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From Hemp to High: Understanding the Different Cannabis Strains

 a person holding cannabis buds - SMOKEA®

According to self-reported data, about 17% of Americans smoke cannabis. As these numbers continue to climb, new and veteran smokers have begun to explore the differences between cannabis strains to determine their impact on the body and mind. With indica, sativa, and hybrid combinations at the forefront of the discussion, we can help you find the most beneficial strain for you.

The History of Cannabis Strains

About 24 states in the U.S. allow the legal recreational use of cannabis, and 38 states allow it for medical use. While the popularity of cannabis may sound like a modern event, humans have a long history of exploring the effects of cannabis.

Around 500 BC, ancient cultures in Asia used cannabis for herbal medicine. In the U.S., early colonists cultivated cannabis to grow hemp for rope and other textiles. Since it takes minimal time to develop and cultivate cannabis, some New England colonies had requirements to grow hemp in the 1600s.

While early hemp plants had low levels of THC, evidence shows that some ancient cultures may have known the psychoactive properties of cannabis. Archeologists have found burned cannabis seeds in the graves of shamans in China and Siberia.

Cannabis as Medication

In the 1830s, an Irish doctor studying in India discovered uses for cannabis extract to treat patients with cholera. He found that it eased stomach pain and lessened vomiting. By the late 1800s, you could find cannabis extract in pharmacies throughout the U.S. and Europe to treat stomach problems.

Cannabis for Recreation

Herodotus, an ancient Greek historian, described a group of Iranian nomads inhaling smoke from cannabis flowers and seeds. Hashish, which is a purified form of cannabis, experienced wide use in Asia and the Middle East after 800 AD. Cannabis’ popularity corresponded with the spread of Islam throughout the region, as the Quran forbids alcohol, but not specifically cannabis.

In the U.S., recreational use began in the early 1900s. Immigrants from Mexico introduced the practice during the Mexican Revolution.

Types of Cannabis Strains

Nowadays, we've come a long way from the early days of cannabis use. While sativa and indica are the same type of plant, their biological differences give them their respective categorizations.

Composition of Cannabis

There are more than 120 naturally occurring components in cannabis. Of these compounds, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) are the most common.

While CBD is psychoactive, THC is the primary psychoactive compound. CBD is non-intoxicating and does not give you the high that most people associate with cannabis. THC, on the other hand, is responsible for it. Manufacturers can isolate the components in cannabis, resulting in products that contain only CBD, THC, or any combination of the elements.

Terpenes are another component within cannabis strains. These are the components that affect the aroma of the plant, along with the flavor. They work in synergy with THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids to create different effects. While terpenes protect plants from predators and harsh natural conditions, many researchers also believe that terpenes can help classify cannabis products.

For instance, some researchers hypothesize that the dominant terpenes, mixed with THC and CBD, may produce the effects associated with sativa and indica. Terpenes cannot cause intoxication by themselves, but they may increase the effects of THC.

Appearance of Sativa and Indica

Sativa plants thrive in temperate climates, with long summers and mild winters. Originally, sativa grew in regions close to the equator, identified by its sparse foliage and delicate, thin-fingered leaves. Sativa plants may reach up to 10 feet tall and have a long flowering period. Since sativa plants are larger, they are not ideal for those who want to grow indoors. They need space, balmy temperatures, and high humidity.

Indica plants, on the other hand, have broad, dark-green leaves and look bushier. Cannabis indica grew in cold, dry Asian climates. This makes the plant more robust but also means it has a shorter flowering period due to the need to reproduce before winter arrives. Despite its short flowering period, it does produce a high yield.

Hybrid leaves, on the other hand, are more challenging to identify. They may have characteristics of either strain, with some hybrids leaning more towards one plant than the other.

Scents of Different Strains

Any cannabis enthusiast can tell you that cannabis has a variety of scent profiles. The terpenes in cannabis can cause scents ranging from musky, woody, and spicy to tropical and fruity.

Indica strains have a more musty, earthy aroma, whereas sativas have a sweet, spicy, or fruity scent profile. Many hybrid weeds have a strong and pungent fragrance with just a hint of citrus. Generally, hybrid plants will smell more like the dominant strain.

Sativa Strains

a close-up image of a cannabis sativa plant - SMOKEA®

When you hear the term cannabis sativa, it can refer to two different things. First, cannabis sativa is the proper name for the hemp plant. Second, it is also one of the most common cannabis strains.

While your body chemistry can affect how you experience any high, sativa is most responsible for providing a head high. Head highs include feelings of stimulation, euphoria, or even hallucinogenic effects. With sativa strains, you are more likely to feel alert and creative.

