Whether you're new to consuming marijuana or you've been partaking for some time, you may have heard that are two main strains of herb to choose from: Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa. At this time scientists continue to debate whether there is, in fact, one species of cannabis or many, but there are certain chemotaxonomic differences that allow us to distinguish sativa and indica varieties from each other. Here we will explore the morphology that sets Cannabis indica strains apart as well as the effects they tend to produce.

Cannabis indica is an annual plant of the Cannabaceae family that was classified in 1785 by French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck to distinguish Indian cannabis from European varieties. Lamarck noted the mind-altering and intoxicating effects of Indian marijuana strains were absent in the hemp plants grown in Europe, and we find that indica varieties produce, on average, higher levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and lower levels of Cannabidiol (CBD) than sativa strains. It is these higher THC levels that give you a more psychoactive, even hallucinogenic experience.

For medicinal use, indica strains are more likely to help you relieve stress, relax, and give you a sense of tranquility, and they have mild numbing properties that relieve some pains. Some would recommend you choose an indica strain if you're looking for a “body buzz” rather than the stimulating cerebral effects associated with sativa varieties. These soothing, sedative effects of Cannabis indica also make it a better choice for use as a sleep aid.

If you're preparing to grow an indica strain for yourself, prepare for a stockier, bushier plant than a sativa variety. Indica marijuana strains prefer cool, high-altitude climates and are identified by their dense branches and short, wide-blade leaves. Typically reaching heights between 2-4 feet, they tend to produce dense, wide buds rather than longer flowers. These characteristics make them a better choice for indoor growing than sativa strains.

However, seekers of true indica buds beware: huge variabilities exists in today's strains due to cross-breeding. Cannabis is one of man's oldest known agricultural crops - Carl Sagan proposed it may have even been the first - and in recent years growers have taken unprecedented liberties to create hybrid strains in the pursuit of specific attributes. Remember, each variety will affect each user differently, and we are only beginning to understand the science behind how the hundreds of chemical compounds found in cannabis, dozens unique only to marijuana, react with the human body.