What Is Indica Weed? Is It Really Different from Sativa?

Most weed lovers know the differences between Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica — one is stimulating, and the other relaxing, right? Well, there’s certainly some truth to that claim, but things aren’t that simple.

In this article, I’ll explain everything you should know about indica weed, including its effects and how it differs from sativa weed. We’ll also go over the best indica strains for managing pain, insomnia, and anxiety.

By Phil Dubley Last Updated: May 31, 2024
Last Updated: May 31, 2024

Cannabis indica is one of three known species of cannabis. The other two are Cannabis sativa and Cannabis ruderalis. 

Indica plants are a shorter, stouter, more cold-tolerant species of cannabis. They’re generally preferred for indoor grows or outdoor cultivation in places where low temperatures and shorter growing seasons are an issue.

Although the first study mentioning indica cannabis was published in 1785, its existence has been known for thousands of years [1].

Weed grows all over the world, but this particular species is native to the Hindu Kush mountains between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. From there, it spread to India (where it got its name) and then globally, thanks to its popularity among cannabis users.

Since then, indica weed has earned a reputation for being more relaxing than its sativa counterpart. This oversimplification may have held some truth in the past, but today, with thousands of sativa, indica, and hybrid strains, the lines are too blurry to support this distinction. 

Related: Cannabis 101 | Hemp vs Marijuana | Male Cannabis Plants | Cannabinoids in the Plant Kingdom

What Are the Effects of Indica Weed?

For decades, everyone believed indica weed was unique because it was calming and relaxing, at least compared to sativa weed. But in truth, there’s no hard rule about it, and indica weed can be both calming and energetic.

The reasoning behind this is that Cannabis indica doesn’t necessarily have big chemical differences with sativa. It may surprise you, but indica weed isn’t much different from other types of weed — at least genetically speaking [2]. Some scientists even argue both Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa should be considered separate varieties of the same species — but this debate is ongoing.

Broadly speaking, indica weed has the following effects

  • Relaxation
  • Increased appetite
  • Pain relief
  • Sedation
  • A sense of inner peace
  • Anxiousness & paranoia

Indica vs. Sativa: What Are the Differences?

Currently, science doesn’t consider indica and sativa to be much different. 

In fact, it’s moving away from such designations, instead preferring to classify cannabis into three types: THC-dominant, intermediate, and CBD-dominant [3].

However, it’ll be a while until the weed community adopts this new paradigm. Nowadays, people consider the plants with narrow leaflets to be “sativa,” while those with broad leaflets are “indica.”

THC Content

Indica cultivars belong to the intermediate group (Type II) in the scientific classification. This is because they usually have a THC/CBD ratio close to 1, while sativa plants have more THC [3].

The abundance of THC in sativa weed is responsible for the more “cerebral” effects of weed — what’s usually known as “the high.” Meanwhile, the balanced THC/CBD ratio of indica weed makes you feel relaxed and calm, with merely a hint of the euphoria you can feel with sativa.

Delta-9 THC Molecule

Botanical Differences

In terms of visual differences, sativa and indica look different enough to appear like different plants, but with similarities that immediately make you think of weed. As I said, the leaves have different widths, but the shape is similar.

However, indica plants are short and look like bushes, while sativa is taller and more tree-like. Their growth rates also differ as indica grows faster [4].

Effect Differences

If you’re wondering why you should use one or the other, the general rule still applies. If you want to feel energetic and creative, pick a sativa strain. If, instead, you want to relax or sleep better, pick an indica strain.

If you want accuracy, look at the terpene and cannabinoid content. 

You may have noticed that I didn’t mention anxiety with any of the plants, and that’s for a good reason: both indica and sativa can reduce anxiety. However, they do so in different ways. 

With sativa, you can expect to feel less anxiety while feeling mentally engaged and energetic. Meanwhile, with indica, you also won’t feel anxious, but with the added effect of feeling laid-back and not focused on anything. For that reason, indica is better for nighttime use.

Be aware that too much of either can also cause anxiety. 

Recommended Indica Strains

To end this article, here’s a small list of the best indica strains for different uses, depending on your goals. These strains are pure rather than hybrids, so they may be slightly more expensive than average.

Best for Relaxation

The best indica strains for relaxation have caryophyllene as the dominant terpene. This compound has anxiolytic properties, among others [2]. Furthermore, it gives these strains a spicy and peppery aroma.

The best indica strains for relaxation include:

  • Ice Cream Cake — 22% THC
  • The Original Z — 20% THC
  • Purple Punch — 17% THC

Best for Sleep and Insomnia

Meanwhile, the strains that are better for sleep have myrcene as the dominant terpene. It has an earthy scent, and sedation is one of its primary effects [2]. You’ll also find that these indicas have a slightly lower THC content than the ones mentioned before.

The best indica strains for sleep include:

  • Blueberry — 17% THC
  • Forbidden Fruit — 16% THC
  • Granddaddy Purple — 18% THC

Best for Pain-Relief

Besides what I said before, caryophyllene and myrcene are also excellent analgesics [2]. You’ll find that many of the pain-relieving strains contain them in large amounts. These also contain more CBD than THC.

The best indica strains for pain relief include:

  • ACDC — 1% THC / 12% CBD
  • Cannatonic — 4% THC / 9% CBD
  • Harlequin — 5% THC / 9% CBD

FAQs: Cannabis Indica

There’s more to learn, so here are the FAQs you might want the answers to. 

1. Will indica give me a powerful high?

Unless you purchase a strain high in THC and low in CBD, indica won’t give you a strong high. You can expect full sedation and relaxation, but mostly on a physical level.

2. Why is indica more relaxing?

The relaxing effects are due to the unique combination of cannabinoids and terpenes. Indica usually has more CBD and relaxing terpenes than sativa. But always remember that this varies wildly between strains.

3. Does indica hit harder?

Not necessarily, but it depends on the strain you use. As with many other herbs, you can expect some indica strains to be weaker or stronger than sativa. The best way to find out is to try different strains and see which suits you best.

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  1.  Éliana Lapierre, Adrian Monthony, Davoud Torkamaneh (2023). “Genomics-based taxonomy to clarify cannabis classification.” Genome, 66(08), 202-211. https://doi.org/10.1139/gen-2023-0005
  2. Sarana Rose Sommano, Chuda Chittasupho, Warintorn Ruksiriwanich, Pensak Jantrawut. (2020). “The cannabis terpenes.” Molecules, 25(24), 5792. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25245792
  3. Ravindra Malabadi, Kiran Kolkar, Raju Chalannavar (2023). “Cannabis sativa: Ethnobotany and and Phytochemistry.” International Journal of Innovation Scientific Research and Review, 5(2), 3990-3998. Recovered from: https://www.journalijisr.com/sites/default/files/issues-pdf/IJISRR-1138.pdf
  4. John McPartland, Ernest Small (2020). “A classification of endangered high-THC cannabis (Cannabis sativa subsp. indica) domesticates and their wild relatives.” PhytoKeys, 144, 81. https://doi.org/10.3897%2Fphytokeys.144.46700