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Leafly Cannabis Strains, Cannabinoids & Terpenes Education

Indica vs sativa vs hybrid marijuana plants

When selecting cannabis at The Kensary you need to consider:

  • Strains: Indica, Sativa, and a Hybrids;
  • Cannabinoids chemotypes, the main drivers of therapeutic and recreational effects like THC, CBD and balanced, believed to be most influential in driving the high or therapeutic effects;
  • Terpenes, the aromatic compounds infused with the cannabis, believed to be most influential in driving the sedating or energizing effects compared to strains
  • Biology, Dosing, and Consumption Method


What’s the Difference?

When browsing cannabis strains, you will notice strains are commonly broken up into three distinct groups: Indica, sativa, and a hybrid of the two. Most consumers have used indica and sativa cannabis types as a yardstick for predicting effects:

  • Indica strains are believed to be physically sedating, perfect for relaxing or to get ready before bed.
  • Sativas strains are said to provide invigorating and uplifting cerebral effects that pair well with physical activity, social gatherings, and creative projects.
  • Hybrids strains are thought to fall somewhere in between, offering a balance of indica and sativa effects.

ndica vs sativa vs hybrid marijuana plants

The belief that indicas, sativas, and hybrids deliver distinct effects is deeply rooted in mainstream cannabis culture that budtenders typically begin their strain recommendations by asking you which of these three types you prefer to direct them with recommendations.

But consumers should look more carefully at the chemical “ingredients” inside of indicas and sativas—that is, cannabinoids and terpenes and you’ll notice there aren’t clear patterns to explain why one type would be inherently sedating and the other uplifting.

To find a strain that will provide you with the desired effect, your best bet is to understand which chemical ingredients make up that strain. You can rely on simple shapes and colors to visually understand what your favorite strains look like, chemically speaking. And when you use the chemical ingredients of a strain to guide your purchasing decision, you’re more likely to find the types of strains that agree with your body.

We’ll explore how the words “indica” and “sativa” made it into the vernacular of cannabis consumers worldwide, and to what extent they’re actually meaningful when choosing a strain.

  1. Indica vs. sativa effects: What does the research say?
  2. If indica and sativa isn’t predictive of effects, then what is?
  3. CBD vs. THC in indicas, sativas, and hybrids
  4. Terpenes in indicas, sativas, and hybrids
  5. Indica and sativa: Origin and evolution of the terms
  6. How to shop for cannabis without saying ‘indica’ or ‘sativa’

Indica vs. Sativa Effects: What does the Research Say?

According to Ethan Russo, a neurologist whose research in cannabis psychopharmacology is respected worldwide and Jeffrey Raber, Ph.D. a chemist who founded the first independent testing lab to analyze cannabis terpenes suggests a more useful starting point to pinpointing cannabis effects would be to examine the cannabinoids and terpenes.

“There is no factual or scientific basis to making these broad sweeping recommendations, and it needs to stop. What we need to seek to understand better is which standardized cannabis composition is causing which effects, when delivered in which fashions, at which specific dosages, to which types of [consumers] (Raber).”

What this means is not all sativas will energize you, and not all indicas will sedate you. You may notice a tendency for so-called sativas to be uplifting or indicas to be relaxing, especially when we expect to feel one way or the other. Just note that there’s no hard-and-fast rule and chemical data doesn’t reflect a clear pattern as so many different variables are involved.

The effects of any given cannabis strain depend on a number of different factors, including the product’s cannabinoids (chemical profile), terpenes (the aromatic compounds), your unique biology and tolerance, dose, and consumption method. Understand how these factors change the experience and you’ll have the best chance of finding that perfect strain and composition for you.


The cannabis plant is composed of hundreds of chemical compounds that create a unique harmony of effects, which is primarily led by cannabinoids. Cannabinoids like THC and CBD (the two most common) are the main drivers of cannabis’ therapeutic and recreational effects.

  • THC (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol) makes us feel hungry and high, and relieves symptoms like pain, nausea, and more.
  • CBD (cannabidiol) is a non-intoxicating compound known to alleviate anxiety, pain, inflammation, and many other medical ailments.

Cannabis contains dozens of different cannabinoids but start by familiarizing yourself with THC and CBD first. Instead of choosing a strain based on its indica or sativa classification, consider basing your selection on these three categories instead:

  • THC-dominant strains are primarily chosen by consumers seeking a potent euphoric experience. These strains are also selected by patients treating pain, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and more. If you tend to feel anxious with THC-dominant strains or dislike other side effects associated with THC, try a strain with higher levels of CBD.
  • CBD-dominant strains contain only small amounts of THC and are widely used by those highly sensitive to THC or patients needing clear-headed symptom relief.
  • Balanced THC/CBD strains contain similar levels of THC and CBD, offering mild euphoria alongside symptom relief. These tend to be a good choice for novice consumers seeking an introduction to cannabis’ signature high.

