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Cannabis has been grown for over 12,000 years. The botanic terms Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica were introduced in the 18th century. Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica are the two main types of cannabis strains. Pure sativa and indica strains are rare these days because of generations of crossbreeding. This brings us to the third type of cannabis, the hybrid, which is bred by crossing sativa and indica plants

Cannabis sativa

The sativa plant is thought to be originally from places along the equator, such as Thailand, South East Asia, Mexico, and Colombia, because it grows best in hot climates with lots of sunshine. The plants can grow up to 20 feet tall, so they grow well outdoors. Its leaves are long, narrow, and light green, and the stalk is fibrous. The flowers form along the branch. The buds are loose and light, and there are often red or orange accents on the buds. Sativa plants tend to emit fruity, sweet, or spicy aromas. 

Everyone is affected by cannabis differently. But commonly, sativa is best for daytime use because of its energizing and awakening effects that include increased creativity, a clear mind, a desire to be active, and talkativeness. It helps to improve mood and boost imagination, leaving consumers feeling focused, productive, and creative. 

Sativa is used to treat medical conditions related to pain, anxiety, fatigue, and depression, such as headaches, glaucoma, and chronic pain. 

Cannabis indica

The indica plant originated in the Middle East, in places like India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. It grows well indoors and in colder and drier climates than sativa. Indica plants grow quicker than sativa. The plants are short, only growing two to four feet tall, with broad leaves and a woody stalk. The buds are dense because they flower close to the stem’s nodes, so the buds feel firmer to the touch, and they have purple accents. Indica plants tend to emit earthy, musty, and skunky aromas. 

Indica (sometimes referred to as “in da couch”) has calming and relaxing effects, so it is considered a nighttime strain. Consumers report having physical body effects such as a tingly face and heavy limbs as well as feeling happy, euphoric, and sleepy.

Indica is used for medical conditions related to insomnia, stress, inflammation, and anxiety. It is used to treat multiple sclerosis, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and sleep apnea. 


Hybrids are bred by crossing sativa and indica plants. There are three categories of hybrids: sativa-dominant (sativa-dom), indica-dominant (indica-dom), and even (balanced) hybrids (50/50). Most strains out there will be some sort of hybrid. Most hybrids are created by growers, grown on farms or in greenhouses, but they also can be created naturally in the wild. Hybrids contain genetics from both sativa and indica strains, so their appearance and effects will pull from both strains. Those effects will vary depending on the characteristics of the parent strains that were bred, and they can be bred to showcase specific characteristics. 

Cannabis patients may use different strains throughout their day in a way that works for their lifestyle. For example, a patient might medicate in the morning with a sativa-dom to help with nausea and pain and then use an indica-dom in the evening for maximum pain relief. 

Cannabis breeders are continuously experimenting and crossing different plants to create strains that will target specific effects. Hybrids will be bred to obtain a variety of characteristics, such as higher THC or CBD levels, certain physical characteristics like smell or appearance, better yield, or certain pain relief symptoms. This also includes targeting specific effects to treat conditions and symptoms for medical patients. Breeders are even focusing on finding relief for major conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, arthritis, epilepsy, and HIV/AIDS, among others. 

In addition to crossing indica and sativa plants, it is also, of course, possible to breed two indicas or two sativas together to gain a mix of characteristics from within the same plant type. 

Landrace Strains and Heirlooms

Cannabis that grows naturally in its native environment is called a landrace strain. Landrace strains are usually 100% indica or 100% sativa, although sometimes hybrids grow naturally in the wild as well. When the seeds of those landrace strains are taken and grown somewhere other than its natural environment, the plants that grow from those seeds are called heirlooms. Heirlooms maintain their original pure indica or sativa characteristics, but they do change some because they’re no longer growing in their natural environment. 


Ruderalis is another type of cannabis. Ruderalis plants are small, do not produce much medicine, and lack potency, so they are not appealing to consumers and are avoided by growers. The cannabis community instead focuses on growing and consuming sativa and indica plants. 


Hemp is a non-intoxicating cannabis. Hamp varieties are harvested for seeds, fiber, and CBD. 

