The way people feel when they ingest marijuana is dependent on many factors. One of those factors is what sub-species of cannabis is rolled into a joint or infused into an oil or edible. While sativa-dominant strains are stimulating and energizing, indica marijuana strains create quite the opposite effect.
What Is Cannabis Indica?
Indica is one of the two primary types of cannabis plants. Unlike sativa, indica creates a relaxed, sedative effect often described as a “body” high. By educating themselves about the differences between indica and sativa, consumers are better able to customize their high.
To fully understand marijuana strains, it helps to know a little history. The name “indica” first came from Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, a French naturalist. In the late 1700’s, hemp (a plant that’s non-psychoactive) was grown in Europe. There, it was harvested and used to make things such as fabric for ship sails. These hemp plants were known as “cannabis sativa.”
In 1785, Lamarck discovered that there was a different kind of cannabis plant growing in India—one that created a euphoric high when smoked or consumed. He wanted to differentiate these intoxicating plants from the European hemp plants. Lamarck gave the Indian plants the name “cannabis indica” in order to set them apart.
Today, cannabis sativa is still the name of the species of low-THC plant from which manufacturers create hemp fiber, hemp seed oil, and other such products. However, it’s also now used to refer to the high-THC species of cannabis sativa that produces flowers that are known for their hallucinogenic “head” high.
Set apart from both of these in name and effects is cannabis indica, also known as the “sleepy” strain of marijuana.
Because the indica body high can be quite intense, it’s advised for those who are inexperienced with marijuana to be cautious when consuming indica marijuana strains. Some indica strains are incredibly strong and can produce such extreme relaxation that they cause a condition known as “couch lock.” When this happens, the person is so high, woozy, and sedated that they find themselves completely unable to get up and move around until the effects begin to wear off.
While an indica body high may be unwanted during the day, this makes them very helpful strains to consume at night. Indicas are very popular among those with insomnia.
- Appetite stimulation
- Heaviness/“couch-lock” sensation
Medical Benefits of Cannabis Indica
Cannabis indica is useful for much more than insomnia, however. Strains that are indica-dominant are excellent for the following conditions:
Indica marijuana strains work well to reduce pain levels. They’re especially helpful for people with chronic pain who wish to avoid taking opioid painkillers over the long term. Indica-dominant strains are excellent treatments for people with painful conditions such as cancer and fibromyalgia.
The indica body high means that it is an exceptional muscle relaxer or antispasmodic. It’s a helpful treatment for those with diseases like multiple sclerosis—diseases that cause painful muscle spasms. Because the effects of marijuana kick in fast when it’s smoked or vaporized, this makes it an effective way for patients to get quick relief.
Indica’s pain-relieving properties make it a wonderful headache remedy, particularly for people who suffer from migraines. Cannabis can be a helpful alternative for patients who have failed to respond to pharmaceutical headache medications or who cannot tolerate the side effects from those types of drugs.
Due to their calming effects, indica-dominant strains are highly suggested for those who deal with anxiety and panic attacks.
How Do Indica Marijuana Strains Work?
The signature indica high comes as a result of the cannabinoids found in the strains. Cannabinoids are the active ingredients in marijuana. There are at least 113 different cannabinoids, and they are what cause marijuana to have various effects on the brain and body. These cannabinoids plug into cannabinoid receptors in the brain, mimicking natural brain chemicals to create effects such as euphoria and pain relief.
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is one of the best-known cannabinoids. It’s the ingredient in marijuana that makes users feel happy and high. It’s also excellent at providing benefits such as pain relief.
Many indica-dominant marijuana strains have extremely high levels of THC. Because THC is known for causing an increased heart rate and sometimes even anxiety, this fails to explain why indica strains can still cause users to feel sedated and relaxed. That’s because THC is only one part of the puzzle; it works in concert with other cannabinoids that can help mitigate its stimulating effects.
While THC has psychoactive effects, CBD doesn’t create a euphoric high. CBD works well in calming anxiety and panic attacks. It’s also good for controlling seizures, making CBD-rich strains helpful for people with epilepsy. CBD oil is frequently used in children with Dravet syndrome, a condition that develops in infancy and causes debilitating seizures. Researchers have also discovered that CBD can counteract the psychoactive effects of THC.