This is the strain you want to have during daylight hours when you want to pursue creative projects, hang out with friends, or do housework.

For instance, when you have sativa products, you may enjoy yourself more at a dance party or get more done when you blast music and clean the house. If you're an artist or musician, you may find focusing easier after taking sativa.

In recent years, research on the sativa and indica cannabis strains resulted in more of an understanding of why sativa affects the body the way that it does. Most sativa strains contain more THC than CBD, and the THC may contribute to the head high that you feel.

Pineapple Express

Pineapple Express has a sweet, flavorful aroma mixed with pine. Named for the narrow corridor of water vapor that originates near Hawaii and affects the west coast of Canada and the U.S., people with anxiety, chronic pain, and migraines tend to enjoy Pineapple Express. The plant has a dense, green appearance with curly buds and orange pistils.

Green Goblin

Green Goblin has a pungent, musky aroma with diesel fuel undertones. Easily identifiable by its forest green color and orange hairs, it is a potent strain that leaves most users in a dreamy state, prepared to tackle creative challenges.

Medical Benefits of Sativa

Sativa strains do have medical benefits and uses. People can use them to increase cognition or to treat mental illness. Sativa may have more positive effects than other prescription medications like opioids, which can result in severe addiction.

Anxiety and Depression Relief

Sativa-dominant cannabis strains tend to help those who suffer from depression and anxiety by boosting their overall mood and suppressing anxious or depressed thoughts. Sativa is an appropriate way to deal with social anxiety. Typically, people feel more social and relaxed in high-stress situations.

Pain Reduction

Cannabis is one of the most effective ways to relieve pain. However, sativa, in particular, has anti-inflammatory properties that may help if you have a muscle or tendon injury. It can also treat patients who suffer from arthritis.

Additionally, if you have chronic migraines, you may experience pain relief from regular sativa use.

Hypertension Treatment

Hypertension is one of the leading causes of illness in Americans. Sativa-dominant strains have characteristics known as antihypertensive agents. The sativa strains may treat and help prevent its onset for those who struggle with high blood pressure.

Psychoactive Benefits of Sativa

Sativa can boost overall feelings and cause synaptic plasticity. This means that when it interacts with your brain, it can cause different neural pathways to develop. Neural pathways alter your existing pathways to adapt to experiences, create memories, and learn information. Partaking in a sativa-dominant strain may enhance your creative process or help you learn new skills. Creative professionals often use sativa because it helps them think outside the box.

Indica Strains

a growing cannabis indica plant - SMOKEA®

While indica has a long history, Europeans only came across it in the 18th century. As an Indian species, Europeans named it Cannabis Indica, or cannabis from India.

If you seek the "body high," you most likely want an indica strain. Indica is a soothing strain that most users can take before bedtime to relax. All cannabis strains can have different effects on particular individuals, but most people report a relaxed, calming sensation from indica.

Bubba Kush

You may also know Bubba Kush by a few different names, including Bubba and Bubba OG Kush. Bubba Kush is one of the most notorious indica strains in the U.S. The plant has a bulky bud structure with hues ranging from pale purple to deep green. It has a sweet, hashish flavor with subtle coffee and chocolate notes. This strain has a heavy high, one that is both euphoric and tranquilizing.

Grandaddy Purple

Grandaddy Purple has a bright, vibrant color profile with a green base and purple highlights. The flower will also have orange hairs and a fine white coating. Originally from California, Grandaddy Purple has become one of the most popular indica strains, offering a floaty high that relaxes your body completely.

Medical Benefits of Indica

All cannabis strains can offer some medical benefits. When choosing indica, you may find it helps with various medical conditions.


About one in three adults globally suffer from insomnia. Nowadays, people consume an overwhelming amount of media and stimuli, making it more difficult for them to sleep at night. Indica does have more sedative effects than sativa. It calms the body, and people have less difficulty falling asleep. Research shows that people who smoke cannabis fall asleep about an hour quicker than their non-smoking counterparts.


PTSD is a life-threatening, debilitating mental illness for many people, including veterans and assault and abuse survivors. PTSD can result in extreme anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia. Patients may also experience anger and chronic nightmares.

Indica cannabis strains can help treat PTSD. Research shows that THC reduces night terrors. Patients with PTSD who use cannabis tend to have better sleep quality and reduced daytime flashbacks.

Chronic Pain

When you have an excellent indica strain, it can make your body feel heavy and relaxed. Patients with chronic pain, including those who struggle with cancer and multiple sclerosis, may have trouble relaxing their bodies to feel less pain. With help from cannabis, however, they can rest.

