Terminology can be confusing when it comes to cannabis. Talk of terpenes and cannabinoids is all the rage today. Still, for ages, people focused primarily on one vital question: Is the strain you’re about to smoke an indica or a sativa?

Generally considered to be two different species of the same plant, people have for decades seen sativa and indica strains as two completely different beasts regarding their effects. 

Today, there’s a movement away from defining strains simply as indica or sativa and toward “chemotype,” a strain defined by its actual chemical composition. For example, a strain that’s technically an indica may provide an effect more like the stereotypical sativa high depending on the cannabinoids and terpenes it possesses.

But it will likely take years for such complexities to be understood by your average, casual consumer (if they ever are). That’s why dispensaries and edibles manufacturers still primarily describe their products in a way their customers will understand: indica and sativa. It’s essential to understand what those labels are widely believed to mean. That way, you know what to expect. In this article, we’ll focus on cannabis indica, starting with the plant itself:

Plant Characteristics

There is some disagreement about whether or not the cannabis indica plant is a different species than the cannabis sativa, but they typically look different.

Cannabis indica plants are typically short, dense, and have a bushier appearance with wide and short leaves compared to the typical cannabis sativa plant. Cannabis sativa plants are typically more tree-like in comparison.

Indica plants grow naturally in the Middle East and Asia mountains, where the climate is dry. Cannabis indica is traditionally the source of the famous hashish (resin) produced in India and Morocco.

Thanks to its native inhospitable growing climate, cannabis indica plants have a relatively fast growing cycle—half that of some cannabis sativa strains. It takes about seven weeks for an indica to flower and be ready for harvesting.

Indica Strains
Photo: chontocha via 123RF

Indica’s Effects

The stereotypical indica high is a “body high,” meaning you’ll primarily feel it in the body as opposed to the more cerebral, creative effects in a sativa strain. Here’s a trick on how to remember this: Indica is felt “in-da-body,” while you can think of the first two letters of “sativa” standing for “stay awake.”

The body high is often a heavy feeling that’s perfect for relaxation, sleep, and pain relief. Just know: You might not want to leave the couch! Indica is also thought to stimulate the appetite or be more likely to give you “the munchies”— a good or bad thing, depending on who you are.

Popular Indica Strains

Northern Lights is quite possibly the most famous strain of cannabis, period, let alone indica. Cannabis database Leafly calls its effects “euphoric” and says it relaxes muscles while “easing the mind.”

Also popular among indica fans: anything purple. And when we say “purple,” we literally mean the flower has blue, red, or purple hues. Helpfully, the word is typically in the strain’s name too. So, whether you’re going for Purple Trainwreck, Purple Punch, or Grizzly Purple Kush, you can expect a high THC count (upward of 24% in some cases) and a body high that could leave you couch-locked with a bag of chips in your lap.

These days, Kush is giving Northern Lights a run for its money in popularity. The earthy-tasting, body-relaxing OG Kush strain has been combined in so many forms that it’s hard to keep up! There’s Bubba Kush, Pre-98 Bubba Kush, Commerce City Kush, King Louis OG, and even Charlie Sheen OG

Kush’s diversity and popularity are apparent in its celebration within hip-hop culture.

To sum up, the way we understand weed is changing, but the simplest way to categorize it is by its two most common species: indica and sativa. That’s how you’ll see it labeled at most retail stores or dispensaries and in everyday conversation with casual smokers.

Indica is known for its bushy appearance and body high and comes in the form of many popular strains you’ll hear about in stoner movies and hip-hop tracks. The more you know!