Indica vs Sativa Leaves: How Are These Cannabis Types Different?

If you are new to the cannabis scene, you’ll quickly be able to see that cannabis strains are usually divided into three different groups. Those groups are sativa, indica, and hybrid.

There are a few distinct differences between the three strain categories. When it comes to indica vs sativa leaves, you want to keep a few things in mind, which we will share with you. Let's learn about them for you to know which suits your needs best.

We will give you the information you need to decipher between indica and sativa strains. We’ll also discuss how the words that represent the two strains even made their way into cannabis culture and terminology. We’ll also talk about the level of meaningfulness you can associate with the terms.

Effects of the Different Cannabis Strains

The most widely accepted differences relate to the different strains’ effects on users.

1. Sativa

Sativa strains are considered uplifting and invigorating that is why regular users typically enjoy sativa strains when engaged in social settings or performing physical activities. The strain also works well when paired with a creative endeavor.

2. Indica

Indica strains are known for having more of a sedation effect on users. This strain is best reserved for bedtime or relaxing.

3. Hybrid

Finally, hybrid strains work just as the name suggests. This strain sits somewhere between the effects you can expect from sativa and indica strains.

Growing Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid Strains 

There are differences to consider when growing each strain of cannabis.

1. Indica

The following characteristics mark indica plants:

  • High yields
  • Shorter flowering time 

Given the shorter flowering period for indica strains, as well as their high yield, they are a popular option for cannabis growers. The shorter flowering period means that the plant matures quickly and will finish growing sooner than a sativa strain.

This also means that indica strains can exist in outdoor gardens where the climate switches from fall to winter rather quickly. For indoor gardens, it means that there are more annual cycles available.

The high yield can equal bigger profits for growers. Given that the plant is shorter, it means that the plant can still be grown indoors or where space is tight.

2. Sativa

The following characteristics mark Sativa plants:

  • Low yields
  • Longer flowering period

Sativa plants take longer to finish, and they are longer and lankier than indica plants. They aren’t usually the top pick by most growers because they are hard to grow indoors given their height, and the lower yields they produce don’t create a lot of room for high profits.

They have their good qualities for growers, though. They have faster vegetative growth even though it takes them longer to complete their flower cycle. These strains also handle heat well, so they are good for growing indoors, even during the summer, when it can cost more to control the temperature.

3. Hybrid

Given the nature of hybrid strains, you can expect them to be marked by the following characteristics:

  • Varying flowering times
  • Several are high-yielding

Hybrid blends really serve to combine the best of indica and sativa strains. The majority of the strains available today are hybrid strains. With that said, each hybrid strain tends to lean toward either being more sativa or more indica.

Indica vs Sativa Leaves

So with all of that said, even the most seasoned marijuana users are steadfast in their belief that sativa, hybrid, and indica strains are distinctly different. The belief is rooted in mainstream culture. In fact, it is so widely believed and so fervently believed that budtenders would usually ask new marijuana users what kind of effect they hope to receive from their marijuana.

If you investigate a bit further, though, the picture isn’t so clear. When you dissect actual chemical components of both sativa and indica strains, you find that there aren’t such clear patterns to suggest why one strain would be uplifting and the other sedating. Those chemical ingredients, known as cannabinoids and terpenes, don’t have such distinct differences in their makeup.

We do recognize and accept that sativa and indica strains of cannabis do look different, and they also grow differently from each other. Those differences, though, are really only useful to those who grow the plant and not necessarily to the consumers.

indica vs sativa leaves

1. The Appearance

There are definite differences in the appearance of the indica and sativa strains. Sativa strains are taller and have pretty narrow leaves. They also are better suited for growth in climates with warm weather and long seasons.

On the other hand, the indica strain is a lot shorter and has broader leaves. The flowering cycle is also shorter than what you get with the sativa strain, while indica is more suited to colder climates.

To really find a strain that is going to give you the effects you want, you need to understand the chemical makeup of that particular strain. You can sometimes do that just by looking at the strain. For example, sometimes, just the colors and shapes of the cannabis strain will be enough to get an idea of the plant’s chemical ingredients.

When you rely on the chemical makeup of the strain, you are far more likely to find one that agrees with your body and pairs well with your activities.

2. The Science

So, we know the two strains look differently when it comes to their appearance. But what does the actual research say about their differences?

Using a system broken down by sativa, hybrid, and indica is certainly useful. It is easy to navigate, even for beginner users.

There is a whole lot of terminology, accessories, and other things to familiarize yourself with when it comes to cannabis. Having a three-strain system at least simplifies that area. 

The best starting point, though, is terpenes and cannabinoids, which are two words you should absolutely know if you are going to do anything cannabis-related. We will explain those in a bit.

