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    by Sebastiano Battaglia January 13, 2024 11 min read

     

    Hemp strains are a fascinating subject, and the main comparisons are often about indica vs sativa vs hybrid. They all have multiple strains thanks to an ever-growing interest in the intersection between science, botany, chemistry, and history.  Scientifically, they come from three main families of the cannabis plant called Cannabis sativaCannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis(Gloss, 2015).The latter is mainly used for hybrid strains.  

    Hemp itself has applications primarily for fiber, seeds, and oils, thanks to its CBD-rich flowers. Most of the hemp strains are characterized by low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content, the intoxicating compound in cannabis. The low THC level legally distinguishes hemp from marijuana in many countries, including the United States, where hemp is defined as having less than 0.3% THC by dry weight.

    The differences across hemp flower strains could lead to different effects of cannabis products. Each strain has a unique profile of cannabinoids and terpenes. They define the scent and flavor of the plant but also contribute to its effects on the body. As the industry expands, we are moving beyond the popular strains, with more and more growers engineering the best hemp flower tailored for their customers. 

    Before we move on, please understand that all hemp is cannabis, but not all cannabis is hemp. Cannabis that has less than 0.3 % of THC by dry weight are at all effects defined as hemp!

     

    Main Differences Between Indica vs Sativa vs Hybrid

     

    Hemp strains fall into three primary categories:

    1. Sativa: Traditionally associated with taller plants and narrow leaves.
    2. Indica: Known for shorter, bushier plants with wider leaves.
    3. Hybrid: A genetic cross between Sativa and Indica plants, aiming to blend characteristics of both.

    Each of the strains of cannabis has a unique cannabinoid profile and fiber quality. For example, sativa strains were historically cultivated for their fiber content, indica plants often have higher CBD content, and hybrid strains are bound to the specific strains considered.

     

    Cannabis Sativa

    Cannabis sativa is an annual herbaceous flowering plant that has been cultivated throughout recorded history for a variety of uses, including as a source of industrial fiber, seed oil, food, recreation, religious and spiritual states, and medicine. The species was first classified by Carl Linnaeus in 1753, and the term "sativa" means "things that are cultivated".

    Originating from Central Asia, Cannabis sativa has been used in folk medicine and as a source of textile fiber since ancient times. Today, it is a globally cultivated species, grown in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australasia.

    The plant is known for its unisexual flowers, and most sativa plants typically are either male or female. It is a short-day flowering plant, meaning it begins to flower as the daylight hours shorten.

    Cannabis sativa is a treasure of phytochemicals and a rich source of both cellulosic and woody fibers. It synthesizes over 100 terpenophenolic secondary metabolites known as cannabinoids, including Δ9-THC, and the non-intoxicating CBD.The plant also synthesizes about 140 terpenoids, which are hydrocarbon terpenes and their oxygenated derivatives. In English, this means that this strain contains a big variety of compounds in there, and they can all have minor or major roles in helping the body.   

     

    Cannabis Indica

    Cannabis indica is an annual plant species in the family Cannabaceae, indigenous to the Hindu Kush mountains of Southern Asia. It is one of the main types of cannabis plants, alongside Cannabis sativa, and is known for its relaxing effects.

    Cannabis indica plants are shorter and stocky, oftenonly 2 to 4 feet in height, with bushy greenery and chunky leaves that grow wide and broad. They grow faster than sativa plants and each plant produces more buds. The internodal distance, which is the space between the nodes of the plant where leaves and branches originate, is typically short in Cannabis indica.

    Indica is often CBD heavy, offering people who use them more CBD than THC. This CBD dominance contributes to a calming sensation, where indica strains may often associate with relaxation, anxiety reduction, pain management, and nausea control.

    There are over 60 cannabinoids commonly found in indica strains. The plant's chemical composition, including its cannabinoid and terpene profiles, contributes to its therapeutic potential and the effects experienced by users

     

    Hybrid Cannabis

    Hybrid cannabis plants are a result of crossbreeding between Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. These hybrids combine the characteristics of both parent plants, with a good balance of cannabinoids and terpenes experience that caters to individual preferencesHybrid strains became more common in recent years, and allow breeders to create novel varieties with a little bit of genetic engineering and botanical skill. Since they are a combination of sativa and indica, the effects of a hybrid strain may more closely reflect one or the other, based on what's the predominant strain.