Alternate Terms

There are many terms in the cannabis industry that may be new to you. Then there are some alternate terms that the industry is beginning to pick up and use more commonly. Here are some alternatives you might hear:

  • Strains may also be called chemovars (chemical varieties). The shift toward using the term chemovars is because it is more accurate, but another reason to get away from the term strains is because strains is commonly used to refer to viruses and bacteria. 
  • Chemovars may be classified differently as well. Instead of sativa, hybrid, and indica, they may be called Type I, Type II, and Type III within the cannabis industry. 
  • Type I for high THC 
  • Type II for a combination of THC/CBD
  • Type III for high CBD. 


According to mainstream cannabis culture, the effects you feel are commonly associated with what type of strain you’re consuming (sativa or indica). However, it is actually the cannabinoids and terpenes—the chemical compounds—and how they interact with your unique body that determine what effects you’ll feel. The cannabinoids are responsible for the positive and negative effects of cannabis use, and the terpenes affect the plant’s smell. 


There are dozens of different cannabinoids in cannabis—probably over 200—but the two most abundant cannabinoids are THC and CBD. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that makes you feel high and hungry. It relieves symptoms like nausea and pain. Strains with high THC are appealing to patients who are looking for a euphoric experience to combat their symptoms. Sativa plants often have higher levels of THC. Cannabidiol (CBD) is a compound that is non-intoxicating. It is associated with many medical benefits, relieving symptoms like inflammation, pain, and anxiety. Strains with high CBD are popular with patients who are seeking relief for their symptoms without the intoxicating effects. Indica plants often have higher levels of CBD. 

Active cannabinoids have an effect on the human endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is why they impact the body and mind. The ECS was only discovered in 1992, so there is still a lot to learn about this system. The main goal of the ECS is homeostasis—keeping an overall state of balance in the body—and making sure the body’s physiological system is healthy and functioning properly and efficiently. The ECS is basically the body’s own cannabis system. Humans have cannabinoid compounds that occur naturally, similar to cannabis. These compounds are called endocannabinoids. They interact with their corresponding receptors and exist in almost every cell and tissue type, such as connective tissues, the nervous system, and internal organs. The ECS could potentially play a part in treating many conditions. Discovering and learning more about the ECS has increased understanding of how cannabis works, which has inevitably also helped in the legalization of medical marijuana. 


Terpenes are the aromatic compounds that give cannabis its smell, whether it be pine, berries, citrus, or another smell. They are produced by many plants and fruits—cannabis being just one of them. For example, oranges, hops, and lavender also produce terpenes. More than 100 different terpenes have been identified. Terpenes can stimulate or relax an individual, in a very similar way to aromatherapy. Different terpene contents can alter the effects of THC and its potency, so becoming familiar with terpenes can help you discover what works best for you and your symptoms. 

What is best for you?

There are many factors to finding a strain that is right for you individually. Your choice should depend first on your experience and tolerance level. Potent strains are not recommended for a new user. Then you should also consider what effects you want to achieve and how potent you want it. Rather than focusing on the strain, instead pay closer attention to the description of the cannabinoids and terpenes to find the best match for your body and mind. 

The method of consumption also plays a part in the effects you will experience, whether smoking, vaporizing, edibles, or concentrates. Consumers feel the effects of smoking or vaping more quickly, while the effects of edibles take longer to experience but are usually more potent. 

Importantly, remember to consider your medical history and speak to a doctor as needed about potential risks and benefits. A trained staff member at a dispensary can recommend suitable products for your needs. 

Even after finding an effective product, it is recommended that patients keep experimenting and trying new strains to find greater potency or more effective products that offer improved relief for their symptoms. 

An important reason to avoid buying cannabis from the black market is that you will not get to choose the strain or know the contents of the product. Especially medical patients should consume cannabis from a trusted dispensary or grower from which they know what growing techniques were used and what strain it is so the medicine can treat their symptoms properly. 

Side effects and risks

Cannabis use also may result in some unwanted side effects. These side effects and risks include: paranoia, lethargy, dry mouth, dry eyes, dizziness, anxiety, and increased heart rate. These side effects are primarily associated with THC. 

How you consume cannabis can lead to further side effects and risks. For example, smoking and vaping can affect your respiratory health, with coughing and lung irritation. 

Learning about the cannabis product types and characteristics, as well as experimenting with different strains and products, will help you discover a product that will work best for you.