WHAT IS INDICA? | The ancient mountain strain is secretive and misunderstood

Sheena Shiravi
Apr 9, 2018

The ‘body high’ cannabis strain is more complex than its reputation.

Cool, relaxed, chilled out. “In-da-couch.” Your sleep-friendly, night-time toke.

Everything you may know about indica is rooted in truth: it does tend toward moderate THC levels and higher CBD than sativa, giving indica a reputation for a stonier, body-numbing high. For pain relief, insomnia, stress, and anxiety, it’s always been the way to go.

| SEE ALSO: What is CBD, and how can the ‘not high’ cannabinoid help me? |

But as with any reputation, the underlying truths are more complex than what you’ve heard. Though fans of the euphoric, energized, and intensely focused THC high have pushed growers to cultivate high-THC sativa, there are many reasons to keep an open mind about what indica really means.

The indica vs. sativa debate: Changing perceptions.

As we understand more about the therapeutic potential of CBD—the non-psychoactive cannabinoid that’s the plant’s second-most abundant—our understanding of indica-versus-sativa becomes less binary. It’s really more of a spectrum to explore.

Because some sativas can be high in CBD. Some indicas may have relatively little. Scientists can’t even agree on whether the two are separate species at all.

And the amount of cross-breeding that’s been going on for generations—creating “hybrid” strains that can bridge and balance their distinctions—has made many speculate that the very existence of “pure” indica or sativa strains even exist anymore.

No matter the strain, cannabis flowers release a kaleidoscope of THC, CBD, and dozens of other cannabinoids and terpenes (the essential oils that give all plants unique flavor and aroma), all acting upon each other when consumed. This “entourage effect” theory is rapidly gaining acceptance—and makes it challenging to draw direct links between compounds and effects.

But there are plenty of characteristics of indica strains that make it starkly distinctive from sativa, starting with the look and feel of the plants themselves.

Squatter, denser, faster, stronger.

Cannabis indica’s origins are roughly traced to the Hindu Kush (if the word “Kush” is in the strain’s name, it’s likely an indica), a formidable mountain range along the Afghan-Pakistani border, where the plant developed a fast-flowering cycle to stay ahead of annual monsoons.

Indica plants are short, broad, bushy, conical, and dense (at least when compared with the taller, lankier, jauntier plants of sativa, which developed in equatorial climates). Famed French botanist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was the first westerner to identify this “second species” in 1785 and, suspecting it was from India, gave it the name we use today.

A young bud of indica.

The leaves are wider and sturdier, the flowers thicker and more robust. Indica buds are easy to spot, too: Darker in color—purple and blue hues are common—they’re generally more dense, resinous, and skunky in aroma.

Those characteristics and origins are reflected in the colorful names of many popular indica strains, like Grandaddy Purple, Grape Ape, Afghan Kush, and Kryptonite.

Give indica a chance.

Longtime cannabis enthusiasts remember a time when you were happy with whatever you could get your hands on, blissfully unaware of marijuana’s dueling strains. As legal medical and adult-use cannabis brought more options, sides were chosen.

But “indica or sativa?” is akin to asking a wine drinker whether they prefer reds or whites. The only correct answer is, “It depends on the situation!”

[Courtesy of Humboldt Farms]
High-THC sativa can have a heady, uplifting effect that some find endlessly euphoric and energizing; but many find it anxiety-inducing, confusing, and too intense. Indica’s richer stores of CBD can balance out those effects, blending in a feeling of relaxation and well-being.

And though indica is almost always going to be the right flower strain for sleep, that doesn’t exclude its use as a daytime choice. Its mellow, balanced-out vibe can be perfect for activities that don’t require intense focus or physical strain, and won’t necessarily sink you into a state that’s any sleepier than you were to begin with.

But carve out some time for a nap just in case. Especially with that Granddaddy Purple.

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