The words “indica” and “sativa” were introduced in the 18th century to describe different species of cannabis: Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. The term “sativa” described hemp plants found in Europe and western Eurasia, where it was cultivated for its fiber and seeds. Cannabis indica refers to the intoxicating varieties discovered in India, where it was harvested for its seeds, fiber, and hashish production.
Origin of indica and sativa
Let’s look at where the terms “indica,” “sativa,” and “hybrid” actually come from, and how a cannabis strain’s chemical profile interacts with your unique body to make you feel effects.
What impacts strain effects?
Since hybrid weed strains derive genetics from indicas and sativas, their ensuing effects can also pull from both indica and sativa strains. Common effects include happy, euphoric, uplifting, energetic, relaxing—it all depends on which hybrid you consume and what effects its “parent” strains are known to produce.
Although various hybrids exist, in very broad terms, medicinal marijuana can be split into two categories or subspecies: Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa. (There also happens to be a third category called Cannabis ruderalis. Ruderalis contains low levels of psychoactive cannabinoid and is rarely cultivated as a drug.)
Please keep in mind that the findings presented in this article are intended only to provide food for thought. The science underlying the treatment of medical conditions and symptoms with marijuana in general needs further research and is in its infancy.
In addition to chemical differences, the physical appearance of sativas and indicas differs, too. Sativa plants are taller and more highly branched; whereas, indica plants are shorter and grow broader leaves. Of note, marijuana users typically smoke "bud" or marijuana flower. Interestingly, marijuana plants grow in various shades of green.
As far as I can tell, from a physiology perspective, nobody has yet looked at how hybrids (indica- or sativa-dominant strains) differ. Nevertheless, purveyors of marijuana do tend to recommend different types of marijuana for different medical conditions. Thus, any such recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt.
For some time, scientists questioned whether various strains of herbal marijuana are in fact different from pure-cannabinoid (pharmacological) preparations like Marinol or Nabilone. More recent research suggests that on a molecular level, scores of indica, sativa, and hybrids are in fact distinct from pharmaceutical preparations. However at this point, the exact physiological and psychotropic effects of different types of marijuana seem to be more subjective.