There’s a lot of rumors circulating around the cannabis community about the effects of sativa, hybrid, and indica strains. Considering the stoner movie clichés and inconsistent budtender advice, it’s no wonder people are confused.
True industry experts raise an eyebrow at product labels that promote energy-inducing sativa effects and sleep-promoting indica effects. As for hybrids, the truth is even more surprising.
Sativa vs. Hybrid vs. Indica myths
It’s no secret that the cannabis industry has evolved in a very short amount of time. Since Colorado and Washington State legalized the recreational use of cannabis in 2012, seventeen other states have gone on to follow their lead, ushering in a wave of available products in varying shapes and sizes.
But there’s still the problem of industry-wide consistency when it comes to packaging, marketing, and recommending cannabis products to consumers.
To settle the confusion, we put together this list of cannabis plant myths, half-truths, and hearsay:
Myth #1: Sativas are for daytime and indicas are for nighttime use
Product labels are rife with simplified explanations of strain effects. You’ve probably heard it before: sativas uplift and energize the mind while indicas relax and calm the body. Hybrids are believed to be the sweet spot between sativa and indica effects.
This categorization is found on all types of cannabis products—from flower and edibles to concentrates and vaporizers. The general consensus seems to be that sativas are best enjoyed during the day and indicas are ideal for winding down at night.
The Truth: The effects aren’t the same for everyone
While it might be easier for dispensaries and budtenders to sell cannabis based on so-called strain effects, cannabis isn’t that simple. It’s entirely subjective and dependent on an individual’s unique makeup. A sativa may offer one person a cerebral buzz, but the same strain could make another feel supremely tired.
Now, to be clear, cannabis sativa, cannabis indica, and hybrid strains do have different physical characteristics. There are differences in leaf shape, size, and color, but when it comes to the effects, things get a bit fuzzier.
Factors such as a person’s age, weight, environment, headspace, anxiety levels, and the last time they ate can affect the experience. Cannabis products don’t go over all of this because it’s easier to sell products with labels that point the consumer towards sativas for [insert generalization] and indicas for [insert oversimplification].
The key point to remember is that cannabis affects everyone differently. The best way to find out is to get comfortable, try them all, and see what happens for yourself. If you need an easy storage solution, Vessel’s Basin can help you organize your cannabis so you don’t lose track of what's in your grinder.
Myth #2: Hybrids are a 50/50 mix of sativa and indica
Similarly, cannabis products labeled as hybrids tend to find their way to unknowing customers for their “balanced” effects. Some cultivators slap more specific labels on their products (sativa or indica-dominant), but again, these terms can be somewhat misleading.
The Truth: The composition of hybrids is variable
Hybrid-style strains aren’t always an even split of sativa and indica strains. While hybrids may feature sativa-forward (or vice-versa) profiles, cross-breeding is way more complex than harvesters would have you believe.
Arguing that hybrids offer “balanced” effects is an oversimplification—at best, a clever marketing trick. Any cultivator will tell you that just about every strain on the market is a hybrid, but that’s based on plant chemistry, not the effects alone.
The best way to pinpoint strain effects is to consider cannabinoid (THC, CBD, CBN) and terpene (smell and taste) composition. Understanding these traits allows you to make more sensible decisions rather than going off of generic labels alone.
Myth #3: Indicas get you more stoned because they have more THC
It’s not uncommon for customers to come into dispensaries with questions about potency. For some, the higher the number, the better the buds. Labels like “couch-lock,” “body high,” and “sedative” frequently pop up on indica products.
The general consensus is that indica strains cause sleepiness and relaxation because of higher THC content.
The Truth: Larger THC potency doesn’t make you “higher”
For consumers, this rationale is problematic on many levels. For one, it doesn’t take into account someone’s tolerance. If you’re asking about potency at the dispensary, chances are your tolerance is probably through the roof. That means you need more cannabis than before to produce the same effects.
Some researchers have pointed out that high-THC strains don’t get you “higher”—this based on self-reported survey results from study participants who consumed varying potencies.
This argument doesn’t pertain to edibles, though, so proceed with caution with those products. But delivery method is definitely a factor when it comes to potency. A better way to gauge THC effects is to buy with terpenes in mind. These compounds offer various therapeutic effects and can help you better understand your tolerance.
Myth #4: Products that are labeled sativa strains or indica strains are always accurate
Products with QR codes that link out to third-party lab results must be accurate, right? You didn’t grow the cannabis yourself, so what’s there to question?
The Truth: Lab reports may exaggerate or round up percentages
This happens quite often. Cannabis brands seek to please the people, the same buyers who think that potency/strain type is the tell-all qualifier of “quality” strains. Unfortunately, it’s not just the buyers contributing to the misunderstanding.
Cannabis brands face market pressures to keep up with the ever-growing competition. Scouting for independent labs that can stretch the truth seems to be a pervasive trend among harvesters and retailers.
It’s easy for a lab to generalize cannabinoid composition and potency, reducing strain makeup to a grossly exaggerated estimate. This isn’t the case for all brands, but something to be aware of.
What is the difference between indica, sativa, and hybrid high?
As mentioned before, the differences between the strain types depend on terpenes, like linalool, pinene, and caryophyllene, cannabinoids, entourage effect, and delivery method. Cannabis effects are best understood as existing on a spectrum.
Try to keep in mind the generalities, but the chart below summarizes some of the differences.
Indica vs. sativa vs. hybrid chart
To sum it up
The best way to understand the effects of cannabis strains is to perform a taste test at home. Try buying one of each to compare and contrast the sensations you experience. Take notes if it helps, noting differences in flavor, aroma, and mood.
A quality vape pen should accentuate the qualities in any sativa, hybrid, and indica strain.
Is indica better than sativa or hybrid?
One isn’t necessarily “better” than the other, they’re just different. When picking between sativa, hybrid, and indica strains, going off of terpene composition is a more reasonable approach. Strains high in myrcene, for instance, may promote sleep and pain relief. Since cannabis research is still lagging in regards to strain effects, terpenes provide better insights because they have been studied more extensively.
Is there actually a difference between sativa and indica?
In terms of the way the plant grows, yes. Sativa plants are taller with thin leaves while indica plants are shorter with wider leaves. As for the effects, everyone’s “high” is unique.
What smells stronger, indica, sativa, or hybrid?
That’s hard to answer since you need to smell the buds yourself, but if you’re in a state that doesn’t allow you to smell before buying (or you’re online), see if you can get information about terpenes. These compounds are the best way to gauge aroma.
What makes you sleepy, sativa or hybrid?
People experience different effects when using different strains. However, it’s widely believed that sativa cannabis makes people hyper. In this case, a hybrid strain might make you more sleepy than a sativa.
Does sativa make you sleepy or hyper?
As mentioned earlier, sativa strains tend to be more energizing, although they can affect people differently. However, you can expect to feel more on the hyper side than sleepy with a sativa.
What is better for insomnia?
Some people believe that indica strains can have sedating side effects, although cannabis strains affect people differently. So, an indica strain could be more helpful if you have insomnia. Keep in mind that there is conflicting research on whether using cannabis provides quality sleep or not.
Does sativa make you hungry?
It’s possible that sativa can make you hungry. Cannabis has a reputation for increasing hunger in many people. Different strains may have different effects on people.