There are several different types of weed, or marijuana. Marijuana refers to the dried seeds, stems, leaves or flowers of the plant Cannabis. The specific type of weed is defined by the way the plant is prepared and what kind of Cannabis plant it is.
The main active ingredient in weed is the chemical Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. THC has psychoactive effects, meaning that it can alter mood, alertness, cognizance and cognitive functioning. Cannabidiol or CBD is also a large component of weed plants and has relaxation effects but does not have the psychoactive effects of THC. CBD is also thought to relieve pain.
The strongest types of weed tend to have a higher ratio of THC to CBD, meaning there is a lot of THC but not much CBD. When the ratios are more even, CBD can counteract the effects of THC. Therefore, the level of both chemicals in a strain of weed determines what effect it has on a person.
What types of weed are there? There are two major types of weed, which are determined by the species of Cannabis plant they are derived from. While weed originally came from these two strains, there are now hundreds of other hybrid strains that are a mix of the two.
Major Types of Weed and Effects
The two major types of weed come from two different species of the Cannabis plant: Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa. The different types of weed vary based on both the type of weed plant they come from and also in the effects they have on a person or the type of high that they give.
Recently, a third strain, Cannabis ruderalis, has also been used to make weed. It has lower levels of THC and is primarily used for medicinal marijuana. Additionally, hybrid strains have been made that are a mix of the two major species.
People who use marijuana will generally choose to use a type of weed based on the effect they want to have. While each type is known for its different effect, one person’s experience may vary greatly from another’s. The route of administration (i.e. smoking or eating) can also greatly influence the effect the type of weed will have.
While every person’s experience is different, there are some general effects associated with each strain:
Cannabis indica originated in the Hindu “Kush” region, near Afghanistan. Because it comes from a cold, mountainous climate, it tends to be shorter and have the appearance of a bush. The leaves are darker, fuller and rounder than the sativa plant. The buds tend to grow in clumps.
C. indica produces large amounts of THC and low levels of CBD and, therefore, it is considered a strong weed. It tends to be very relaxing or sedating, sometimes making people who consume it want to just hang out on the couch. For this reason, it is commonly used at night before going to bed. It creates more of a “body high” due to its relaxing effects.
Because of its sedative effects, indica is often used by people who experience insomnia. A recent study showed that more people found relief from insomnia and pain when using the indica strain, compared to sativa. This effect may be a result of the higher levels of THC.
Cannabis sativa originates from warmer climates, such as Mexico and South Africa, and tends to grow very tall with long, thin leaves. It will flower under certain light conditions, which requires darkness for more than 11 hours a day.
C. sativa has lower levels of THC compared to indica, and higher levels of CBD, giving it more equal levels of both chemicals. The sativa strains have energizing effects, and people often consume weed from these strains in the morning or afternoon. Some people claim that the strain allows them to focus more and be more creative. C. sativa is also described as giving a cognitive or “head high” versus the body high that is felt with indica.
Due to its mood lifting and energizing effects, sativa tends to be used by people who have depression or exhaustion. It has also been described to relieve some of the symptoms of ADHD and other mood disorders.
Hybrid strains are made by cross germinating the seeds of the two common strains of Cannabis in an attempt to produce effects of both. Most strains commonly grown today are hybrids rather than pure indica or sativa.
The hybrids are usually described based on the dominating effect they have. For example, a sativa-dominant strain will be more likely to provide energizing effects and a head high.
Cannabis ruderalis is another species that was first discovered in southern Russia. C. ruderalis grows shorter than the other two species of weed and has thin, fibrous stems with large leaves. It is also an autoflowering plant, meaning that it will flower depending on the age of the plant rather than the light conditions.
C. ruderalis has very low levels of THC compared to the other strains, making it rarely used for recreational purposes. It is more commonly used in medicinal marijuana.
Common or Coveted Strains of Weed and Effects
There are certain types of weed strains that are more common than others and some that are coveted for their extraordinary effects. With the ability to make hybrids that blend the effects of both indica and sativa strains, there are now “designer strains” of weed that are bred for maximum quality.