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Cannabis strains present three distinct cannabinoid profiles called “chemotypes.”

  • Space Queen is an example of a THC-dominant strain (as shown by diamond shapes),
  • Canna-Tsu contains an approximate balance of THC and CBD (composed of both diamonds and circles), and
  • Sour Tsunami has very little THC, but elevated levels of CBD (made up of only circles).

It’s worth noting that both indica and sativa strains exhibit these different cannabinoid profiles.

“Initially most people thought higher CBD levels caused sedation, and that CBD was more prevalent in indica cultivars, which we now know is most definitely not the case,” (Raber).

CBD/THC in Indicas, Sativas, and Hybrids

Research suggests there are very little differences on average between indica, sativa, and hybrid CBD/THC levels. So if differences in cannabinoid profiles don’t tell the story behind the perceived differences of indica, sativa, and hybrid strains, researchers suggest the chemical explanation is found in terpenes in the indica, sativa, and hybrid strains.

We know that terpenes are responsible for the different aromas found in cannabis, and early research suggests that they may deliver unique therapeutic benefits. But to what extent do they make a strain energizing or sedating? And are there patterns that would explain why indicas and sativas sometimes feel different?

It’s been found that certain stains of indica, sativa, and hybrids tend to produce common terpenes. They tend to present relatively similar patterns in terpene profiles with some interesting points of variation—one of which is terpinolene.

Terpinolene is a terpene found at high levels in only a small subset of cannabis strains, most of which are sativas and hybrids. Some terpinolene-dominant strains you’ve probably seen or heard of include Dutch Treat, Jack Herer, Golden Goat, and Ghost Train Haze. You’ll find terpinolene in many strains related to these, like Jack crosses (e.g., XJ-13, J1, Chernobyl) or Golden Goat hybrids (e.g., Golden Pineapple, Golden Ticket), indicating that there may be genetic consistency.

What this suggests is that strains with similar cannabinoid and terpene combinations may offer more reliable consistency in effects.

Terpene profiles also allow us to deepen our understanding of potential variations within each cannabis type. By going a step beyond their indica, sativa, or hybrid classification to consider cannabinoids and terpenes, you’re more likely to identify the specific strains you like or don’t like.


What are Terpenes and its Effects?

There’s something about the aroma of cannabis that soothes the mind and body. If you’ve ever used aromatherapy to relax or invigorate your mind and body, you understand the basics of terpenes. Terpenes are aromatic compounds commonly produced by plants and fruit. They can be found in lavender flowers, oranges, hops, pepper, and of course, cannabis. Secreted by the same glands that ooze THC and CBD, terpenes are what make cannabis smell like berries, citrus, pine, fuel, etc.

“Terpenes seem to be major players in driving the sedating or energizing effects.” (Raber).

One question yet to be answered by research is how terpenes—and different combinations of those terpenes—shape the effects of different cannabis strains.

“Which terpenes cause which effects is apparently much more complicated than all of us would like, as it seems to [vary based on specific] ones and their relative ratios to each other and the cannabinoids (Raber).”

There are many terpenes found in cannabis, and it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the most common—especially myrcene, caryophyllene, limonene, and terpinolene, since they’re the most likely to occur in pronounced levels in cannabis.

Different – Sativas

Three sativa strains that exemplify the diversity of terpenes found in cannabis.

  • Ghost Train Haze is terpinolene-dominant orange,
  • Super Sour Diesel is limonene-dominant yellow, and
  • Green Crack is myrcene-dominant blue.Different sativas

If you can, smell the strains you’re considering for purchase. Find the aromas that stand out to you and give them a try. In time, your intuition and knowledge of cannabinoids and terpenes will guide your appreciation of cannabis products.

Cannabis terpenes are secreted in the same glands that produce cannabinoids like THC and CBD, terpenes are aromatic oils that color cannabis varieties with distinctive flavors like citrus, berry, mint, and pine.

Terpenes may play a key role in differentiating the effects of various cannabis strains.

Some terpenes might promote relaxation and stress-relief,

while others potentially promote focus and acuity.

Not unlike other strong-smelling plants and flowers, the development of terpenes in cannabis began for adaptive purposes: to repel predators and lure pollinators. There are many factors that influence a plant’s development of terpenes, including climate, weather, age and maturation, fertilizers, soil type, and even the time of day.

