What's The Difference? Indica vs Sativa vs Hybrid

What’s the difference between sativa, hybrid, and indica?  You may have heard the words sativa, hybrid, or indica floating around cannabis events, magazines, and news articles, but how are you supposed to know the difference?  

In this in depth guide, Uphempo attempts to explain the differences between the three major types of cannabis and how each one may help you.  For thousands of years, humans have been cultivating cannabis to help with specific issues and now we finally have some feedback documented from general consumers.  Once finished with this guide, we hope you have a good understanding of basic strains and how to make a choice that works best for your specific needs.   


Sativa:  good for the morning – energizing – creative

Uplifting, energetic, morning-time…all words used to describe the characteristics of the sativa plant.

Like the other three forms, sativa strains of cannabis are all derived from plants harvested for thousands of years in select geographic locations.  Because these locations were separated from areas where other strains grew, the cannabis sativa plants all grew in similar style. The sativa plants adapted specifically to the natural environment of their location. 

Sativas tend to grow very big and have can have very high levels of THC.  By big we really mean taller than dense. With their tall size, the sativas usually have a longer flowering cycle than other plants.

Unlike cannabis indica, sativas can usually be spotted by their thinner leaves and more open canopies.  More air is allowed to circulate through the leaves and branches, making them ideal for hot and humid climates.  

Many people love the strong euphoric effects of sativa strains.  In the early morning, many people like to smoke sativa strains of cannabis because they find it to be energizing.  In small amounts, sativas can be particularly good for people looking for a head change without the sleepiness. 

Popular Sativa Strains:

Durban Poison – Best for creativity

Durban poison is one of the most popular sativa strains around the world.  Originally grown in South Africa, Durban Poison can turn into a massive plant outdoors.  Some phenotypes of this strain can grow over 10 feet tall!

Cannabis users that long to have a true sativa will find that Durban Poison hits the mark.  The strain is grown all over the US now and is very popular. In Pennsylvania for example, Durban Poison was one of the first to hit the shelves once flower was legalized.  

I personally recommend using Durban Poison if you are looking for a nice uplifting and creative strain.  The high THC levels in this strain really give it a potent edge, but it may be too much for those looking for anxiety relief.  This is why I would recommend Durban Poison to the more experienced cannabis user.  

Sour Diesel – Best for energy

The name says it all.  Sour and diesel notes combine to create one of Uphempo’s all time favorite strains.  While not appealing to all smokers, the smell of diesel fuel is quite strong in this strain.  Some would even say the smell is “chemical”. You will find many strains with the word chemical used to describe the terpene profile.  Sour is added on top of this to create a nice potent day-to-day sativa.  

If you are trying to get a good morning boost before work, sour diesel could be your ticket.  Just be careful not to have too much as THC levels can get very high amongst sour diesel growers. 

No one is exactly sure where this strain came from as far as genetics goes, but many grow guides say that it could be a combination of chemdawg and another potent sativa strain.  

Jack Herer – Best for mental focus

This strain is named after a famous supporter of cannabis Jack Herer.  Many different strains over the years have been developed through using the original Jack genetics.  

Sensi Seeds claims to be the ones who first isolated this strain back in the late 1900s.  Limonene and Myrcene are two prevalent terpenes found in the dense sticky buds. Pinene is also noted in small amounts.  

When I was first introduced to Jack Herer in my dispensary in Oregon, I found the high to be incredible and elevating.  This was one of the few strains that really worked well to combat my anxiety before work so I highly recommend Jack to anyone just looking to feel good.  


Indica:  night time – anxiety – pain management

In-Da-Couch…a common phrase used by many budtenders throughout the country.  You can think of indica strains as more relaxing and more ideal for nightime. 

Like sativa plants, many biologists in the past noticed a different type of cannabis emerging in popularity.  Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was actually the person to coin the words ‘indica’ in the late 1700s.  

This type of cannabis called cannabis indica was grown in select regions around the globe.  Many were found in the areas around northern India.  

One common difference biologists noticed was the wide leaves of the indica plant when compared to sativa.  The leaves on the indica plant are usually extremely dense. Fat, thumb-like spreads on the main structure of the plant fill in much thicker than they would on some sativas.  

Also, indica plants were categorized by their shorter overall structure.  Many growers use indica plants indoors because the plants keep a lower profile.  This keeps them from bumping into the low overhead lights growers commonly use indoors.  Since ceilings are typically only 8ft tall, most marijuana plants will easily reach this height.  Later into the growing period, a low lying indica plant could help reduce issues with heat stress and allow the grower to harvest a much bigger yield.  

Consuming an indica strain will often result in a relaxing sensation.  The relaxing feeling can also help relax muscles and limbs that are in pain.   Many patients at my dispensaries found great results from indica strains looking to relieve pain. 

Popular Indica Strains

Blueberry –Best for pain

 As a dispensary manager blueberry was one of my most recommended strains.  Personally this was my favorite to give to people for pain because I had seen so many good results.  People with fibromyalgia for instance let me know the blueberry tinctures we had were some of the most effective they’ve tried.  

Northern Lights – Best for anxiety

The Northern Lights strain is one of the most popular strains found on the west coast of the United States.  Some of the first vaporizer indica cartridges I found in Oregon were Northern Lights because so many farms had the strain.  Also good for pain, this strain can greatly help with relaxation as well.  

Northern Lights is extremely heavy leaning on the indica side.  Some phenotypes of the strain can be as much as 95% indica and only 5% sativa. 

