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If you’ve been shopping for CBD-rich hemp flowers and vape products, you’ve probably noticed terms like sativa-dominant or indica-leaning. But if you’re new to the cannabis and hemp scene, you may still be wondering what those terms mean.
We’ve prepared this article to take some of the mystery out of hemp genetics and help you choose the best CBD flower strains for your needs.
What’s the Difference Between Sativa and Indica Plants?
Scientists classify cannabis and hemp strains based on their place of origin and the appearance of the plant. The original cannabis plants were landrace strains that developed in their natural habitats without much human interference. The three types of landrace strains are Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis.
Sativa Landrace Strains
Sativas originally came from warmer climates like Southeast Asia and Latin America. Examples of sativa landrace strains include:
- Durban Poison from South Africa
- Acapulco Gold from Mexico
- Thai stick from Southeast Asia
- Panama Red from Central America
The name “sativa” means cultivated, and our ancestors grew the plants primarily for food and industrial purposes. Sativa plants have exceptionally fibrous stalks, making them ideal for industrial purposes, such as making rope, fabric, and paper. In the past, all industrial hemp came from Cannabis sativa (L.) plants.
Sativa plants grow tall with thin, narrow leaves and long spaces between the leaf nodes. Sativa CBD buds are typically longer and fluffier than their indica counterparts.
Indica Landrace Strains
Indica landrace strains come from Asia and the Middle East. European botanists named these strains after India, where they found the first plants. For thousands of years, inhabitants of the region grew indica plants for food, fiber, medicinal, and religious purposes. The Hindu-Kush region between Pakistan and Afghanistan is renowned for its hash made from local indica plants.
Indica genetics produce short, bushy plants with thick, broad leaves. Indica CBD flowers tend to be rounder and more compact than sativa hemp buds. The denser buds may make a package of indica CBD flowers seem smaller than the same weight in a sativa variety.
Ruderalis plants thrive under challenging conditions, often in inhospitable urban environments. Wild ruderalis plants grow abundantly in Eastern European countries like Russia, Ukraine, and Hungary. While you won’t find ruderalis flowers for sale online, breeders use the plants for their auto-flowering capabilities. When plants autoflower, they’ll start blooming after a set period of time despite changes in the climate or seasons.
What Are the Effects of Sativa vs. Indica CBD Flower?
While no two hybrids are identical, a few generalizations are helpful to consider when deciding between sativa and indica strains.
Sativas are famous for their cerebral effects, which many refer to as a “head high.” Typically thought of as daytime strains, sativas elevate the mood and energize the body. Sativa leaning strains make excellent choices for social gatherings, productive work, and creative inspiration. MMJ doctors usually recommend sativa strains for issues like depression, fatigue, and concentration problems.
Unlike the mental energy sativas offer, indica flowers produce more of a body buzz. Indicas can be so relaxing that consumers often find themselves melting into the sofa, a phenomenon called “couch-lock.” Their ability to promote such profound physical relaxation makes indica varieties perfect for the evening to promote restful sleep.
Indica hemp flower strains are also notorious for stimulating the appetite. It’s always a good idea to keep healthy snacks nearby for when the munchies kick in. Members of the medical marijuana community often consume indica flowers for pain relief, digestive problems, and sleep disturbances.
Today’s CBD Hemp Hybrids
These days, it’s become challenging to find pure landrace strains. Most of the hemp flowers you see on the market are hybrids. Hybrids combine genetics from two or more strains to create plants with distinct characteristics.
For example, hybrids like Sour Tsunami and Charlotte’s Web were bred primarily for their CBD content and medicinal effects. In contrast, strains like Sour Space Candy and Pineapple Express feature outstanding terpene profiles that maximize flavors and aromas.
Hybrid hemp strains can be either sativa-dominant, indica-dominant, or balanced. A balanced hybrid has an indica-to-sativa ratio that’s around 50:50. Let’s take a closer look at popular CBD flower strains in each category.
Sativa-Dominant CBD Strains
Energizing and mood-enhancing, Lifter features a sweet citrus taste and a refreshing lemon fragrance.
The CBD version of Sour Diesel combines a classic gassy aroma with a potent 70:30 sativa-to indica ratio.
