The two main types of cannabis, sativa and indica, are used for a number of medicinal and recreational purposes.
Sativas are known for their “head high,” an invigorating, energizing effect that can help reduce anxiety or stress and increase creativity and focus.
Indicas are typically associated with full-body effects, such as increasing deep relaxation and reducing insomnia.
Although research examining these effects is limited, it appears these plants have more in common than previously thought.
In other words, the category, or type, of cannabis may not be the greatest indicator of the effects you’ll experience.
Here’s how to find the right plant for your needs, strains to consider, potential side effects, and more.
What should you look for to understand strain effects?
The often-applied rule of thumb is that sativas are more invigorating and energizing, while indicas are more relaxing and calming — but it isn’t really that simple.
Individual plants produce varying effects, even among the same type of cannabis. It all depends on the plant’s chemical composition and the growing technique used.
Instead of looking at the type alone — sativa or indica — look at the description the grower and dispensary provide.
Oftentimes, the plant types are broken down into specific strains, or breeds.
Strains are distinguished by their individual cannabinoid and terpene content. These compounds are what determine the strain’s overall effects.
Cannabis plants contain dozens of chemical compounds called cannabinoids.
These naturally occurring components are responsible for producing many of the effects — both negative and positive — of cannabis use.
Researchers still don’t understand what all of the cannabinoids do, but they have identified two main ones — tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) — as well as several less common compounds.
• THC. THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis plants. It’s responsible for the “high” or state of euphoria associated with cannabis use. Levels of THC have been increasing as growers try to create hybrids with a greater concentration of the compound.
• CBD. CBD is non-psychoactive. It doesn’t cause a “high.” However, it may produce many physical benefits, such as reducing pain and nausea, preventing seizures, and easing migraine.
• CBN. Cannabinol (CBN) is used to ease symptoms and side effects of neurological conditions, including epilepsy, seizures, and uncontrollable muscle stiffness.
• THCA. Tetrahydrocannabinol acid (THCA) is similar to THC, but it doesn’t cause any psychoactive effects. Its potential benefits include reducing inflammation from arthritis and autoimmune diseases. It may also help reduce symptoms of neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease and ALS.
• Origin: Cannabis sativa is found primarily in hot, dry climates with long sunny days. These include Africa, Central America, Southeast Asia, and western portions of Asia.
• Plant description: Sativa plants are tall and thin with finger-like leaves. They can grow taller than 12 feet, and they take longer to mature than some other types of cannabis.
• Typical CBD to THC ratio: Sativa often has lower doses of CBD and higher doses of THC.
• Commonly associated effects of use: Sativa often produces a “mind high,” or an energizing, anxiety-reducing effect. If you use sativa-dominant strains, you may feel productive and creative, not relaxed and lethargic.
• Daytime or nighttime use: Because of its stimulating impact, you can use sativa in the daytime.
• Popular strains: Three popular sativa strains are Acapulco Gold, Panama Red, and Durban Poison.
Potential side effects and risks
Although cannabis use is often associated with potential benefits, it can also produce unwanted side effects.
• dry mouth
• dry eyes
• increased heart rate
• decreased blood pressure
Most of these effects are associated with THC, not CBD or other cannabinoids. However, any cannabis product can produce side effects.
The method of use may increase your risk for side effects, too.
For example, smoking or vaping cannabis can irritate your lungs and airways. This may lead to coughing and respiratory problems.
Oral cannabis preparations, such as gummies or cookies, are less likely to affect your overall respiratory health.
However, the effects are felt more slowly and typically aren’t as strong.