Types of Cannabis: Understanding Their Difference

Types of Cannabis: Understanding Their Difference

There are two popular types of cannabis plants, and they are Indica and Sativa. Cannabis enthusiasts often exchange views about their differences. Often, people consider their differences in whether the strain gives a head high or a body high. They then use this standard in predicting their effects. However, each strain has its range of effects on the body and mind, and each with a variety of medicinal benefits.

So, what are the differences between sativa and indica and its meaning? Read on below and also discover hybrids, and the relatively new line of cannabis, the cannabis ruderalis, and its unique characteristics and benefits.

Cannabis Genus

Cannabis is a genus of flowering plants first classified in 1753 in the family Cannabaceae. The number of species within the genus is unclear. At first, there are three species recognized:

  • Cannabis sativa,
  • Cannabis indica,
  • Cannabis ruderalis

However, today, experts are divided and are still contending over whether these three varieties may be classified as subspecies of a single species, C. sativa.

In this article, we’ll presume the first theory to be accurate, and we’ll take a look at each cannabis species; how one stands out immensely from the others.

Cannabis sativa has two subspecies, Cannabis sativa and Cannabis sativa L. The latter, commonly referred to as hemp, doesn’t contain THC, which is the essential psychoactive compound in cannabis that brings about the high sensation and is usually cultivated for industrial purposes. The former contains CBD and high THC levels (higher than indica). On the other hand, Cannabis indica has high CBD (higher than sativa) and high THC counts, while Cannabis ruderalis is a rare variety with high CBD counts. Still, it has a lower THC concentration than either C. sativa or C. indica.

Understanding the Difference between Sativa and Indica

When browsing a well-stocked dispensary, you’ll probably notice the most popular strains: sativa and indica. Some people may dismiss their differences and claim that all varieties look and taste the same, but there are distinguishing features between indica and sativa. Each has its unique morphology, grow cycle and yield, effects, and origins.

The Key Features of Different Types of Cannabis

Types of Cannabis: Understanding Their Difference
Types of Cannabis: Understanding Their Difference


Cannabis sativa is commonly known as the largest among the other species. They tend to grow more than 3 meters outdoors, often reaching up to 4.5 meters in height. They have lots of loosely-packed upward pointing branches with light green leaves that are narrow and long.

Cannabis indica, on the other hand, has a much sturdier and shorter look. When outdoors, it can only ever grow up to 200cm. The plant is densely branched, with a bushy appearance. Its leaves are much darker/richer green in color, plumper, and wider in appearance. All the physical characteristics of indica are the polar opposite of its sister, sativa.

Grow Cycle and Yield

There are differences in the growth cycles and yields between sativa and indica species. Sativas fully flower in 60-90 days and produce lighter yield while Indicas flower in heavier yields in 45-60 days.


Sativa and indica produce different effects and consequently can be used for various reasons.

Sativa has a more refreshing, energizing effect. It gives off an uplifting feeling that is usually effective in reducing anxiety. It has a euphoric kick, often described by cannabis enthusiasts as ‘cerebral’ or head high. Due to the boost of energy, it gives to the user, sativa is better used during the day. Sativas are also known to inspire creativity. The head/mind high sparks creativity making it a perfect choice for creative endeavors. It can also provide a mood boost, favorable for people struggling with depression and other mood disorders.

Indica induces deep relaxation effects on the user. It is usually linked with more bodily sensations and is typically used for nighttime. So, after a long tiring day, indica is a perfect companion and is better incorporated into your night routine; thanks to its body effects- they are great at relaxing muscles and reducing body tensions. Indica also makes the user extremely sleepy, as it relaxes the body and calms the mind- a perfect choice for people dealing with anxious and stressful thoughts, and those wanting to get better sleep.


Different claims on indica and sativa’s different geographic origins and definitive evidence are yet to be confirmed. There are decent pieces of evidence that C. indica originates from the Indian subcontinent.

