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At this point in your ganja journey, you’ve probably heard the terms indica and sativa tossed around by Jars budtenders and customers alike. You may smile and nod like you know what they’re talking about, but what do these words actually mean?

To put it in simple terms, cannabis connoisseurs have used these terms for years as a way to generally predict what type of effects you might expect from a certain cannabis strain. For example, indica strains are typically thought to have relaxing and sedative properties while sativa varieties are generally believed to be more active and creative than their sleepy counterparts.

This belief that indicas and sativas deliver distinct effects is so deeply rooted in mainstream cannabis culture that most budtenders, including our Jars team, typically begin their strain recommendations by asking you which of these two types you prefer. However, as we learn more about the cannabis plant and create new strains each and every day, we now know that it’s not quite so black and white.

If you take a closer look at the chemical “ingredients” that make up indicas and sativas – aka terpenes and cannabinoids (which we’ll discuss below) – you’ll discover that there aren’t clear patterns to explain why one strain would be inherently soothing while the other is uplifting.

Confusing, we know — so read on for a closer look at the complex world of cannabis strains, cannabinoids, terpenes, and everything in between.

The Basics: Indica vs. Sativa

While it’s not perfect, the indica and sativa system is indeed convenient, especially if you’re brand new to Mary Jane. With so many new strains and products to choose from, you have to start somewhere.

Perhaps a more useful starting point when thinking about the effects of strains would be to think about cannabinoids and terpenes but we’ll get to know these terms shortly. For now, let’s discuss what is generally believed to be true for both sativa and indica strains:

  • Indica: In nature, indica plants are marked by their short bushy appearance with broad leaves all over. In effects, indica strains are usually noted for their relaxing, sedative, and calming properties. You’ll often hear the phrase “in-da-couch” as an easy way to remember that indicas may leave you so relaxed that you’ll be couch-locked for the day — indica, in-da-couch, get it?With that said, medical marijuana patients often turn to indica varieties to deal with anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. If it has Kush or OG in the name, you’re usually going in the right direction if you want an indica-heavy strain.Popular Indica Strains: Hindu Kush, Northern Lights, OG Kush OR CURRENT JARS BESTSELLERS
    • Sativa: In contrast to its bushy relatives, sativa plants are usually tall and slim covered with slender leaves. Also opposite in effects, sativas are generally known for their ability to give users a boost of energy, creativity, and positivity. You can think of them almost like the “upper” of weed strains.

For those reasons, consumers typically use sativa varieties as a potential treatment for conditions like depression and ADHD.

Popular Sativa Strains: Jack Herer, Sour Diesel, Durban Poison

labeled jars of cannabis on a shelf.

If Indica & Sativa Aren’t Foolproof, What Is?

While talking about weed in terms of indica and sativa, is a great place to start, it is far from a perfect science.

The effects of different strains depends on a number of different factors, including the product’s chemical profile, your unique tolerance level, dosage, and consumption method. It also depends on the cannabinoid profile and terpenes of the strain — which may sound like a bunch of nonsense right now, but by the end of this article you’ll be an expert, we promise.

If you fully understand how each of these factors changes the experience, you’ll have the best chance of finding a strain that is a perfect fit for you and your needs.


Let’s start with cannabinoids, otherwise known as the building blocks of weed. The cannabis plant is made up of hundreds of chemical compounds that create a unique fingerprint of effects, which is primarily influenced by cannabinoids and terpenes. Cannabinoids like THC and CBD (the two most common) are the main drivers of the cannabis effects boat.

  • THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is what makes us high, gives us the munchies, and relieves symptoms like pain and nausea.
  • CBD (cannabidiol) is a non-psychoactive compound known to reduce anxiety, pain, inflammation, and a whole host of other medicinal magic.

We’ve discovered dozens of different cannabinoids, but THC and CBD are the big ones that you want to get to know first. With that knowledge in hand, instead of thinking of things in indica vs sativa terms, consider basing your selection on these three categories instead:

  • THC-Dominant Strains: Primarily chosen by both medical and recreational weed lovers seeking a potent euphoric experience, these are by far the most popular strains on the market today. If you tend to feel anxious with THC-dominant strains or dislike feeling high, it’s probably smart to try a strain with higher levels of CBD.
  • CBD-Dominant Strains: Quickly gaining popularity at Jars, these strains contain only small amounts of THC and are widely used by those that are ultra sensitive to THC or patients that need clear-headed symptom relief.
  • Balanced THC/CBD Strains: Perfectly balanced for your enjoyment, these varieties contain similar levels of THC and CBD, offering mild euphoria alongside symptom relief. These tend to be a good choice for newbie consumers seeking an introduction to the infamous cannabis high.


If you’ve ever used aromatherapy to relax or energize your mind and body, you already understand the basics of terpenes — look at you! You’re a genius and you didn’t even know it.

To put things in more scientific terms, terpenes are aromatic compounds commonly produced by plants and fruit. They can be found in lavender flowers, oranges, hops, black pepper, and of course, our favorite herb, weed. Terpenes are what make cannabis smell like berries, citrus, pine, fuel, and all that good stuff that we love.

In addition to giving mary jane her signature scent, terpenes may also influence the overall effects of your favorite strain. For example, the citrus-y terpene known as limonene (which can also be found in citrus peels), is known to energize and invigorate your mind. Think about it: when you peel an orange and you’re hit with that burst of citrus aroma, you perk right up. That’s exactly how limonene works.

Now that you know how important scent is in weed, see if you can smell your weed before spending your hard-earned cash. Find the aromas that stand out to you and give them a try. With a little time, your intuition and knowledge of both cannabinoids and terpenes will guide you to your favorite strains and products in no time.

Bottom Line

Whether you’re an indica fan or sativa stan, each strain comes with its own unique set of effects that goes beyond two simple categories. Next time you’re at the Jars counter, be sure to use this newfound knowledge to get out of your comfort zone and try something new. You may be surprised at what you find.

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