Indica vs. Sativa

Indica strains are relaxing and calming while sativa strains are stimulating and energizing… but why?

The term “Cannabis” is an overarching term used to describe the entire species of the cannabis plant as a whole. However, the cannabis species can even be further broken down into two subspecies: Indica & Sativa (1). Even though these subspecies are direct children of the mother species, they each display much different attributes and treatment applications from one another.

There are a total of 85 cannabinoids that are unique to the cannabis plant (2). Of those, the two most well known and most well researched are delta-9-THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). Varying levels of each of these compounds result in the variety of different effects from one strain to the next. THC is the compound that is primarily responsible for the psychoactive effects or the “high” experienced from cannabis. On the other hand, with further research it has more recently been discovered that CBD is the component primarily responsible for the calming and therapeutic effects that users experience when consuming cannabis.

Indica varieties of cannabis are known for having high CBD: THC ratios, meaning that there are higher concentrations of CBD than THC comparatively. On the other hand, sativa varieties are known for the opposite and typically show lower CBD: THC ratios. Thus, as you might expect, the relaxing medicinal qualities seen from indica varieties including muscle spasm relief and stress & anxiety management are a direct result of the higher concentrations of CBD compared to THC. Contrastingly, stimulating medicinal qualities seen from sativa varieties such as appetite stimulation & depression relief are a result of higher THC concentrations as compared to CBD (3).

Over the years, cannabis cultivators have selectively bred and cross bred different strains with each other resulting in a wide variety of “hybrid” strains which range anywhere from 90% sativa/10% indica to 90% indica/10% sativa. The multitude of different combinations allow for more specific treatment depending on each condition’s necessities.

Finally, it is also important to note that recent studies have shown that CBD may play a role in mitigating the psychoactive effects of THC. Historically, cannabis with little to no CBD but high levels THC have, for some, shown to have increased psychological impact and result in unwanted effects such as anxiety. However, strains with more moderate balance of the two components tend not to show these undesired effects, resulting in a more therapeutic and relaxing experience (4).


  1. “Cannabis sativa L.” [Internet]. ITIS Report. [cited 2015 Mar 23]. Avaiable from:
  2. “Info” [Internet]. Synergy Wellness. [cited 2015 Mar 23]. Available from:
  3. “Cannabinoids” [Internet]. University of Washington Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute. National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre. [cited 2015 Mar 23]. Available from:
  4. Ibid
  5. “What are THC & CBD | Marijuana”. Howcast. YouTube; 2013. [cited 2015 Mar 23]. Available from: