Sativa, Indica, Hybrid: What They Really Mean + How to Feel The Way You Want With Cannabis

Episode 77

Show Notes

Indica vs Sativa vs Hybrid: Understanding the different strains of weed

Classifying weed as sativa, indica, and hybrid is not as accurate as you might think! Consumers rely on these terms to buy cannabis because historically they have been the only option for classifying strains. This episode is a must-listen if you want to get one step closer to customizing how you feel with cannabis. We’ll explain why in today’s legal market, indica, sativa, and hybrid may not be that different and offer a better way to find the cannabis that suits your needs. 

When the cannabis plant was being discovered around the world, depending on where it was growing naturally, it would look different. Sativa plants were found in areas with warm weather and would often be very tall and skinny, while indica plants were often found in cooler, mountainous climates and were shorter with thicker leaves. Hybrid plants have characteristics of both strains. Since having categories for the plant was helpful, the terms have stuck around, but they don’t necessarily describe the effects you can expect to feel. 

If you have always thought you love sativas, it probably means you want to feel energized. If indicas are your favorite, you may prefer a body high and something that helps with pain or sleep. And loving hybrids may signal that you like a balance between feeling the effects in your mind and body. Tune into this episode to hear how to come out of your next visit to the dispensary with the products that work best for you.


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Ellen Lee Scanlon (00:00):

This podcast discusses cannabis and is intended for audiences 21 and over.

Imelda Walavalkar (00:06):

A lot of women really like sativas for some … Because people have an idea in their head of what a sativa is. When I first became a consumer that was getting to know things, I’m like, “Oh yeah, I want to feel more happy and awake.” So I would try sativas, but then when I started getting into indicas and OGs, you’re not always going to get the same effects.

With anything labeled sativa, you’re going to have very different responses and then everybody’s body responds differently.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (00:34):

Welcome back to How to Do the Pot, a podcast demystifying cannabis for women. I’m Ellen Scanlon. You just heard from Imelda Walavalkar, the co-founder of cannabis company, Pure Beauty, talking about the challenges of classifying cannabis.

I recently started an interview by asking, can you answer in one sentence … And then I stopped myself. Cannabis is such a complicated topic. It is almost impossible to answer any question about it in one sentence.

Today’s topic, classifying weed as sativa, indica, and hybrid. Despite maybe seeming simple, it’s definitely worth understanding in more than one sentence.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (01:16):

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Ellen Lee Scanlon (01:38):

It feels kind of silly to say, but with all the cool packaging and ways to consume cannabis and edibles, oils, or fancy pre-rolls, sometimes you can forget that cannabis is a plant. Lo Friesen, a Washington state-based chemist and the founder of Heylo Cannabis, really loves the chemistry of the plant. So she’s a great person to help translate the cannabis science into practical terms.

Lo Friesen (02:04):

Fundamentally, the cannabis plant that we know, and that gets us high, is from the horticultural term or family of cannabis sativa. That’s kind of the umbrella category, and then sativa, indica, and hybrid were categories that they used to describe these plants that first and foremost came from different regions of the world and because of genetics, in addition to the environment and the soil that it’s grown in and the climate, the plant grows in different ways.

So genetically, the indica plant was shorter and bushier and had thicker leaves, and the sativa plant would grow really tall and lanky, and then the hybrid, of course, is what we know as indica and sativa bred together. So not only did they at the time mean that they’re from these different regions and look different, but also they would have different effects when you use the product.

Lo Friesen (03:06):

While that, I think, makes sense at that time, when they’re from those regions and grown where they grew historically, as we’ve removed them from those environments and we’ve also continued to breed them with different varietals and they do change chemically, the profile of the plant will change, and that’s just nature. So what we understand today as indica, sativa, and hybrid is purely a language that we use as a community to communicate what we want out of the product.

So indica tells me that somebody’s looking for something to chill them out or help them go to sleep or be like a heavy body high. Whereas a sativa tells me that somebody is looking for something really energetic. Then a hybrid is a balanced experience. So the hard thing is that we still use the genetics of the plant to also contribute to the naming convention.

Lo Friesen (04:00):

So if we’re saying like, “I want an indica,” and we say OG Kush or something is an indica. Well, the chemical profile of the plant is what’s actually going to give you the end experience, and because we’ve crossbred so many times, you could end up asking for an indica that ends up making you feel the opposite of what you wanted.

I actually experienced that myself multiple times. These categories, I understand why people want to use them and how it’s the ability to communicate what we’re looking for, but because of all these changes to these plants over time, hundreds and hundreds of years, it does not translate to the same thing anymore.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (04:44):

If sativa, indica, and hybrid don’t necessarily describe the effects you can expect, what are the right questions to ask to find what you want?

Lo Friesen (04:53):

Does it have THC in it? How much THC? Does it have CBD in it? How much CBD? How does THC and CBD interact with your body?

Ellen Lee Scanlon (05:01):

I like feeling creative and happy and uplifted and thought I only liked sativas, and I do prefer feeling that way to being really heavy in my body, which is what I associated with indicas. But what’s cool about legal cannabis is that you can go to the store and buy different cannabis for different occasions.

What I like for staying home and watching a movie is probably not what I would choose for a fun weekend afternoon, hanging out with friends. So what works for me? I have some go-to strains that I like. I pay attention to how much THC and CBD is in the product I’m buying, and I try to smell the weed if I’m buying flower.

