Sativa or Indica? Know Your Medical Marijuana

The days of “schwag weed” vs. “kind bud” are over. Today, medical marijuana patients and cannabis aficionados have more choices than ever. With marijuana legalized for recreational use in Colorado and Washington, and approved for medical use in twenty states, it seems like the country is finally wising up on weed.

But for anyone who visits a dispensary or caregivers collective for medical marijuana, the choices and selection of marijuana can be quite confusing, even when sober. Learn the basic types of this natural medicine so that you can make the best selection for your health and/or recreation.

Cannabis has two major types: Indica and Sativa. You will also see many hybrids, or blends of the two major species. What’s the difference? Many people just classify Sativa as cerebral daytime medicine for working, and Indica as bodily evening medicine for relaxing – but the differences go far beyond that.


Sativa plants are usually tall and thin, while Indica plants grow short and fat. Because of their size, Sativa plants (which can be up to 25 feet tall) are better suited for growing outdoors, where there is plenty of space to reach for sunlight. Squatty Indica plants are preferable when growing indoors because they require less space to flourish. Sativa leaves are slightly thinner, and Indica buds are usually denser and more productive.


Indica buds have very strong sweet or sour odor, while the smell of Sativas tends to be slightly lighter and grassier due to their outdoor origins. Only a true marijuana aficionado can identify the strain base on aroma alone.


THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) isn’t the only active ingredient in marijuana; there is also CBD (cannabidiol) and CBN (cannabinol). Patients looking for a fuzzy, soaring buzz will want high levels of THC, but those looking for less of a muddled head with more bodily effects will want higher CBD and CBN. Sativas are usually highest in THC with low CBD/CBN, with zingy cerebral effects. Indicas have a more balanced profile, with equal levels of cannabinoids, and are therefore are less likely to produce the paranoia that is sometimes associated with marijuana (see: “Reefer Madness”).


Sativas are not as heavy as Indicas, and in general offer a more stimulating experience. With a lighter high that creates feelings of well-being, smoking Sativas fights depression, increases focus, reduces stress and uplifts the mood. Many artists believe that Sativas benefit creativity and energize the mind, and this type of marijuana is considered to have more cerebral vs. body effects. Sativas are more for the mind than the body.

Indicas are generally considered stronger and more effective for pain management, muscle spasms and anxiety relief. Indicas give you a “dented” high, and you may find yourself glued to the couch – and perfectly happy about that – after smoking. Indicas work wonders on PMS, and are also very effective for relieving headaches. However, smoking Indica may leave you very sleepy and tired, and for this reason, many patients only smoke heavier Indicas towards the end of the day. Indicas are more for the body than the mind.

Popular Strains

Every dispensary will offer a variety of Sativas, Indicas and hybrids. Hybrids are usually either Sativa- or Indica-dominant, and “purists” are those smokers who refuse to muddle the two strains by smoking hybrids. Popular Indica strains include all varieties of Kush (purple, Afghan, Northern Lights, Cheese and White Widow. Popular strains of Sativa include Golden Pineapple, Sour Diesel, Maui Wowie and Jack Herer.

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