Afghani, Pakistani, Hashplant, Herijuana, Hindu Kush, OG Kush and G-13.

Pure Sativa cannabis is a rarity in the medical marijuana field; firstly because it is difficult to cultivate indoors and in the northern hemisphere, and secondly because pure sativa highs can often induce paranoia attacks and irregular heart beats on account of high THC. While pure sativas are seldom chosen as a good medicinal product, strains like Acapulco, Burmese and Malawi Gold are quite popular.


Because sativa is harder to cultivate and has high THC content that may have harmful effects, medical cannabis cultivators prefer to combine properties of sativa and indica plants to optimize cannabis farming as well as effects. For example, a strain called Blue Hawaiian combines the mind-stimulating energy of sativa with the body relaxing properties of indica.

White Widow (left) and OG Kush (right) hybrids
White Widow (left) and OG Kush (right) hybrids

Farmers often grow their own hybrids by trying out different combinations of strains. There are around 400 hybrids; some of the most common ones are the Blue Dream, OG Kush, White Widow, and Girl Scout Cookies, but while some strains are more popular than others, they are not always very consistent because of different cultivators making their own changes. Effects of the strains depend on several factors, like the growing conditions, the consumer, medical condition etc.

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