New patients considering the benefits of medical marijuana may be surprised to find out there is more than one species of cannabis available. The genus cannabis consists of a number of subspecies, but only a few are used for medical treatment. Two of the most common are Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. Understanding the difference is key to making an informed choice about your medication.
Like most types of marijuana, the main constituent of cannabis sativa is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) although it includes a number of other compounds such as cannabidiol (CBD), which is known to help reduce anxiety. One study indicates that the combination of THC and CBD found in the sativa subspecies of cannabis can have an effect on the neural and symptomatic response to fear.
The effect of cannabis sativa is more cerebral—those who consume it feel energetic with enhanced senses. It improves socialization skills and triggers curiosity. The flavor varies from fruity to an earthy taste, depending on the strain of the plant.
Cannabis indica is a broad-leaf plant that offers a higher level of THC and less CBD than its counterpart sativa. This can make it a good choice for pain relief. Indica plants tend to be shorter and bushier, and the flowers wider and denser.
Indica offers a broader body experience and less cerebral stimulation. When someone consumes an indica strain, they feel relaxed and laid back, especially if taken for chronic pain. It counteracts the stress that comes with pain, producing relaxation and calmness. In some cases, indicas promote sleep and are favored by those seeking relief from insomnia. The tastes ranges from pungent to sweet and fruity.
What are the Main Differences between Indicas & Sativas?
The crucial difference between these two varieties of medical marijuana is the ratio of THC to CBD. Cannabis indica is known for its higher ratio of the two components. This gives indica strains a more calming effect than varieties that have a low THC to CBD ratio.
Sativa, with its lower ratio of THC to CBD, produces a more vivid effect that results in an increased energy level for the consumer. Indica, on the other hand, is more sedative and soothing.
In general, here’s a quick rundown of both varieties:
- Sativa produces a more energetic effect, while indica is more sedative.
- Sativa offers a mental boost, so it is a good choice for disorders such as depression and PTSD.
- Indica is calming, so it can help manage pain, relieve nausea and trigger sleepiness.
Different Marijuana Strains & Hybrids
Within each subspecies, different strains exist as well. There are also hybrid strains that contain a percentage of both indica and sativa buds. Each strain offers a unique taste and effect, and new strains are regularly being developed for specific medical uses. Here is a sampling of just a few:
- AK47: This is a sativa-dominant strain, but marketed as a hybrid. The exact ratio is generally 65% sativa and 35% indica. It produces a pungent skunky odor with just a hint of woodsy and spicy smell. The consumer feels a strong cerebral reaction that starts gradually and builds. The THC/CBD ratio is 21:22.
- Blueberry: Blueberry is a hybrid strain. The mix will vary, but it’s usually 80% indica and 20% sativa. It gets its name from the fruity aroma and slight blueberry taste. This is a potent form that can help manage depression and stress.
- Afghani: Grown both as pure indica and as a hybrid strain, Afghani has a deep purple blush and a sweet flavor. Its calming effect makes it a suitable choice for chronic pain sufferers.
- Northern Lights: Northern Lights is a grade A hydro product that is sometimes called Aurora B. This strain has deep green colas and with thick, generous trichrome formations. The balance of saliva and indica subspecies produces a cerebral and body effect. The smell is spicy and earthy. The consumer will feel relaxed but without lazy or sleepy side effects. Northern Lights is a good choice for stress relief, especially when you want to stay active.
- Girl Scout Cookies: This strain of medical marijuana is a sativa dominant hybrid that is dark green with orange hairs and a little sparkle. Despite the name, it does not smell like cookies. The odor is somewhat minty, hence the name, with a touch of lemongrass. It can be slightly skunky, as well. Girl Scout Cookies produces a range of flavors—consumers report tasting cherry, chocolate, lemongrass and mint. The heavy sativa blend produces an energetic feel, making it a good choice to relieve depressant and other mood disorders.
There are hundreds of strains available, each defined by the effect, smell and taste of the plant. The availability varies by location and provider. Picking the right one for you depends greatly on the desired effect, as well as on personal taste and budget. Your doctor may suggest a particular strain based on your medical problem and overall health, but you can also find strains which you enjoy with a similar ratio and hybridization.
Photo Credit: NIAD