Granddaddy Purple (GDP) – Best for sleep

 Born out of San Francisco, GDP is another wildly popular strain across the US for those looking for a true indica.  GPD is relatively recent in its creation as it only dates back to about 2003. It is a mix of both the Big Bud strains and the Purple Urkle strains.

Harvest yields can be very high on the GDP phenotypes so growers really like to add this to their strains to add a significant amount of weight.  

The heavy purples in this strain can be very very tiring so we recommend trying GDP at night first, as the day time effects could be far too fatiguing.


Hybrid:  Strong, a blend of indica and sativa

No it’s not something you drive to save money on gas.   It’s a mix of your favorite two types of marijuana!

When Indica strains are combined with Sativa strains, hybrid cannabis strains are born.  

Hybrid strains are probably the most popular out of all the classes of cannabis.  When most people think of hybrid strains, they usually wonder how the mix of both daytime and nighttime cannabis will affect them mentally.  

Hybrid strains are found all over the world.  Some of the strongest of all cannabis strains are come from hybrid cannabis plants.  One reason is because hybrids have a wide cannabinoid profile. THC, CBD, CBN are all cannabinoids found in hybrid strains.  

Terpenes are usually extremely diverse on some hybrid strains.  Because there are so many different terpenes in hybrids, it is more difficult for people to get used to the feeling.  Sometimes if a person only consumes a specific strain over and over, they will stop to feel the effects of those specific cannabinoids, or the effects are greatly diminished.   Usually they will find that a new hybrid will bring back the high they once had when first began to use the strain.

A lot of people love hybrids, especially heavy smokers.  OG Kush for instance is one of the go-to strains for dispensaries in California.  For years, growers all over the country selectively isolated OG Kush strains. These strains have a very high THC content as well as high resin yields.  

Growers, lifelong smokers, and people looking for a good high love to come back to hybrid strains.  Working for years in dispensaries, I tried just about every strain one could think of, and commonly I would resort back to my favorite hybrids.  Something about hybrids really help to give you a good buzz and a euphoria unlike other classes of strains.  

Popular Hybrid Strains:

OG Kush – Best for Potency

Time and time again, avid smokers keep coming back to OG Kush.  The buds, the smell, the genetics, all of them add up to create something quite fantastic.  

OG Kush has been bred over the years to have some of the highest concentrations of THC.  It also has a wide terpene profile. Usually one will notice the strong chemical smell and sharp lemon scents.  Buds are usually very dense and sticky.  

OG Kush plants are some of the hardest to successfully grow.  The actual structure of the plant has trouble keeping the buds from falling down onto the soil.  Because of the weird lanky structure, growers typically have to build support nets for almost every stalk.  OG Kush is also exceptionally difficult to keep happy. The plants usually like a specific feeding schedule that can take some time to figure out.  

Mold and pets can be a huge problem with OG Kush as well, so it’s important to know where your buds are coming from.  For a long time, OG Kush ruled the dispensary shelves of California. Operators would travel far and wide to get just the right OG Kush genetics.

Consumers who want a very potent product with high levels of hallucinogenic properties, we would highly recommend OG Kush.  This strain really packs a punch.

Gorilla Glue – Best for meditation, pain, relaxation

Like I’ve told thousands of customers, you can’t go wrong with Gorilla Glue.  Heavy smokers and novices alike love the strong effects of Gorilla Glue. 

While this may not be the best strain if you have a work meeting to attend, Gorilla Glue can be great for those who have tried many other strains but just can’t seem to get high.  After years of smoking, many people build a very high tolerance. Strains like Gorilla Glue have such an interesting mix of terpenes and cannabinoids that really set them apart from the rest.  

Headaches are one of the main things I use Gorilla Glue to combat.  The relaxation of the mind can be very strong with this strain. Closing your eyes and sitting on a couch (glued) you may find your pain quickly dissipate.  

Blue Dream – Best for fast easy growing

Blue Dream is one of the most popular strains amongst growers.  It’s relatively easy to grow compared to other strains such as OG Kush and Jack Herer.  The plant leans more in the sativa realm, but overall is a mix of both indica and sativa making it a true hybrid.  

The two main strains that make up blue dream are blueberry and haze.  These are quite popular in themselves, so one can see why blue dream took off all over the country.  

Many people feel that blue dream has a strong sativa effect followed by a strong relaxation for several hours after.  Blue dream can really put you into a “dream” as they say. In small amounts, people state that blue dream can be great for morning time smoking.  At night, large amount of blue dream will relax the body and can help take away muscle and joint pain.  

You may find that the blue dream you purchase from one grower looks completely different that blue dream from another.  The strain has been grown so much over the years both indoor and out, that many people mislabel the actual phenotypes.  

If you are looking for a mood elevating strain that is easy to grow and has good yields, I recommend checking out the Blue Dream cannabis plant.  You can find tons of seeds all over the country with great testimonials.  

Final Thoughts

What’s the difference between sativa, hybrid and indica?

All cannabis strains are divided into sativa, hybrid, and indica categories.  You used to be able to tell the difference by comparing the structure of the plants.  Sativas are supposed to have smaller thin leaves while indica plants have wide leaves.  Since so many strains have been cross bred without adequate documentation, it’s very difficult to know the exact genetics of the strain you are growing.  

Most strains today fall somewhere in the gray area, or hybrid classification.  If you are looking for a potent strain, stick to the OG mixes and high thc hybrids.  For daytime, we recommend starting with sativas in small amounts. For relaxation and anxiety, we recommend trying indica strains such as blueberry to help relax the system.  

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