New types of weed sometimes have interesting names, which are usually based on their effects, origin, or the way they appear or smell. Some examples include: Purple Urkle, Willy’s Wonder, Permafrost, Pineapple Express, Strawberry Cough and Island Sweet Skunk.
The following are a few of the common or coveted strains of weed and the effects they are known to have:
Sour Diesel is a type of hybrid strain that mostly has the highly energizing effects of sativa, but also has some of the physical relaxation properties of indica. It is very potent in THC. The high usually results in a head rush.
It is named for the gasoline-like chemical smell that its flowers make. The medium-sized buds have yellowish-green leaves. It tends to have a sour or skunky taste that some people find unpleasant.
Sour Diesel tends to be used by people who have mild stress, anxiety or depression. It has also been reported to relieve body aches and pains. Some people use it to increase their appetite when they are experiencing a reduced desire to eat. In some people, the high from sour diesel can be overwhelming and lead to feelings of paranoia. This is most likely due to its high THC content.
Purple Kush is a pure indica strain that has a full and relaxing body high. It has a high THC composition.
The name “Purple Kush” comes from the color of its purple leaves and the fact that one of the strains it is derived from originated in the Kush region near Afghanistan. It is one of the most popular Kush strains used.
Because of its ability to induce physical relaxation, it is commonly used by people who have chronic pain, depression or anxiety. It is also used by people who want to relieve situational or temporary pain.
Blue dream is another hybrid strain of weed that is slightly sativa-dominant. It gives an energetic cerebral high that can increase motivation and heighten focus. Some people describe it as having relaxing and pain-relieving effects.
Its name comes from the fact that the origin of the strain is unknown, making it like a dream. It has a sweet taste that some describe as similar to blueberries and sugar.
People who have chronic fatigue, depression or a lack of appetite have described blue dream as having therapeutic effects that improve these conditions. People have also described it as relieving chronic pain and migraines.
Indica vs. sativa: understanding the basics
When cannabis consumers think of “indica” vs. “sativa” marijuana strains, they generally think that indica strains are physically sedating, perfect for relaxing with a movie or as a nightcap before bed, and sativa strains are energizing with uplifting cerebral effects that pair well with physical activity, social gatherings, and creative projects. Hybrid strains are thought to have a mix of indica and sativa effects.
But indica doesn’t always mean “in da couch,” and sativa doesn’t necessarily energize all of its consumers. As research opens up and we learn more about the cannabis plant, it turns out the chemical compounds in each strain—the cannabinoids and terpenes in it—determine the effects you’ll feel, not whether it’s an indica or sativa. In fact, the origins of those two terms are rooted in botany, not effects.
However, even today, the belief that indicas, sativas, and hybrids deliver distinct effects is still deeply rooted in mainstream cannabis culture. If you’ve ever been to a dispensary, you’ve likely heard a budtender begin a strain recommendation by asking which of those three types you prefer.
Let’s look at where the terms “indica,” “sativa,” and “hybrid” actually come from, and how a cannabis strain’s chemical profile interacts with your unique body to make you feel effects.
Origin of ‘indica’ and ‘sativa’
The words “indica” and “sativa” were introduced in the 18th century to describe different species of cannabis: Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. The term “sativa” described hemp plants found in Europe and western Eurasia, where it was cultivated for its fiber and seeds. Cannabis indica refers to the intoxicating varieties discovered in India, where it was harvested for its seeds, fiber, and hashish production.
Here’s how terms have shifted since their earliest botanical definitions:
- Today, “sativa” refers to tall, narrow-leaf varieties of cannabis, thought to induce energizing effects. However, these narrow-leaf drug (NLD) varieties were originally Cannabis indica ssp. indica.
- “Indica” has come to describe stout, broad-leaf plants, thought to deliver sedating effects. These broad-leaf drug (BLD) varieties are technically Cannabis indica ssp. afghanica.
- What we call “hemp” refers to the industrial, non-intoxicating varieties harvested primarily for fiber, seeds, and CBD. However, this was originally named Cannabis sativa.
Although the cannabis varieties we consume largely stem from Cannabis indica, both terms are used—even if erroneously—to organize the thousands of strains circulating the market today.