Over 100 different terpenes have been identified in the cannabis plant, and every strain tends toward a unique terpene type and composition.

Terpenes may also play a key role in differentiating the effects of various cannabis strains, but more studies are needed to understand how and to what extent.

Some terpenes might promote relaxation and stress-relief, while others potentially promote focus and acuity. Myrcene, for example, is found in many relaxing cannabis strains like Blue Dream and Granddaddy Purple. Terpinolene is commonly found in uplifting, active strains like Jack Herer and Ghost Train Haze.

The effect profile of any given terpene may change in the presence of other compounds in a phenomenon known as the entourage effect. More research is needed to understand each terpene’s effect when used in harmony with others.

Many cannabis analysis labs now test terpene content, so you may have a better idea of what effects a strain might produce. With their unlimited combinations of potential synergistic effects, terpenes will certainly open up new scientific and medical terrains for cannabis research.

Exploring Terpenes

The Kensary’s Cannabis Guide will provide a visual system for understanding terpenes in the context of each strain. We can help you determine the average terpene profile of many popular cannabis strains.

Common cannabis terpenes are represented by different colors, which you can explore. Some terpenes are more common than others, and some tend to appear in higher abundance on average. For example, most commercial cannabis strains are myrcene dominant, meaning the most abundant terpene in their chemical profile is myrcene. You may also find strains that are dominant in caryophyllene, limonene, terpinolene, and—in rare instances—pinene.

Terpene color chart leafly

(source Leafly)

Most Common Terpenes


  • Color: Blue
  • Aroma: Cardamom, cloves, musky, earthy, herbal
  • Vaporizes at: 332ºF (167ºC)
  • Potential effects: Sedating, relaxing
  • Potential therapeutic value: Antioxidant; treatment of insomnia, pain, and inflammation
  • Also found in: Mango, lemongrass, thyme, hops


  • Color: Green
  • Aroma: Pine
  • Vaporizes at: 311ºF (155ºC)
  • Potential effects: Alertness, memory retention, counteracts some THC effects
  • Potential therapeutic value: Treatment of asthma, pain, inflammation, ulcers, anxiety, cancer
  • Also found in: Pine needles, rosemary, basil, parsley, dill


  • Color: Fuchsia
  • Aroma: Pepper, spicy, woody, cloves
  • Vaporizes at: 266ºF (130ºC)
  • Potential effects: Stress relief
  • Potential therapeutic value: Treatment of pain, anxiety/depression, ulcers
  • Also found in: Black pepper, cloves, cinnamon


  • Color: Yellow
  • Aroma: Citrus
  • Vaporizes at: 348ºF (176ºC)
  • Potential effects: Elevated mood, stress relief
  • Potential therapeutic value: Treatment of anxiety, depression, inflammation, pain, and cancer
  • Also found in: Fruit rinds, rosemary, juniper, peppermint


  • Color: Orange
  • Aroma: Piney, floral, and herbal
  • Vaporizes at: 366ºF (186ºC)
  • Potential effects: Uplifting
  • Potential therapeutic value: Antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-cancer
  • Also found in: Nutmeg, tea tree, conifers, apples, cumin, and lilacs


  • Color: Light green
  • Aroma: Hops, woody, earthy
  • Vaporizes at: 222ºF (106ºC)
  • Potential therapeutic value: Anti-inflammatory
  • Also found in: Hops, coriander, cloves, basil


  • Color: Bright red
  • Aroma: Sweet, herbal, and woody
  • Vaporizes at: 122ºF (50ºC)
  • Potential therapeutic value: Antiviral, anti-fungal, antiseptic, decongestant, antibacterial
  • Also found in: Mint, parsley, pepper, basil, mangoes, orchids, and kumquats


  • Color: Purple
  • Aroma: Floral
  • Vaporizes at: 388ºF (198ºC)
  • Potential effects: Mood enhancement, sedation
  • Potential therapeutic value: Treatment of anxiety, depression, insomnia, pain, inflammation, and neurodegenerative disease
  • Also found in: Lavender

(source Leafly)


Lastly, consider the following questions when choosing the right strain or product for you.

  • How much experience do you have with cannabis? If your tolerance is low, consider a low-THC strain in low doses.
  • Are you susceptible to anxiety or other side effects when ingesting THC? If so, try a strain high in CBD.
  • Do you want the effects to last a long time? If you do, consider edibles (starting with a low dose). Conversely, if you seek a short-term experience, use inhalation methods or a tincture.

There are many factors to consider when choosing a strain, but if you find that indica strains consistently deliver a positive experience, then by all means, stick to what you know.

The Kensary Team

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