If you've ever come across cannabis, you've probably heard about the Indica variety. Amongst all the mixed breeds sold in dispensaries these days, it is common to see hybrid combinations of both Indica and Sativa plants. But how do Indicas differ from other types of cannabis? This article answers all your questions.
Today, cannabis genetics are so diverse that it has become hard to define a plant as one species or another. Presenting themselves in a wide array of different shapes and colours, indicas and sativas are both from the same species of cannabis, but each has its own characteristics. From their appearance to their effect, indicas stand out as a recognised member of the cannabis family.
Indica is one of the two main types of cannabis commonly found today. Indica plants are similar to another well known variety, the cannabis Sativa, yet they boast some notable differences. Most people define indicas for their sedative, relaxing effect, but it is not only the type of weed that determines the kind of high it delivers. There are many other aspects to consider that give indicas a whole range of distinct aromas, uses and effects.
The Indica's unique appearance is what first lead biologists to consider a new cannabis subspecies. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck claimed the Cannabis Indica to be a separate species in the 1700s after it was first discovered growing in parts of India. Descriptions of the Cannabis Indica were later recorded from the Hindu Kush mountains and parts of Afghanistan and Turkey. An Indica was understood to be short with dense branching and wide leaves.
Adapting to the temperate climates of the Indian and Asian regions, the cannabis indica developed a high resistance to harsh weather conditions, making it strong but with a short life cycle.
There is not much difference between Indica and Sativa plants on a molecular level. It is more about the concentration of these molecules and how different chemical compounds make up the whole plant. Originally, these were much easier to define but nowadays it has become a bit harder with all the genetic combinations that have been created. To properly identify an pure Indica cannabis plant we need to consider the following things:
It is commonly thought of that Sativas produce a clear headed, uplifting high, whereas Indicas leave one feeling more sedated or relaxed. This is partly true due to the natural cannabinoid composition, however distinguishing the two is not as simple as this and requires us to take a much closer look at the plant.
Indica cannabis plants can be clearly identified through their thick branch and leaf structure. An Indica will grow short and bushy compared to a Sativa, with less expansive growth during the flowering period. Let's list some of the characteristics that help to distinguish an indica bred cannabis plant.
The main stem and branches of an indica tend to be thick and strong, with less spacing between leaf nodes. This results in flowers that grow closer together, often meeting to create a larger 'bud'. Depending on the environmental conditions they are grown in, Indicas produce buds that are extremely dense and resinous.
Another physical characteristic worth noting is the amount of branching that takes place during vegetation. There are normally fewer lateral branches on a Sativa than there are on an Indica. Although there can be more off shooting activity on an Indica, the plant stays compact. This means they can support heavy growth even in slightly harsher conditions, such as stronger winds.
Like Sativas, Indica cannabis is full of unique aromas and flavours. They are not usually as sweet or citrusy as Sativas, but their terpene profile can be just as full and flavoursome. Indica cannabis plants can be classified by their cannabinoid concentration, which varies depending on the particular seed and environment it is grown in.
The terpenes of an Indica cannabis plant are pungent and generally give off a powerful musky or earthy aroma. This may be due to the higher presence of myrcene present in the cannabinoid composition, which makes up a good percentage of the terpene profile of an Indica.
Studying the combination of cannabinoids and terpenes may actually be a better way to determine different strains, especially as nowadays most of the strains available on the market are bred from both Indica and Sativa parents, making it hard to define them only through their appearance or effect.
Due to the legal difficulties of cannabis, there is much information about cannabinoids that is yet to be discovered. Terpenes are still being researched for their medicinal qualities, but it is likely that these compounds play a key role in the effects of cannabis. As well as delivering a potent aroma and flavour, there is some evidence that suggests terpenes also affect the how cannabinoids are processed by our bodies, specifically the endocannabinoid system. But that is for another post.
The strains of cannabis that exist today mostly contain a mix of Sativa and Indica genes. Hybrid crosses of these two cannabis types have brought the best out of both varieties, however, they still deserve to be categorised and discussed separately.
Indica genetics have become a popular choice among recreational and medicinal users for their high THC, CBD and CBN content. Indica strains have been found to have higher amounts of CBD and CBN than their Sativa counterparts, which is why they are often used in medical applications. Compared to THC, pure Sativa strains contain lower levels of other known cannabinoids.
CBD is non-psychoactive but plays an important role in the effect of THC. It has been said that higher levels of CBD combined with THC can produce a numbing effect on the body, relieving pain and other conditions such as anxiety or low appetite. It is possible that the higher CBD content is responsible for causing relaxation, because without it the high is much more stimulating and psychedelic.
There are many reports of the calming, relaxing effects of these compounds, meaning Indicas are a common candidate for making medicinal extracts and other therapeutic remedies. Indicas have shown to have a more notable physical effect, however it is important to note that they can still produce psychoactive reactions.
Understanding the differences between the types of weed can help you determine which one will best fit your needs as a cannabis user. Whether you are consuming recreationally or medicinally, choosing a strain that gives you the right effect is super important. So, if you're having trouble sleeping at night or just need some pain relief, cannabis on the Indica side may be a wise choice.
Black Indica (80% indica dominance) by iHateSativa from GrowDiaries.
Do you prefer smoking Indicas? Tell us why in the comments section down below.
Taming THC: Potential Cannabis Synergy and Phytocannabinoid-terpenoid Entourage Effects. British Journal of Pharmacology. - Russo E. B. (2011).
Translational Investigation of the Therapeutic Potential of Cannabidiol (CBD): Toward a New Age. Frontiers In Immunology. - Crippa, J. A., Guimarães, F. S., Campos, A. C., & Zuardi, A. W. (2018).
Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica versus “Sativa” and “Indica”. - McPartland, John. (2017).
This article was updated September 2020.