For a new patient, stepping up to the counter at the dispensary for the first time can be quite an experience. The initial excitement at seeing the products up close soon gives way to the daunting task of actually selecting something that truly suits your needs.
That’s why we begin each new patient orientation by discussing the two primary types of marijuana, indica and sativa. They have different genetic characteristics because they originally came from different parts of the world. Both types have important medicinal properties, but there are important differences between their effects, which may determine which choice will work best for the needs of an individual patient.
Indica strains tend to provide a physical effect, which can be felt throughout the body. These strains are commonly used for reducing pain, relieving muscle tension, increasing relaxation, and helping patients rest. Indica strains are often recommended for nighttime use, because many patients find them helpful for promoting sleep.
Sativa strains tend to produce a more cerebral effect, which impacts mood and emotion. These strains are popular for increasing energy levels, improving focus, and combatting depression. Sativa strains are often recommended for daytime use because many patients find them helpful for providing symptom relief without interfering with daily activities.
Hybrid strains are varieties that contain similar levels of indica and sativa. These “best of both worlds” strains offer a balance between the benefits of both types.
Understanding these categories helps patients to better anticipate how they might respond to one product or another, but these rules aren’t set in stone either. Many patients find success treating common symptoms like pain, nausea and appetite loss with a variety of strains from across the indica/sativa spectrum. We encourage our patients to sample a range of products, and those who do so often discover preferred strains in more than one category.
Due to extensive cross-breeding, it’s rare for a strain to exhibit entirely pure sativa or indica attributes. Patients should view these categories as a spectrum, with each strain falling somewhere on the map in between these competing extremes. For this reason, not every product listed as a “sativa” on the dispensary menu will be equally energizing and alert in it effects, just as not every “indica” will produce a predominantly sedative effect. For example, a patient who finds a particular sativa strain overstimulating may be tempted to avoid this category entirely, when in fact some milder sativas may be able to treat their symptoms successfully.
Try as we might to categorize each strain we encounter, the reality is that cannabis genetics often have complicated and sometimes unknown histories. Even the most popular sativa strains typically contain some indica genes and vice versa. Moreover, individual plants will at times display different characteristics than others, just as two human children born to the same parents may look alike but exhibit different personalities.
Ultimately, an understanding of the difference between indicas, sativas, and hybrids often serves as a useful guide, but every patient is unique and each individual will be the final judge of what works best for their medical needs. That’s what makes medical cannabis such an interesting and rewarding journey for so many.