CBD is what helps the most with chronic pain. In hybrid strains, the CBD concentration is extremely low, so you need to make sure your strain has a high CBD content if you want to treat chronic pain.


Weed is extremely effective at treating seizures. When you have a strain that is low in THC but packed with CBD, it can treat epilepsy without limiting your mental clarity. CBD blocks signals from a molecule called LPI. LPI amplifies nerve signals hijacked by epilepsy.


Conditions like fibromyalgia and arthritis cause extreme inflammation and pain in the joints. Fibromyalgia and arthritis tend to occur because of an overactive immune system. Cannabis, however, encourages the death of T-cells in your body, which suppresses the immune system and reduces inflammation.

Hybrid Strains

Hybrid cannabis strains are a combination of indica and sativa. Most people consider making hybrids to tailor the type of cannabis to the person. For example, a person who cannot afford to lose energy or become lazy will want to ensure that he or she has a strain that offers more energy and productivity.

King Louis

King Louis offers a royal high, named after the French monarch. This Indica-dominant hybrid has a complex flavor profile with earthy, piney notes. If you love the classic taste of cannabis, King Louis fits the bill. Most users experience a heavy stone; hence, you may want to save King Louis for weekends and evenings.

Cherry Pie

Cherry Pie is a dense green with a bit of purple and orange hair. Named for its fruity, sweet, and sour scent, Cherry Pie offers a happy high. If you're looking for strains that leave you feeling euphoric and giggly, Cherry Pie should work for you. It is the type of weed that accompanies a good comedy film.

Cereal Milk

Cereal milk lives up to its name! Its strong, sweet, milky flavor is reminiscent of the bowl of cereal you enjoyed as a kid. It is a balanced hybrid, offering a mood-boosting high while also calming your body.

Benefits of Hybrid Cannabis Strains

The benefits of hybrid strains do depend on the specific person and the type of high they're seeking. Choosing a hybrid can result in the same, if not more, benefits than a pure indica or sativa strain.

Custom and Balanced Experiences

When you combine the effects of sativa and indica strains, you create a plant capable of relaxing and uplifting effects. This allows individuals to customize their experience. For instance, if you need relaxation and stress relief, there is a hybrid strain more suitable for that purpose.

You don't have to worry about one-size-fits-all options. You can tailor your experience to your specific needs and preferences.

Versatility in Consumption

Hybrid strains are versatile. If you have a preferred method of consumption, you can rest assured that you'll find hybrids in every form, including products for vaping, smoking, and eating. Different occasions or moods may call for different consumption methods, and hybrids are always available.

Enhanced Flavor and Scent Profiles

When you combine sativa and indica, you can create complex and unique scents and flavor profiles. For those who want a more enjoyable sensory experience, they may want to try different hybrid strains to find what they enjoy most.

How To Create Hybrid Strains

Cultivating cannabis has become an art form, one that allows us to offer an extensive variety of cannabis products.

Breeding Cannabis Strains

Breeders begin the hybridization process to create hybrid strains. First, they select parent plants with the desired traits that they want to combine. For instance, breeders may consider potency, aroma, growth, characteristics, and medicinal properties before breeding indica and sativa.

Next, the pollen of the selected male plant can fertilize the flowers of a female plant. During the fertilization process, you can see the seed production. Once they obtain the seeds, breeders can grow them and observe the plants. They have to look for particular phenotypes. If they want to develop the traits further, they continue to select plants with those traits.

Last, growers must consider stabilization. To create a hybrid strain, breeders should select and breed plants that display desired states over different generations. The stabilization process helps establish a predictable gene profile.

Mixing Cannabis Strains

Recreational and medical smokers will sometimes mix their weed to create a unique experience. Different strains consumed simultaneously can work together to produce a different effect from isolated cannabinoids.

For example, if you experience anxiety when you smoke strong sativa, you could blend your sativa with indica flower. Likewise, mixing a strong indica with a small amount of sativa can result in a head high with a calming effect.

Finding the Right Cannabis Strains for You

a grinder beside three open jars of cannabis strains - SMOKEA®

Indica and sativa are two different biological strains of cannabis, both effective in treating various ailments. While indica results in a calmer, relaxing high, sativa has more energizing effects that are beneficial to artists in creative slumps. When you understand the similarities and differences between indica, sativa, and their hybrids, you may have more luck determining the best strain for you.

SMOKEA® is your one-stop headshop, founded and run by professionals. Since 1988, we have kept our finger on the industry's pulse and designed our store to meet your needs. Learn more about our products to find the cannabis strains right for you.

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