Indica, Sativa, or Hybrid: A Guide to Finding Your Perfect Cannabis Strain

Before legalization and fully stocked dispensary shelves, pot was just “pot”—it came in a zip-lock, you had to spend hours picking out the seeds and stems, and you never got the luxury of picking out a unique strain accustomed to your exact needs and tastes. You got what “your guy” had, and that was that.

Thankfully, times have changed since the seed-laden zip days, and today, the choices you’ll find at your local dispensary are vast and a bit overwhelming. So, be prepared—arming yourself with a bit of strain knowledge can be key to an excellent session. But is there really a difference between them? How can you tell? Read on and gain a deeper understanding of indicas, sativas, and hybrids, and see which ones may be best for your specific needs.

What Are Cannabis Strains?

A “strain”—also called a cultivar—is a specific variety of cannabis that has been bred for certain characteristics like aroma, potency, appearance, and effects. Each strain is given a unique name, often based on its parent strains or dominant properties. Some of the most well-known strains you’ve probably heard of include OG Kush, Pineapple Express, and Blue Dream.

However, these names do not always indicate how the high will actually feel, so asking your budtender is always the best way to learn about the particular effects of any strain. But it’s still a good idea to know a cultivar’s basics, which usually starts with the popular terms indica, sativa, and hybrid.

The Difference Between Indica, Hybrid, and Sativa Strains

Historically, cannabis strains have fallen under one of three categories that are mainly tied to the plant’s botanical classifications. At their roots, “sativa” and “indica” refer to the structural differences seen in the plant: narrow versus broad leaves, tall versus short structure, etc.

As our understanding of the plant, cannabinoids, terpenes, and how they all work together to produce different effects has expanded, we now know there’s more to it than that. Not only do these two phenotypes have vastly different appearances, but cannabinoid and terpene profiles as well, which cause the differences that usually allow one strain to be energizing while another may have you drifting off to sleep.

What Is Indica?

Indica cannabis plants are shorter and stockier and produce more dense and combat buds often frosted with white, cannabinoid-filled trichomes. Indicas and indica hybrids are typically known for delivering a sleepy, sedative high that can cause a a feeling of “couch-lock.”

However, indica strains aren’t exclusively for nighttime use, as many indica lovers enjoy and benefit from their relaxing and calming effects throughout the day. Here’s a list of some iconic indica strains:

  • Grandaddy Purple
  • Northern Lights
  • G-13
  • MK Ultra
  • Master Kush

Indicas can also be very useful for pain management, as they also tend to have higher concentrations of CBD and CBN, which are cannabinoids that have been linked to pain relief and anticonvulsant properties for patients with epilepsy.

What Is Sativa?

Pure Sativas are relatively tall, reaching heights as high as 15 feet, with long, narrow-bladed leaves. Pure indicas are shorter and bushier, with wider leaflets. Not only are sativa plants usually taller and leafier, but they also tend to produce looser, “fluffier” buds, and you can find a lot of orange hairs and deep blues and purples mixed into their buds.

Sativas and sativa-leaning hybrids are generally known to have uplifting, energetic, and cerebral effects. They can be great for creativity, socializing, and other buzzy activities. Here’s a rundown on some familiar sativa strains that may put a pep in your step:

  • Jack Herer
  • Green Crack
  • Durban Poison
  • Sour Diesel
  • Strawberry Cough

If you experience symptoms of anxiety, strong sativas can sometimes exacerbate those symptoms, so starting with a low-THC sativa or balanced hybrid may be your best route.

What Is Hybrid?

Hybrid strains can produce plants and buds that give off characteristics of either sativa or indica plants, though, on average, they have a middle-ground height and produce robust plants, and usually garner high yields. A plant’s lineage (the strains bred to create it) has much to do with its appearance and effects since most hybrids are bred to get the best qualities of popular strains. Hybrids are favored for their versatility and broad appeal, as they sit well with most people.

True hybrids typically have a balanced high or can start with a boost in energy followed by feelings of bliss and relaxation. A hybrid is created by combining a sativa and indica’s genetics, or by multiple indicas and one sativa, and so on. In a sea of hybrids, these strains remain the most notable and sought-after:

  • Blue Dream
  • OG Kush
  • Pineapple Express
  • GG4
  • Trainwreck

Due to the limitless possibilities of crossbreeding, most connoisseurs are quick to point out that there is no such thing as a “true indica” or “true sativa” anymore and that all strains fall somewhere on a hybrid spectrum. This may or may not be true, but we can say that even among hybrids, some strains have a dominant genetic lineage that leans more toward one phenotype than the other.

What About Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are naturally occurring compounds found in cannabis and are responsible for many of the plant’s non-psychoactive effects and benefits. Remarkably, there are over 100 different cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. The first cannabinoid the plant develops is CBGA, also known as the “mother of all cannabinoids,” since it will eventually break down and produce primary cannabinoids like THCA and CBDA, the precursors to THC and CBD.

Understanding the different cannabinoids (and terpenes) and the effects they are responsible for will help you find a strain that suits you best based on the cannabinoids and terpene profile of a given strain you may be considering.

What Is THC?

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, refers to the main cannabinoid responsible for the euphoric and intoxicating effects we associate with cannabis. While there are a variety of other THC-like cannabinoids available from hemp-derived sources (such as Delta-8, Delta-10 or HHC), it’s delta-9 that is well-known and researched as the primary naturally-occuring intoxicating component in cannabis.