     

    Effects of Indica, Sativa and Hybrid strains

    indica vs sativa vs hybrid cannabis strain infographic

    • Cannabis Indica

    Cannabis indica strains are commonly associated with a sedative effect, often described as a body high. Indica strains are often used for relaxation and stress relief, making them suitable for evening and nighttime use. Since indica cannabis plants have more CBD than sativa strains, users often report feelings of deep relaxation, which can be beneficial for those suffering from insomnia, anxiety, or chronic pain (Leafly).

    • Cannabis Sativa

    Cannabis sativa strains are typically associated with an energizing, uplifting and at times euphoric effects, often referred to as a "head high." These strains may promote creativity, alertness, and a sense of well-being, making them more suitable for daytime use. Sativa strains have been favored for activities that require focus and creativity (Leafy Mate).

    • Hybrid Strains

    Hybrid strains sit right in the middle, producing many of the effects of sativa and indica strains. The effects of a particular strain can vary greatly depending on its genetic makeup, falling anywhere between the sedating effects of indica and the energizing effects of sativa. Breeders have developed hybrids to target specific effects or to balance out the more extreme characteristics of pure indica or sativa strains (Homegrown Cannabis Co.).

     

    Main Terpenes in Sativa vs Indica

    Terpenes in hemp are organic compounds, responsible for the plant's scent and flavor. Moreover, they have beneficial properties, and they can affect how a strain can influence your body and mind. There is a specific terpene profile for each hemp family and strain, and with cannabinoids, terpenes in a specific terpene profile can modify the effects of a strain, potentially impacting therapeutic outcomes.

     

    Terpene Cannabis Sativa Cannabis Indica
    Myrcene Lower amounts Higher amounts
    Caryophyllene Moderate amounts Moderate amounts
    Limonene Moderate amounts Moderate amounts
    Linalool Moderate amounts Moderate amounts
    Pinene Moderate amounts Moderate amounts
    Farnesene Higher amounts Lower amounts
    Bergamotene Higher amounts Lower amounts

     

    1. Myrcene: Myrcene is often referred to as the "Mother of Terpenes" because it is one of the most prevalent and because it can influence the behavior of other terpenes and cannabinoids (Leafly). It is the smallest terpene molecule but one of the most abundant in cannabis, with a musky, earthy scent reminiscent of cloves. Myrcene is known for its sedative effects, making it beneficial for those seeking relaxation or sleep aid. It also exhibits anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, potentially aiding in pain relief and the reduction of inflammation (Jointly Better).

    2. Caryophyllene (β-Caryophyllene): Beta-Caryophyllene is a sesquiterpene with a spicy, woody aroma, also found in black pepper, cloves, and rosemary. Unique among terpenes, caryophyllene can bind to CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system, acting as a cannabinoid. This interaction suggests anti-inflammatory and analgesic benefits, which may help alleviate pain and inflammation. Caryophyllene is also noted for its potential gastroprotective properties and could be explored as a therapeutic agent for treating certain ulcers (NCBI).

    3. Limonene: Limonene, with its bright, citrusy scent, is the second most abundant terpene in nature and prevalent in cannabis. It is associated with mood elevation and stress relief, making it a candidate for anti-anxiety and antidepressant therapies. Furthermore, limonene has demonstrated anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, highlighting its potential as a supportive agent in medical treatments (Enjoy Pleasantrees).

    4. Linalool: Linalool is a terpene with a floral lavender aroma, known for its calming effects. It is considered an anti-anxiety and antidepressant agent, with additional sedative properties that may aid in sleep. Linalool has also shown anti-inflammatory, anti-epileptic, and analgesic effects, suggesting its use in managing pain and neurological conditions (Leafly).

    5. Pinene (α-Pinene and β-Pinene): Pinene is a monoterpene that comes in two forms: alpha-pinene and beta-pinene, both of which have a distinct pine scent. Pinene is known for its potential to act as a bronchodilator, possibly aiding those with asthma. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and may counteract some of the cognitive effects of THC, such as short-term memory impairment (Emily Kyle Nutrition).