In terms of what science suggests on the differences between sativa and indica strains, much of it points in the direction of nonsense. In general, there is no effect from cannabis that comes from whether the plant is tall or short or whether its leaves are broad or narrow.

The takeaway from this is that you really should not expect that all indica strains will have a sedative effect on you, or all sativa strains will be energizing. There really is no rule that suggests this to always be the case.

In fact, data on chemical ingredients are pretty clear that there isn’t a real pattern. You may feel those effects but they could just as easily be the result of your expectation.

If you purchase a sativa strain, you might assume you’ll feel energized, and so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. That doesn’t mean the strain actually worked on you.

Below's a great video from Leafly about both strains.

What Effects to Expect

So if indica and sativa strains aren’t what produce the effects, what does? There are actually a whole bunch of things that go into giving you an effect from cannabis. Some come from the plant, and others come from your own biology. Other factors include the dose as well as how you consume it.


The actual cannabis plant is made up of hundreds of different compounds that all work together to give you various effects. Cannabinoids lead all of that at work. The two most well-known of these are CBD and THC. Even if you don’t know anything about cannabis, you’ve likely heard of both of those.

CBD and THC are what produces most of the effects you can expect to get when you use cannabis:

  • Cannabidiol or CBD is the more calming ingredient. It is widely accepted to help relieve several medical ailments as well as general pain, anxiety, and inflammation
  • THC is the component that makes you feel high. It can also make you hungry. It also has some therapeutic properties in that it is believed to help alleviate nausea and pain.

You want to make sure you understand CBD and THC, as these are the two most impactful cannabinoids in cannabis. Still, there are dozens of others.

If you are trying to choose a strain, we recommend doing it based on a variety of factors that have nothing to do with whether the strain is indica or sativa. We recommend following these guidelines instead:

  • CBD-Dominant Strains: These strains don’t have a lot of THC. They are used by consumers who want relief from their symptoms but who also need to stay clear-headed and do not want to feel high. These strains are also an excellent option for anyone who thinks they are particularly sensitive to the effects of THC.
  • THC-Dominant Strains: These strains are a good option if you want a greater level of that high feeling. They can also work really well for those who are looking to manage several medical conditions and ailments, including depression, insomnia, general pain, and anxiety. These strains are not ideal for anyone who has sensitivity to THC or who thinks they might feel anxious with its use.
  • Balanced CBD-THC Strains: These strains function just as they sound. They have fairly equal levels of CBD and THC, so users get just about an equal amount of symptom relief and euphoria.


Terpenes can be found in several plants and fruits. They have an aromatic quality to them, and they are often used to help with relaxation. They can also be used to invigorate the body and mind and are used commonly in aromatherapy.

It is terpenes that give cannabis its scent and aromatic quality. So, when you smell citrus or berries or pine, the quality is coming from terpenes.

To some degree, the verdict is still out on exactly how terpenes affect strains of cannabis. It is widely understood that terpenes do play some role, perhaps a major one, in the energizing and sedative effects you get from cannabis.

There are several terpenes found in cannabis. You may want to understand the most common ones, just as it makes sense to be familiar with THC and CBD. Some of the most common terpenes include caryophyllene, myrcene, terpinolene, and limonene.

You can always smell the strains you are thinking about purchasing. If you gravitate toward the smell of one, you can try it out.

Choosing the Right Strain

So now you know the chemical makeup that can affect your cannabis. There are a few other things to consider when choosing the strain that’s right for you.


Consider a strain that is low in THC if you are brand new to cannabis or if you already know you have a low tolerance to the high effect. You also want a strain that is low in THC if you are more inclined to suffer from anxiety. If that’s the case, stick with a strain that is high in CBD.


Finally, your method of consumption can have a good deal to do with the effects you can expect as well. Consider enjoying edibles if you want the effects to last for a longer time. Conversely, if you are looking for a shorter-term effect, consider using a tincture or inhaler.


You might hear people talking about indica and sativa strains pretty frequently, but you should also make a note of the fact that many of the strains available today are a perfect hybrid of the two. Those hybrids give you the best qualities of both strains.

Be sure you understand the basics, including THC and CBD, along with terpenes before you consider which strain is right for you. This is especially true if you want to grow your own plants.

If you are thinking about growing your own cannabis plant, there are absolute considerations to keep in mind. When choosing between indica vs sativa leaves, opt for the one that makes the most sense for your needs. Bear in mind that there are plenty of growing accessories and full indoor kits you can purchase if you choose to grow a strain and have limited space.

1 Comment
  1. There is such an important distinction to make when it comes to sativa v indica. It’s something I don’t think many new marijuana enthusiasts know about. I will be sharing this article with friends. Thank you!

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