THCA stands for tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, and it’s the precursor to THC. THCA is not intoxicating if ingested as is. Chemically, it has an additional molecular carboxyl ring, which prevents it from binding to receptors in the brain that are responsible for getting you high. However, when heat or a solvent is applied, THCA converts to THC, and it is then capable of producing a high.

Effects-wise, THCA and THC overlap in some areas. Both potentially treat nausea, but THCA shows far more promise for addressing inflammation. On the flip side, since THCA isn’t intoxicating, some may find it less effective for sleep than activated THC. And while THC isn’t recommended for seizure disorders, THCA shows some promise in addressing those conditions.

What is CBD?

CBD, or cannabidiol, has become popular for providing anti-inflammatory and relaxing properties without a significant or even noticeable high. This cannabinoid is known to counteract the effects of its sibling, THC, making it great for balancing out the psychoactive component for those looking to medicate with THC but aren’t looking to feel as “high” as taking THC itself.

However, some studies have suggested that CBD can also exacerbate the effects of THC, so it may be a good idea to experiment with different strains containing different levels of each and see which ones work best for you.

Other Non-Intoxicating Cannabinoids

The difference between intoxicating and non-intoxicating cannabinoids is simple: one produces euphoric and potentially mind-altering effects, while the other doesn’t.

The main cannabinoid types found in cannabis strains are THC, CBD, CBG, and CBC. Out of all of these cannabinoids, the only one that is known to be psychoactive is THC, and in raw plant form, there will be more non-psychoactive THCA content than any of the active THC cannabinoids present.

And while THC and CBD are the most studied and understood cannabinoids, there’s much more that has yet to be researched. CBG, for example, is gaining popularity for its therapeutic effects. Like CBD, CBG has been used by some to combat pain and inflammation without the intoxicating effect of cannabinoids like THC.

What Are Terpenes?

As much as we love our cannabinoids, our strains wouldn’t be the legends they are without their terpene content. Terpenes, or terps, are natural oils found in plants with a distinct scent or aroma. Different strains of cannabis have different terpene compositions that define flavor, smell, and effects.

Many terpenes found in popular strains are also prevalent in nature. Here are some of the most common terpenes in cannabis:

  • Limonene: One of the most abundant terpenes found in cannabis strains, limonene has a distinct citrusy aroma. It is known for its uplifting properties, making it sought after as a treatment for anxiety and depression. Almost all citrus fruits contain large amounts of this compound.
  • Linalool: Responsible for that iconic “skunk smell” in cannabis, with juxtaposing spicy and floral notes. Linalool can be ultra-soothing and relaxing and is found in lavender, mint, cinnamon, and coriander.
  • Caryophyllene: Best known for its spicy and peppery notes, caryophyllene is found in black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and spices like basil and rosemary. This stress-relieving terpene is also present in many hybrids known to cause relaxation and reduce anxiety. Its unique aromatic notes make it fairly easy to detect in a strain.
  • Myrcene: The most abundant terpene in cannabis, which is where it is mostly found in nature, too. Strains that contain 0.5% of this terpene are usually indicas with sedative effects. Myrcene has also been reported to be useful in reducing inflammation and chronic pain.

You can think of THC as the engine of cannabis and the terpenes as the steering wheel. While THC determines the psychoactive properties of your cannabis, terpenes give a strain its therapeutic and mood-altering effects.

THC Percentages and the Entourage Effect

THC is the primary cannabinoid responsible for the euphoric intoxication we associate with cannabis, and therefore, it gets most of the attention. However, many connoisseurs have been moving away from placing so much importance on THC percentage due to the entourage effect.

When other cannabinoids and terpenes are present alongside THC, they affect how the high settles in. These compounds culminate into the entourage effect, which is responsible for the overall experience of a cannabis high. Therefore, the Total Active Cannabinoids, or “TAC,” is just as important a number as the THC percentage—a wider spread between the THC percentage and TAC percentage usually indicates a full-bodied, longer-lasting high.

If you are using THC to treat things like anxiety or depression, strains with a high THC can occasionally exacerbate negative symptoms. For those using cannabis to treat these symptoms, a low-THC strain with lots of CBD could be more beneficial.

Though it’s easy to assume more THC means a more potent high, the other cannabinoids boost the entourage effect and affect the potency and longevity of the high. However, despite all this information becoming more common knowledge, many consumers still find themselves fixating on the THC percentage and will favor high THC strains over others.

Shop Mankind and Find the Best Cannabis Strains for Your Needs

Now that you know a little more about cannabis strains and what makes them unique, you should have a better idea of how to describe what you’re searching for to your budtender.

Cannabis is a complex plant that produces hundreds of active compounds, including cannabinoids and terpenes among many others. While the terms “sativa,” “indica,” and “hybrid” are still widely used as shorthand for the expected effects of a strain, you now know that several other factors will impact your experience with any given strain, including its cannabinoid and terpene content. A knowledgeable budtender can recommend at least two or three options that would be perfect for you—especially when you can give them specifics regarding the desired effects you’re looking for.

If you’re ready to hit the shop and find the best strain for you, our friendly budtenders are educated and prepared to help you find the best cannabis products for your lifestyle. Shop our amazing deals and discounts, and for extra convenience, get your cannabis delivered right to your door!

Have more questions? Learn more about how to find your ideal THC to CBD ratio, or discover how cannabis is most commonly used in medicine.

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