When you see the word “Haze” in a strain name, you’ll know that it’s a sativa. Hawaiian Haze combines tropical fruit flavor with an upbeat social vibe.
Indica-Dominant CBD Strains
One of the most popular evening hemp strains, Bubba Kush combines classic indica effects with chocolate and coffee notes.
Multiple award-winning Northern Lights is the combination of two landrace strains: Afghani and Thai.
Balanced CBD Hemp Strains
Featuring over 20 distinct terpenes, Special Sauce dazzles the senses with outstanding flavor.
Though it leans slightly to the indica side, Wedding Cake imparts balanced effects that make the buds ideal both for participating in social events and winding down afterward.
Understanding the Effects of Different Hemp Strains
So far, researchers have identified nearly 500 distinct compounds in cannabis plants. All of the various hemp compounds work together to produce a therapeutic synergy that scientists call the entourage effect. The combined properties of all the active ingredients determine the final flavor, aroma, and effects of a particular hemp flower strain.
The primary active ingredients in hemp and cannabis plants, CBD and THC, are called cannabinoids. Scientists have identified over 120 different cannabinoids in hemp plants, including:
- Cannabidiol (CBD): The most abundant cannabinoid in hemp plants, CBD is prized for its ability to reduce inflammation and promote a sense of calm.
- Cannabigerol (CBG): Researchers refer to CBG as “The Mother Cannabinoid” because the compound is a precursor to several other cannabinoids. CBG is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid with unique therapeutic properties. Some hemp flower strains, such as Jack Frost and John Snow, feature high CBG levels.
- Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): THC is the main psychoactive ingredient in traditional cannabis plants. Besides its recreational use, THC has a wide range of therapeutic properties, including decreasing the intraocular pressure associated with glaucoma.
- Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-8): Delta-8 offers many of the same benefits as regular THC with markedly lower psychoactive effects. Consumers can buy delta-8 fortified CBD flower in a wide range of strains.
- Cannabimovone (CBM): CBM is abundant in some Italian hemp strains and may play a future role in treating metabolic disorders like diabetes.
- Cannabinol (CBN): CBN is produced when regular THC begins to degrade. Dispensaries often recommend CBN products to their clients with sleep issues.
- Cannabichromene (CBC): Researchers have documented CBC’s potential to stimulate appetite, elevate moods, ease body aches, improve brain function, and reduce fear responses.
Terpenes are aromatic hydrocarbons plants produce to deter pests and attract pollinators. Terpenes give all of our food, flowers, and herbs their characteristic flavors and aromas. You’ll hear a lot about terpenes if you study essential oils or wines.
Some of the most abundant terpenes in hemp plants include:
- Myrcene: Myrcene is the terpene responsible for the couch-lock effect experienced with indica-dominant strains. Also plentiful in hops and mangos, myrcene offers sweet berry aromas with earthy undertones.
- Beta-caryophyllene: Spicy beta-caryophyllene can also be found in cinnamon, clove, and black pepper. Beta-caryophyllene can directly stimulate CB2 receptors, making the compound arguably both a terpene and a cannabinoid.
- Limonene: Found in most citrus fruits, limonene stimulates serotonin receptors when inhaled to produce uplifting effects. Limonene is also one of the primary terpenes responsible for classic diesel and skunk aromas.
- Humulene: Humulene gives plants like hops and ginseng their characteristic herbal scents.
- Linalool: Also known as the “spa terpene,” linalool has a calming nature and a floral bouquet reminiscent of lilac or lavender flowers.
- Pinene: Abundant in rosemary, parsley, and evergreen trees, pinene offers a fresh pine scent and mentally stimulating properties.
Flavonoids give fruits, vegetables, and flowers their characteristic colors. These compounds help the plants attract helpful pollinators, repel pests, and protect against excessive ultraviolet radiation. Research has concluded that flavonoids have antioxidant, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Flavonoids specific to hemp and cannabis plants are called “cannaflavins.” So far, scientists have isolated at least 20 cannaflavins. The most famous flavonoids in hemp plants are called anthocyanins. Anthocyanin pigments give some varieties of hemp flower touches of red, blue, and purple hues.
As you can see, there’s a lot to choosing a hemp strain besides the sativa/indica factor. The best way for beginners to select hemp strains is by trying out different varieties until you find your favorites.