I like strains and especially edibles that have CBD and THC, and in general, I like lower THC percentages. If I do have a higher THC strain, I know that I only need a little bit, sometimes maybe just one or two hits from a joint to feel it.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (06:05):

Kendra Stocking, the VP of Sales at cannabis company, Old Pal, shares what else to pay attention to if, so far, you’ve been solely relying on classifications like sativa, indica, and hybrid. You’ve heard us talk about them before, terpenes, the compounds that give cannabis and many other plants their smell and taste.

Kendra Stocking (06:25):

People typically know sativas as being energizing, and terpenes like limonene are heavy in sativas. You can get all sorts of different mixtures of terpenes, but that citrusy, it’s a very bright smell, it makes you feel energized when you smell it.

When I first got into cannabis and I was teaching people about terpenes, I used to tell people that like, think of terpenes as essential oils. It’s really easy to make that comparison. Linalool is lavender, lavender helps calm you down.

Indica are more sedative because they’re higher in linalool. So pinene has like a piney smell to it. They make you feel different ways, and so that was the best comparison, is to say, “If you smell this, think about all of your essential oils.” It’s the same thing, that’s what terpenes are.

So if you can recognize those smells in the strains of cannabis, that should help drive you to understand what way you want to feel.

Kendra Stocking (07:26):

So if something has a bright, uplifting smell … Just think about aromatherapy, essential oils, it all comes from plants too. Essential oils are just steamed extractions of terpenes from lavender or limonene from lemon. Limonene is limonene whether it comes from a lemon or if it comes from a strain. It’s the same thing, it’s just in different amounts.

The indica, sativa, hybrid thing is something that everybody should be aware of, and it’s not necessarily that things should be classified as indica, sativa, or hybrid, but instead, we should be looking at the terpene profiles and what’s the most dominant terpenes in each strain and then classify them based on that.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (08:07):

One way to step away from classifications of sativa, indica, and hybrid, is to learn about a few classic strains. Then you can say, “I like the effects of this strain. Tell me what else is like that.” It will give budtenders clues about how you want to feel and they can guide you from there.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (08:27):

Let’s talk about some examples. Mario Guzman, the founder of California cannabis company, SHERBINSKIS, is one of the best known growers in the industry, and he tells us how he created a very popular hybrid strain, Gelato.

Mario Guzman (08:43):

Sativa, a lot of people associate with the cerebral high, a lot of creative people that are kind of afraid of a heavy indica that’s going to lock them on the couch and they’re not going to be able to move and they’re going to stare at the wall for 10 hours, and that scares people. So a lot of people are in love with this concept of sativas, and sativas are very hard to grow. They take longer, the yields are much lower.

So from a financial point of view, from a grower, it’s much more difficult. So what we did when we created Gelato is that was taking a real sativa and mixing it with a heavy indica, and it created a hybrid. So it’s a mixture of that cerebral heady high with the body high, and so it sort of met in the middle.

I think a lot of people, they want that body high, but they don’t want it to be overpowering. They want the cerebral high, but for people like me, sativas gives me anxiety.

Mario Guzman (09:45):

It’s like drinking a couple of cups of coffee that are really strong. Like it gets you going, it gives you the jitters. A lot of people really liked that, just the same reason they like coffee, but the balance of the two is what’s difficult, but that’s what we were able to do with Gelato.

It’s why women like it, it’s why people like to have it before they have sex, it’s why people like to have it before they go to the gym. It creates that balance.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (10:11):

Until recently, cannabis growers had to do a lot of the work of growing weed in the shadows because of its legal status. So we don’t have a perfect system for even knowing what a pure sativa or indica strain is. But if what you want to feel is uplifted and creative, a classic sativa strain is Durban Poison.

Durban Poison is also known as the espresso of weed. It’s an intoxicating strain known for its energetic, uplifting effects. You’ll feel a flurry of mental activity and an extrovert’s version of being high: social, talkative, and ready for fun. It smells sweet. I love this strain.

I’m a big fan of microdosing, so one or two hits of a joint or a vape is the right amount for me. More than that, and I can get anxious, which is no fun. So take it easy when you try it. Durban Poison is one of How to Do the Pot’s 12 essential strains every woman should have in her stash, and episode 37 has all the details about why women love it.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (11:16):

A classic indica strain is Grand Daddy Purp. It’s a favorite of Christine De La Rosa, the co-founder of The People’s Dispensary and a medical patient treating symptoms of the auto-immune disease, lupus. For more of Christine’s story, check out episode 67 of How to Do the Pot. I also had a good experience with Grand Daddy Purp when I was treating pain from an intense dental surgery.

It smells like grape and berry, and in addition to being a pain reliever, helps with stress, insomnia, appetite loss, and muscle spasms. It’s a strong strain, but if you’re using it to treat pain, you’ll get relief and won’t feel as high. The pain relieving part of it takes away some of the intoxicating effects. But be warned, you may end up couch locked or falling asleep if you consume a lot.

Ellen Lee Scanlon (12:04):

I hope this episode has been helpful and you’ve learned some keywords to use that give a little more context to just saying, “I want a sativa, indica, or hybrid.” Let us know what you think. Please reach out with any questions or tips to or DM us @dothepot.

Thank you for listening to How to Do the Pot. For lots more information and past episodes, visit Thanks to Madi Fair, our brand manager, and our producer, Nick Patri. I’m Ellen Scanlon, and we’ll be back soon with more of How to Do the Pot.



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