    6. Farnesene (E-β-Farnesene): Farnesene is a lesser-known sesquiterpene with a green apple-like aroma. It is found in various plants, including cannabis. While research on farnesene is not as extensive as other terpenes, its presence in cannabis contributes to its complex bouquet and may possess calming effects similar to other terpenes (NCBI).

    7. Bergamotene: Bergamotene is another terpene found in cannabis, although less famous than the others. It is named after its presence in bergamot orange and contributes to the plant's unique scent profile. The potential therapeutic benefits of bergamotene are yet to be fully explored, but it is likely to share some properties with other terpenes, such as anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activities.

     

    How to Tell the Difference Between Indica and Sativa Plants

    indica vs sativa vs hybrid cannabis strain leaf size

    The indica and sativa plants are very similar, yet, there are differences in their physical characteristics, growth patterns, content of cannabinoids like THC and CBD, and overall effects. Here are some key differences between the two:

    1. Height and stature: Indica strains often appear shorter and bushier than sativa plants, with a woody stalk. Sativa plants are taller and skinnier, with a fibrous stalk.
    2. Leaf size and structure: Indica strains have wide, short leaves with short, wide blades, while sativa strains have long leaves with thin, long blades.
    3. Bud size and density: Indica strains tend to have buds that are wide, dense, and bulky, while sativa buds are long and sausage-shaped.
    4. Flowering time: Sativa plants have a longer flowering period than indica plants.
    5. CBD and THC levels: Indica strains are known to have a higher CBD content than sativa strains. However, the CBD to THC ratio in indica strains is usually close to 1:1.
    6. Desired effects: the Indica cannabis strains are known for providing a "body high" and are more calming and relaxing, while sativa strains deliver a "mind high" and are more energizing and uplifting.

    That the effects of cannabis can vary based on the specific chemovar and there is variability among user. Additionally, hybrid strains, which are created by breeding pure indica and sativa plants, may have a combination of these characteristics and can be either indica- or sativa-dominant hybrid strains.

     

    Between Sativa and Indica, Which One is Stronger?

    Stronger depends on from what parameters we are looking at. Indica plants have higher levels of CBD and CBN, which is a distinction between sativa and indica, since sativa strains are often higher in THC.

    Indica and sativa genetics are not too different, since both contain CBD and less than 0.3% THC. However, when we compare indica versus sativa, the relaxing effect may be stronger in indica-dominant strains, while the cerebral effects may be stronger in a sativa-dominant strain.

     

    Potential Side Effects Across Cannabis Strains

    Unwanted side effects can happen with different strains of cannabis, and are mostly associated with higher dosages.

    Users may experience anxiety or paranoia, particularly at higher doses or when they are new to cannabis use (Leafly). Other common side effects like dry mouth, red eyes, and in some cases, dizziness or headaches

    indica the side effects can include lethargy or a "couch-lock" sensation, where the user feels too relaxed to engage in physical activity. As with sativa strains, dry mouth and red eyes are also common, and overuse can lead to disrupted sleep patterns or a feeling of grogginess the following day (Weedmaps).

    Despite this customization, hybrids can still present undesirable side effects. They are not necessarily unique, as the side effects may be a combination of the parent strains. For example, a sativa-dominant hybrid might cause more anxiety than an indica-dominant one, while still potentially leading to sedation or lethargy (Leafy Mate).

    Hemp Cultivation and Production

     

    Breeding and Developing New Strains

    The process of breeding and developing new strains is meticulous, and is a blend of nature and technology. The process to produce new and unique strainsis called crossbreeding. This involves selecting parent plants with desired attributes, such as a high CBD hybrid, or unique strains tailored for specific climates or uses. The main steps are:

    1. Selection: Identifying parent plants with target traits.
    2. Crossbreeding: Combining genetics to enhance characteristics.
    3. Evaluation: Assessing new strains for quality and consistency.

    This strategic breeding is invaluable in diversifying hemp products and sustaining industrial hemp as a versatile agricultural resource. The high number of hemp strains on the market is due to the widespread use of crossbreeding in the industry. The advantage is that there is an almost endless variety of products, but on the negative side, the objective genetic distance among strains becomes smaller and smaller.

