The BIG THREE of today’s marijuana varieties are Indica, Sativa and Ruderalis.

by  Alex Robles

Lately when you go to a party or a bar the conversation seems to drift towards the topic of marijuana.  You’ll hear words like Sativa, Indica or Ruderalis (auto-flower) and if your not hip to the culture you may feel a bit left out.  Don’t worry I’ll tell what I know and try to demystify this part of the cannabis plant.  Let’s get started.

Indica, Sativa, and Ruderalis are the names of the three main strains/variety of marijuana that are best suited and the most popular for medical and recreational use.  Now depending on who you ask or what book you read Indica and Sativa are either two different varieties of marijuana or two different mutations of the same strain.  Ruderalis on the other hand is closer to a hemp than it is to a drug variety of cannabis but it does have some interesting qualities.  Here are some other characteristics for these strains.

Growers Note:  Hybrids are just that, a combination of any of these three strains.  Typically you’ll see advertisements for seeds or flower (bud) that says ” Indica or Sativa dominant”.  That just means the plant shows more of those characteristics.


Sativa:  This variety originated in the humid tropical regions of South and Southeast Asia, North Africa, Central and South America.  This plant strain is tall and will typically get between 8 and 10ft tall but has been known to grow up to 20ft in one season when it’s grown in the ground.   They will have less bushy branches, with skimpy leaves that help the air to flow around and through the plant.  This air flow helps promote healthy growth and lessens the risk of fungus development in the humid climates that they originate from.   The leaves are long, thin, and narrow and are usually a lighter color green than its Indica or Ruderalis sister.

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(Sativa leaf and flower)

During flowering the Sativa will simultaneously grow and flower at a faster rate than Indicas or Ruderalis.  The flowers (buds) will  be longer, looser and almost feathery in appearance because of this.  The flowers will begin to develop at the nodes (where the leaves grow from the stem) of the leaves and grow along the length of the stems and branches, unlike the Indicas which are densely packed around the node.  Sativa strains are a good choice if you grow outside in humid climates.  The flowering cycle will last around 10 to 14 weeks before the plant is mature enough for harvest depending on the genetics.  The flavors of Sativa have been described as fruity, sweet, or earthy.  Some have been described as having a light fuel taste to them like Sour Diesel.

They generally have a higher percentage of the THC compared to other cannabinoids.  These strains are well known for their euphoric effects it has on the user.   The feeling of being “high” is often used to describe the effects of Sativa.   The highs associate with these strains are said to be energetic, cerebral, and uplifting that is best suited for day use.  Users have described it as a “head high” with effects that promotes creativity and introspection.  Sativa have been prescribed to alleviate symptoms associated with depression, ADD, stress and some mood disorders.  The most well known strains of this variety are Haze, Acapulco Gold, Durban Poision and Panama Red.



Indica:  This variety originates from the regions of the Middle East and parts of Asia.  Since it comes from these harsh mountain climates, it can easily adjust to the drastic temperature swings of hot and cold better than its Sativa sisters.  Indica’s are shorter, wider plant that will usually grow to be 4 to 6ft tall.  What they lacks in height they make up for in dense, bushy growth.  These strains will produce more side branches and be bushier than Sativa and the leaf is shorter with wider blades and are often a darker green than a Sativa leaf. The smaller size of this strain makes them popular with indoor growers where space is always an issue.

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(Indica leaf and flower)

During flowering the plant focuses a majority of its energy on bud production.  Indica will gain very little upward or outward growth during the flowering phase when compared to Sativa.  The buds will begin to form in dense cluster around the nodes.  The flowering cycle will usually last around 8 to 9 weeks before the plant is mature enough to harvest depending on the genetics.

These strains will have more balanced levels of the cannabinoids THC, CBD, and CBN  when compared to Sativa.  The Indica strains have been known to provide pain relief and muscle relaxation.  The highs associated with Indica are centered around the body with physical sensations being heightened.  The strong sedative effects of Indicas are what make the user feel “stoned” or “couch-locked”.  They have been prescribed to alleviate symptoms associated with insomnia, chronic pain, muscle spasms, anxiety, nausea and for appetite stimulation.   The most well know strains of this variety are Kush, Afghani and Mazar Sharif.


Ruderalis:  This one is the odd sister in the cannabis family.  They usually grow on land that has been disturbed, like roadsides or agricultural land that has been left inactive.   There are wild cannabis strains native to the harsh enviroments of Russia, central Europe and central Asia.  They have also been found in some region of the American Midwest, parts of Canada and are sometimes called “Roadside Rudies” in these areas.  The short cooler summers of these regions have helped this strain to develop a shortened life cycle.  This is why they will begin to produce flowers based on calendar days and not on the light cycle, unlike the Sativa or Indica. They will usually be ready to harvest 8 to 12 weeks after it has sprouted, depending on their genetics.  This short life cycle and ability to flower according to maturity and not photo period has earned this strain the designation of “auto flowering”.  These are also the shortest of the cannabis family and only get between 2 to 4ft tall when fully mature.  It won’t make many branches and the leaf structure is similar to that of the Indica, except with fewer leaf blades.   Once flowering begins they will also gain very little upward growth.

Wild cannabis Ruderalis strains have naturally low concentrations of THC, but have been known to have high levels of cannabidiol (CBD).  The chemical make up of pure Ruderalis is similar to Hemp and have little recreational value.  However their auto-flowering ability along with their hardiness makes these genetics attractive to breeders and cannabis seed companies.

  • Indica/Ruderalis hybrids are some of the earliest flowering hybrids on the market.  The high levels of CBD and low levels of THC found in these hybrids are also beneficial in medical applications.
  • Sativa/Ruderalis hybrids are being breed with notable success in retaining a decent level of THC.  At the same time there are still a lot of commercially sold Sativa/Ruderalis hybrids that are very low in quality and can barely be classified as a drug varieties of cannabis.  So make sure you get your seeds from a reputable seed company.

You are now better armed to go out and have cool conversations about cannabis.

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