If you’re anything like me, getting to know the different types of cannabis strains out there took some time, research, and experimentation. You’ve heard the names, but what do they really do? Understanding how the different types of strains affect me has helped me become a more conscious cannabis consumer. Different strains can uplift your mood and give you energy for a workout, while some can help you relax and rest your muscles before bed.

Below are the four main ways to differentiate between sativas, indicas, and hybrids:

A. Effects (Types of high)

If you’re new to consuming cannabis, this is how you are most probably going to differentiate your product. A trip to any dispensary usually starts off by having a discussion in the type of high you are looking for.

Sativas provide stimulation and a head “buzz”.

They usually give an uplifting energy that is great for creativity. Sativas are great if you want to get “in the flow of things”. I use sativa right before the gym to get “in the zone” during my runs. Just make sure you know your body well before participating in any sports while high. I would recommend staying away from high-intensity sports, especially ones where you need high reaction time or physically demanding. Monitor or pay attention to your heart rate if you can, while you’re participating in physical activities.

Examples of appropriate occasions:

  • Medium to low-intensity sports (Golf, frisbee, canoeing, ping pong, grass cutting) 
  • Parties
  • General outdoor activities
  • Creativity
  • Concentration

Indicas provide relaxation and tension relief.

If your neck or back is sore from work and is keeping you up at night, then indica is perfect for you! After a long day of work, or even if you just need to let your body rest and slow things down, indica should be your medicine of choice.

Examples of appropriate occasions:

  • Sleeping
  • Relaxing
  • Unwind
  • Good when no physical activity or attention is required

Hybrids possess qualities of both sativa and indica – giving them a balanced high of stimulation and relaxationFor me, this high can be used any time of day. It’s uplifting enough to avoid that spacey couch-lock, but also just enough to remain calm and relaxed throughout the high.

Another cool thing about hybrids is that they have to be dominant in either sativa or indica. This means that you can still ask for hybrids that are either dominant in sativa or indica to better suit your needs.

Examples of appropriate occasions:

  • More flexible in daily use
  • Movies
  • Concerts
  • Work (for concentration and relaxation)

B. Appearance:

Sativas and indicas are almost complete opposites in appearance and effects. It is a very yin / yang, or day / night sort of comparison.

Sativa and indica plants grow and flower differently due to the geographic origins of their subspecies.

The lineage of sativa strains has been traced back to locations near the equator with tame climates. This allows the plant to grow long and free, making its flower tall and slender.


  • Tall
  • Slender

Indica strains have been traced back to mountainous regions with harsh winds and colder climates. This has resulted in indica plants growing short with thick coats of resin making them stub.


  • short
  • stubby

If you’re unsure about whether or not your cannabis is a sativa, indica, or hybrid, looking at the shape of the cannabis flowers can give you some information. Sativa strains usually grow longer and slimmer in shape (this includes sativa-dominant hybrids). The exact opposite goes to the indicas as well. Indicas are dense, short and stubby. Indica dominant hybrids share this quality as well.

C. Smell:

Another distinct difference between sativa and indicas is by the way they smell. Although this is a much more difficult way of narrowing down the type of strain, both cannabis species have different scents.


  • Citrus
  • Light piercing aroma


  • Earthy
  • Pungent aroma

D. Medicinal:

Another way that could help you understand the differences between sativas and indicas is by understanding their specific medicinal uses and effects on your body.

Cannabis Sativa:

Sativa strains contain a higher CBD:THC ratio. Studies have shown CBD to have positive effects with the treatment of:

  • Anxiety
  • Psychosis
  • Spasms
  • Inflammation

Cannabis Indica:

Indica strains contain a higher THC:CBD ratio. THC is the chemical that gets you high and gives the euphoric feeling. THC is used for:

  • Relaxation
  • Euphoria
  • Heightened moods
  • Increased hunger

Still unsure?

Here are some common questions that I am always asked:

I don’t mind smoking, but I like to be in control.

Maybe try a Sativa strain? It is a general mood lifter that can give you a boost in creativity and imagination. It retains your alertness and awareness. Indica tends to give me couch lock and leave me incapacitated with a spacey mind.

I just want something to relax and focus, not to fall asleep and space out to.

Hybrids provide a good taste of both sativa and indica. Hybrids are a safe middle ground for the experience of a high without over committing to one side or another.