     

    Growing Different Types of Cannabis Plants

    Growing CBD-rich cannabis strains requires attention to detail and an understanding of the specific needs of the plant. The correct environment and cultivation methods are crucial to obtain high quality plants, flowers, and therefore, CBD.

    Optimal Growing Conditions

    Cannabis plants require a stable climate with temperatures ranging from 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Adequate lighting, consistent watering, and a balanced pH of the soil or hydroponic solution are non-negotiable. High CBD strains, thrive in environments with a relative humidity between 40% - 70%. Plants also need enough nutrients, particularly nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), tailored to the flowering stage for peak cannabinoid production.

    Indoor vs. Outdoor Cultivation

    Indoor Cultivation allows for precise control over the environment. However, plants will depend on you for light, temperature, and humidity levels. This means you gotta be meticulous to consistently produce high-quality CBD strains.

    Outdoor Cultivation, conversely, relies heavily on the natural climate, which can be beneficial or detrimental depending on where you live. Studies like the one on supercritical fluid extraction highlight that regions like Gökçeağaç provide optimal natural conditions for high CBD yields. Sunlight can promote robust growth in CBD strains, and the rich, well-drained soil can enhance the flavor profiles of the harvested buds. However, outdoor growers must be vigilant about pest control and weather changes, which can be unpredictable and potentially harmful.

     

    Legal Considerations of Cultivating CBD Strains

    In the United States, the legality of cultivating CBD-rich cannabis strains depends on federal and state regulations, particularly since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. This bill distinguishes between hemp, with a THC content of no more than 0.3% on a dry weight basis, and marijuana, which contains THC above this threshold.

    States' Regulations:

    • Check Your State's Laws: Each state has the authority to regulate the cultivation and sale of hemp and hemp-derived products. Ensure you're compliant with local laws as they can vary widely.
    • Licensing Requirements: Most states require a grower's license specifically for hemp cultivation; applications typically require detailed plans and compliance with state-specific regulations.

    Federal Regulations:

    • THC Threshold: Cultivating plants that exceed the 0.3% THC limit can lead to your crop being classified as marijuana, making it federally illegal.
    • Testing Protocols: Regular testing is necessary to ensure your crop stays within the legal THC limit.

    Remember, legal frameworks around hemp and cannabis are subject to change, so keep informed about current and upcoming legislation to ensure compliance during cultivation.

     

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Are Indica and Sativa strains?

    Technically no, they are not strains but they are classifications used to distinguish members of the Cannabis family that have different cannabinoids and terpene profiles. Each one of the 

    Are there different Indica and Sativa strains?

    Yes, both indica and sativa include a large number of strains that are either indica or a sativa dominanty type.

    Are either used for medical cannabis?

    Yes, All three types of cannabis strains, Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid, can be used for medical purposes. The choice of strain depends on the specific symptoms or conditions being treated and the desired effects.

    Are Sativa or Indica or Hybrid the same as medical marijuana?

    Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid strains are not the same as medical marijuana, but they are used for medical purposes. The choice of strain depends on the specific symptoms or conditions being treated 

    What is the difference between industrial hemp strains and CBD flower strains?

    Industrial hemp strains are cultivated for their fiber and seeds, used in products like textiles and food. Meanwhile, CBD flower strains are bred specifically for their cannabinoid content, with a focus on maximizing CBD levels for therapeutic use.

    Can you differentiate between sativa vs indica vs hybrid characteristics in hemp strains?

    Indeed, indica strains of hemp are typically shorter, bushier, and suit better for indoor cultivation, while sativa strains are taller and better suited for outdoor growing conditions. Indica and sativa also differ in their CBD to THC ratios and effects on users.

    How many sativa strains, indica strains and hybrid strains exist?

    The exact number is fluid as breeding and cultivation practices evolve. However, there are well over 700 hundred hemp strains, each with diverse characteristics, cannabinoid and terpene profiles, shaped by genetics and different growing conditions.

     

    References:

    • Gloss, Neurotherapeutics. 2015 Oct; 12(4): 731–734. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4604179/
    Sebastiano Battaglia
    Sebastiano Battaglia

    Seb has been a research scientist for the past two decades and is the founder and owner of My Blissful Pet. Seb grew up with cats and dogs and married his passion for science and animals with My Blissful Pet by wanting to help dogs and cats live healthier lives.

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