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was the first botanist to classify C. indica species in 1785. There is fairly decent evidence that cannabis indica originates from the Indian subcontinent; The plant has adapted to the growing environments in areas surrounding India like Himalayas, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Morocco. And to thrive in unforgiving conditions, the plant has developed a copious shell of resin to safeguard itself against rough climatic conditions.

India is also cited as the birthplace of cannabis. Dating back to ancient times, Indians have used cannabis as medicine, treatment, and spiritual intoxicants.

Meanwhile, sativa was first the first variety of cannabis documented and classified. Carl Linnaeus classified it in 1753. Linnaeus claimed that its origin is also in India, but the sample he worked with are hemp samples from Europe. Sativa’s origin is still under debate, but the species grow in warmer climates close to the equator. This leads to experts arguing that sativas may have originated from Southeast Asia.

Types of Cannabis: Understanding Their Difference
Types of Cannabis: Understanding Their Difference

Cannabis Phenotypes and Genotypes

It is important to note that sativa and indica strains do not always abide by the differences mentioned above. If you are a user, you will probably come across a strain, for example, sativa but with effects of an indica, or vice versa. If you are a cultivator, you may also stumble across seeds of a particular strain but might end up with 1-2 plants looking like another strain. And these irregularities are typical and are brought about by the different types of cannabis phenotypes.

Phenotype pertains to the observable characteristics of an organism, while genotype is an organism’s genetic characteristics.

So, if for an instant you bought indica seeds, they all have the same genetics, but some of them may grow into noticeably different plant appearance.

The difference in cannabis phenotypes also brings the variance in chemical profiles, the difference in the concentration of the CBD, and terpenes, hence different effects.

Hybrid Cannabis Strain

Cannabis breeders are experimenting with new cannabis varieties with unique genetics and traits. They cross indica plants with sativa plants to create new types. Whenever they do this, they create what is usually called as cannabis hybrids, which are strains with features of sativa and indica.

Hybrids are immensely popular as they allow breeders to produce specialized strains with unique medical potentials, signature highs, and enhanced capability to thrive in big yields in specific growing conditions.

Hybrids are either indica or sativa-dominant, meaning they will carry features of the dominant parent/species with fewer features of the secondary species. The different ratio of the combination of the parents of each hybrid means different effects. Hybrid genetics will determine its effects. Sativa-dominant will more likely cause energizing effects, while indica-dominant may bring calming effects. This is only a partial picture; knowing the THC ratio and CBD concentration in hybrids is still crucial. Having this information will be the best way to figure out how a hybrid would affect the user’s body and mind.

Cannabis Ruderalis

One of the types of cannabis that is relatively new in the cannabis cultivation scene is Cannabis Ruderalis, first discovered in the 1940s in Russia and is believed to originate from Siberia.

Cannabis ruderalis is the wild type of cannabis that is grown in Central Asia and Russia. This species is smaller than indica and sativa, typically just about 30- 76 cm high. Ruderalis is stalkier and with narrow palmate leaves. This species is auto-flowering, meaning that it will transition into the flowering phase regardless of the light cycle.

C. ruderalis contains a higher CBD and produces very low THC. Due to this, ruderalis is a popular choice among users interested in reaping the medical benefits of cannabis without the euphoric effect (‘high’). CBD is a well-known cure for many kinds of ailments such as chronic pain, muscle spasms, inflammation, and it can also be used to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, and treatment for the following neurological and mental conditions: anxiety, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, Tourette syndrome, and Parkinson’s disease.

Breeders are experimenting on ruderalis due to its high CBD, stability, and short life cycle. Breeders cross ruderalis with indica and sativa for its auto-flowering trait.

Cannabis ruderalis was formed thought to be a variety of C. sativa. But after a Cannabis taxonomic study in the 1970s, it was concluded that there are so many differences that support the recognition of C. sativa, C. indica, and C. ruderalis as distinct species. However, molecular analytical techniques of today are being applied still to continue questioning and answering taxonomic classifications.

Up to this date, despite the advanced technologies and analytical techniques, the types of cannabis are still inaccurately classified.