The Entourage Effect
That last piece of information is interesting, because it means that not only do cannabinoids have different individual effects, but they also affect one another when combined at various ratios. Researchers call this the “Entourage Effect.” This is why someone can consume an indica and feel calm rather than jittery and anxious—because many indicas also have high levels of CBD. If the THC to CBD ratio is right, the CBD will counterbalance the effects of the THC.
In fact, people who need to take high doses of THC for medical purposes can combine them with CBD in order to avoid being intoxicated or agitated. Scientists have found that a 1:1 THC to CBD ratio works best for medicinal purposes.
Another factor in why indica works the way it does is its terpenes. Also known as terpenoids, these compounds are what give plants their flavonoid and aromatic properties. For those who enjoy rubbing on a bit of eucalyptus or lavender essential oil, the scent that uplifts or calms is due to that plant’s terpenes.
While terpenes create different scents, they also affect the body in different ways. Myrcene, for instance, is an analgesic and anti-inflammatory that has a relaxing, sedative effect. Pinene is another anti-inflammatory terpene that, like CBD, helps counteract the effects of THC. Geraniol is a terpene that researchers believe may be helpful in treating neuropathy.
The cannabinoids in indica-dominant strains of marijuana likely work in combination with the terpenes to create various effects in the body. As more research is done, scientists and doctors will better be able to isolate each chemical and understand how they work—both individually and as a cannabis chemical “entourage.”
Characteristics of the Indica Plant
Cannabis indica doesn’t just behave differently than sativa when it’s ingested; it also looks different as it’s growing. Unlike sativa (which can grow to 20 feet high if planted outdoors), indica plants typically stay at less than 5 feet tall and tend to grow well indoors. Their leaves are wide and their branches grow closely together, giving them a dense, bushy appearance. This sets them apart from sativa plants, which have long, narrow leaves and a loose arrangement of branches. Indica plants typically grow for 6 to 8 weeks before they’re ready for harvest—much faster than sativa’s 9- to 12-week growing time.
Once they’re harvested, the terpenes in the fresh indica buds make them smell different from sativa buds. Indica tends to smell more pungent, skunky, and musty while sativa strains are often described as sweet, fruity, and floral. Meanwhile, the smoke from indicas tastes sweet and fruity while when smoked, sativas have a more earthy flavor.
Cannabis Indica FAQ
Here are a few questions people frequently have when first learning about indica cannabis strains.
What is indica?
Indica is a strain of cannabis that’s best known for its calming effects. This sets indica marijuana strains apart from sativa strains that are known to be stimulating and uplifting. Indica was first named in 1785 by French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck.
What does indica do to the brain and body?
Cannabis indica causes a “body high” that causes users to feel heavy, sedated, and relaxed. These kinds of strains are frequently used as a treatment for muscle spasms that often accompany diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Indica is also excellent for treating insomnia and anxiety.
How does an indica plant differ from a sativa plant?
While sativa tends to grow thin and tall, indica plants are usually dense and bushy – frequently reaching only 5 feet in height. The flowers of the plants also differ, with sativa buds smelling more floral and fruit-forward and indica buds smelling having an intensely pungent and musty aroma.
Customizing the Cannabis High
When selecting a cannabis strain, consumers don’t have to choose a pure indica or a pure sativa. Whether they’re consuming cannabis for recreational or medical purposes, hybrid strains can deliver the best of both worlds. Indica-dominant hybrids have a certain percentage of sativa bred in to give people the ability to stay awake and keep focused on a task while also relaxing and calming.
It’s difficult to tell strains apart based on their names, but a general rule of thumb is that any name that ends in “Kush” tends to be an indica, while names that end in “Haze” are sativa-dominant. Reading up and talking to budtenders at dispensaries is the best way to educate oneself about strains and effects.
While understanding the difference between cannabis indica and sativa is a helpful way to customize the cannabis high, it’s important for consumers to follow the same rule whenever testing out anything new. People should start with a low dosage and consume slowly until they’re familiar with the effects. By doing this, individuals will learn what works best for them, whether they’re enjoying indica marijuana strains for fun or using them for medicine.
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