Dispensaries and dealers don’t always get the strain names right for the pot they carry, a fact of life most consumers have to deal with. If you’re in the mood for either the couch-lock from a good Indica, or a clear-headed get-shit-done buzz from a pure Sativa, you have to rely on more than just the bud-tender’s knowledge of strains to make the right choice.

Excluding CBD-strains, all the smokable cannabis on the market contains high amounts of THC, but subtle differences in cannabinoid and terpenoid content between these two subspecies of cannabis make for noticeably distinct effects.

Sativa strains, technically Cannabis sativa subsp. sativa, produce small amounts of tetrahydrocannabivarin, or THCV. This cannabinoid on its own is not psychoactive, but when mixed with THC it creates a more clear-headed buzz by slightly blocking the memory impairment caused by THC. Sativa strains have relatively higher quantities of monoterpenes such as terpinolene and myrcene making for floral, delicate aromas that don’t always give themselves away.

Indica strains, technically Cannabis sativa subsp. indica, produce small amounts of cannabidiol, or CBD. This cannabinoid, acclaimed by scientists and the media for its medicinal properties and lack of psychoactive effects, potentiates the effects of THC in a way that creates a more sedative and immersive high. Indicas generate relatively higher amounts of sesquiterpenes, such as caryophyllene and humulene, creating a thick skunky aroma that wanders right out of the bag, your pocket, the front door and out into the world.

If you don’t already know how to tell an Indica from a Sativa by smell, a skill that comes with either years of experience or one visit to the Cannabis Cup, then you’ll have to rely on their physical differences. Pure Sativa strains hail from the humid climates of Southeast Asia, certain regions of Africa, Indochina and Northeastern India. These plants grow tall with thin leaves, and produce wispy buds.

Notice the pattern the plants grow in to create a tall, thin and airy main cola

These skinny buds are an evolutionary trait that helps these plants avoid mold outbreaks, as dense buds would be far more susceptible. The native environment of Sativas never really gets cold and has a near constant level of humidity: very high. These plants take their sweet time when flowering, stretching into late October and November.

On the other hand, Indica strains grow short and squat, with thick fan leaves and dense buds.

A full-bloom, full-color Indica with dense buds ripe for the picking

Indicas cannabis originates from the dry climates of Central and Southern Asia: Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. These regions experience dry air until October at which point rain starts to fall. This seasonal rise in humidity has made Indica cannabis evolve to flower very early to avoid the mold that Fall humidity could cause. Unknown evolutionary causes also make these plants produce diverse hues of purple and red when exposed to cold temperatures.

Now you know how to tell the difference between an Indica and a Sativa, don't ever get bamboozled by you budtender again!

Photo Credit: Delta 9 Labs