Sativa Cannabis Strains: The Ultimate Guide

“Sativa” is a term most people are pretty familiar with when it comes to the world of cannabis. It usually describes strains of marijuana that offer effects that are more centralized in the brain, promoting an energizing cerebral effect and a sense of uplifted happiness. However, there are several different kinds of sativa strains, sativa plants, and sativa effects. Below, you’ll find everything you want to know about sativa weed. 

What is a Sativa strain?

Sativa cannabis strains are best described as the tall, larfy variety of cannabis indica plants that have long, narrow leaves and stalky, airy flowers that are believed to promote heady effects, including cerebral energy and uplifting euphoria. Their scientific name was first identified as Cannabis indica ssp. Indica. At this point, you may be asking yourselfBut if it’s a sativa, why is it’s scientific name cannabis indica?” Hold on to that question, we’ll touch base on it in the next section. 

The term sativa actually has almost nothing to do with a strain’s scientific classification in today’s world. The original sativa cannabis strains were a handful of strains known as landrace strains that grew in nature wildly with no genetic engineering by man. These plants were tall and skinny and their flowers were more likely to offer some sort of energizing uppity mental effect. They could normally be found in wild parts of areas that were close to the equator, like the Caribbean islands, parts of Africa, and South America. 

These days, there’s no such thing as a true sativa strain. As man began cultivating cannabis for certain traits, the landrace strains and their original genetics were watered down and changed through selective breeding, inbreeding and cross pollination. Today, all cannabis strains are technically “hybrids” that can display indica-dominant effects (physical relaxation and sedation) or sativa-dominant effects (mental stimulation and euphoria). Instead, we use the term “sativa” to describe cannabis strains that exhibit potent sativa-like effects, such as mental stimulation, energy, and an uplifted sensation, not its scientific classification. 

As the cannabis industry evolves, there’s a good chance that we’ll collectively shift from misleading terms like “sativa, indica and hybrid” to something more descriptive. Right now, these terms don’t truly represent the actual effects of a strain or its lineage. “Sativa” is currently used more as an identifier of a plant’s possible effects that is often used in dispensaries to express the way a strain is likely to affect you without having to go into the science behind the strain’s terpene and cannabinoid profiles. Rather than plant structure or genetics, the cannabinoids and terpenes found in a strain are responsible for how it will affect you or whether or not it has indica or sativa effects. 

Sativa cannabis effects 

Sativa weed is best known for its mental effects. If a strain is labeled as a sativa, it most likely contains more THC and less CBD, making for a highly-psychoactive strain. They usually offer a blast of mental energy and a happy, creative or focused mental effect that comes along with a blissful euphoria. Sativa strains are usually used to manage mental health issues like PTSD, depression, ADHD and some types of anxiety. However, sativa strains with a heavy helping of THC are also likely to offer some pain relief, decrease nausea, increase levels of dopamine, and fight fatigue and physical pain. 

Since sativa marijuana is usually on the energizing side, most people use it in the morning or during the day. It’s mental effects can make it difficult for people to fall asleep when they use it at night. However, sativa strains are excellent for fighting all-day pain, battling mental health disorders, and staying upbeat, focused and in a good mood throughout the day. 

Sativa vs. Indica 

Remember that question from the first section about sativas still being named cannabis indica? There’s a reason for that! If we take a look at indica and sativa plants alone, there are a ton of superficial differences between the two. While they’re both under the “cannabis” umbrella for their THC, they fall into the same family even though they’re different. 

When it comes to sativa vs indica, keep in mind that there are two distinct types of cannabis: Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa. However, the two are opposites. 

Indica and Sativa were first introduced to describe two noticeably different species of cannabis plants way back in the 18th century. A scientist named Carl Linneaus first categorized different types of cannabis by naming them Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa. However, this wasn’t to describe the two varieties that contained THC — it was to describe a variety that contained THC and a variety that didn’t, also known as hemp. 

Cannabis sativa is not the scientific name for strains we label “sativa” in the dispensaries. Cannabis sativa is the scientific term for hemp plants, which don’t contain levels of THC high enough to cause an intoxicating effect. Cannabis indica describes indicas, sativas, and hybrids that contain THC and have medicinal value. Cannabis sativa describes plants that are used commercially as a cheap source of paper and other materials with no psychoactive effects. THAT’S why the current “indica” “sativa” and “hybrid” labeling is problematic — these terms are misnomers that identify plants in a confusing way. 

The main takeaway here is that there are two separate species of cannabis, but cannabis indica refers to the psychoactive cannabis that promotes a variety of effects that we incorrectly label “indica, sativa, or hybrid”. Cannabis sativa refers to hemp weed, which doesn’t promote any psychoactive effects and is used commercially for industrial purposes. 

However, If we wanted to look at the differences between indica-dominant or sativa-dominant strains in the cannabis indica family, there are a few clear identifiers. 

Strains labeled as sativas are usually taller with less foliage and narrow leaves. The flowers grow in lightly packed colas that produce a few energizing flowers. They produce more THC than CBD and are known scientifically as Cannabis indica ssp. Indica.

Strains labeled as indicas usually grow shorter and bushier with wide, broad water leaves and dense foliage. Indica flowers are usually tightly packed and dense, usually containing a lot of CBD and a sedative effect. They are known as Cannabis indica ssp. afghanica.

Medicinal uses of Sativa strains 

Sativa strains are more likely to contain more THC and very little CBD. With the lack of non-psychoactive cannabinoids, sativa strains are more likely to alter your mind than your body. Sativa strains offer a mental override that can change sour moods to happy ones as well as promote feelings of creativity, focus, energy and euphoria. These effects are great for battling mood swings, ADHD or ADD, depression and social anxiety. However, the presence of THC does offer a fair amount of physical effects minus the sluggish, heavily physical sensations. Sativas are good for crushing fatigue and getting moving, though they’re also a good choice for improving appetite, reducing nausea or headaches, and managing pain during the day. Strains with sativa effects can help treat chronic conditions such as depression or anxiety, ADD or ADHD, autism, and chronic pain. 

Characteristics of Sativa plants

Based on dispensary-identification alone, sativa strains offer a few unique characteristics when compared to their indica-dominant counterparts. Sativas tend to grow taller with thinner foliage. Some can grow over 7 feet tall.  They display a range of leaf colors from dark to light green, though in certain environments they can display orange, red and black leaves. Sativa flowers are usually pretty lightly packed and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Most sativas tend to smell piney, citrusy and earthy as they usually contain higher concentrations of Pinene, Limonene, and Myrcene terpenes

While growing, sativa strains usually produce a lighter yield of fluffy colas that are coated in THC-rich trichomes. They take around 6-8 weeks to reach full maturity, though they do most of their growing in the vegetative cycle since they don’t continue to focus on foliage growth while they’re flowering. 

Examples of popular Sativa strains 

The best sativa strains contain a hefty helping of mentally stimulating terpenes like pinene, limonene, and myrcene. These terpenes interact with THC in a way that makes a sativa-dominant strain energizing and cerebral. Each of these terpenes promote an energizing and uplifting sensation along with a potent mental buzz that provides long-term relief for a variety of mental and physical ailments. Some examples of the best sativa strains include: 


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