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Indica vs Sativa: What's the Difference?

January 7th, 2022

There is a good chance that you have heard of the terms “indica” and “sativa.”  Until now, more than likely you may have equated them with the different effects they can have on your body and on your health. The fact is, however, that these two terms really do not adequately describe all the ways medical cannabis can help you. So, instead of relying on them, at WholesomeCo, we encourage our patients to choose their medical cannabis product based on how they want to feel and what their health goals are. 

Here is how we can help you do that.

Indica and Sativa: part of an outdated system 

It may be difficult to get away from the old indica vs. sativa system if you have been using medical cannabis for a while. But consider this. 

Did you know that the modern “indica/sativa” classification system is actually very outdated? In fact, the basis for it originated over two hundred years ago! In the late 1700’s, it was Dr. Jean Baptiste Lamarck, a French naturalist, who first suggested the two “strains,” Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. What’s more, his suggestion was based solely on the plant’s morphology (i.e., what the plant looks like and how it grows). 

A lot has changed over the centuries! Today there are hundreds of different cannabis products as well as individual cannabis cultivators who provide the basic plant harvests for these products. Cannabis cultivators continue to fine-tune their crops based on the demands of medical cannabis consumers like you. These cultivated varieties we will call cultivars for short, this term is a better way to describe cannabis varieties than strains. Different cultivars, including patented signature cultivars, are constantly being created. The cannabis industry in Utah and around the country is growing fast. There are so many more options every day that it is almost impossible to keep up with it all. 

What science says about “Indica and Sativa”  

What’s more, genetic testing now confirms that there really is no difference between sativa and indica cannabis. According to a 2016 study from the Netherlands, there is “only a moderate correlation between the ancestry of cannabis strains, as reported by breeders, and the ancestry inferred from their DNA.” (1)

In addition, in a 2016 interview hosted by Dr. Daniele Piomelli of the University of California, Irvine, well-known cannabis researcher Ethan Russo strongly encouraged scientists, the media, and cannabis consumers alike to “abandon the sativa/indica nomenclature and rather insist that accurate biochemical assays on cannabinoid and terpenoid profiles be available for cannabis in both the medical and recreational markets.”

“Scientific accuracy and public health demand no less than this,” stated Russo in an article published in the journal Cannabinoids and Cannabis Research. (2) 

Terpenes and other factors make a huge difference 

What Russo and many other experts suggest is a broader, more comprehensive understanding of cannabis. Instead of looking at everything in black and white “indica and sativa” terms, the better practice is to evaluate the benefits of a particular plant-based on all of the amazing and intricately woven elements that go into it. 

For example, the cannabinoid makeup (THC, CBD, and others) of a particular medical cannabis plant needs to be considered and so does the terpene concentration and types of terpenes found in each plant. For more information about cannabinoids be sure to check out Wholesome’s Cannabis 101 Booklet.  For a deep dive into the fascinating world of terpenes, you can read our article Cannabis Terpenes: What You Need to Know.

Other phytonutrients such as flavonoids, vitamins, and minerals play a part as well. As do the actual outside-the-plant elements and environmental factors that exist as cannabis grows and once it is cultivated. Factors that can affect the way a particular cannabis plant may affect you include:  

Even the way a plant was harvested can play a part in its effects on a particular individual. 

Finding the right medical cannabis for you

And after all that, there are factors related to how your body, in particular, may respond to a particular cannabis plant. This may be based on your unique health situation and qualifying medical condition

So how are you supposed to know all of these things in order to make the right decision when it comes to medical cannabis? 

Over time, you will learn what the best plant types and products are for you. In a nutshell, however, when you are first starting out with medical cannabis on your health journey, there really is no way of knowing all of these factors.

This is exactly why, here at WholesomeCo, we have a whole team of Doctorate-level pharmacists to help you. Our service at WholesomeCo really is one-of-a-kind. All of our pharmacists have years of experience in traditional drug therapies, and they have also been thoroughly trained in cannabinoids as well. 

When you sign up for a FREE “cannabis curious” consultation with one of our team members (either on the phone or in-person), the first thing they are going to ask you is: 

“How do you want to feel with medical cannabis?” 

As you may know, people use medical cannabis for a variety of reasons, from pain to PTSD symptoms. When it comes right down to it, the particular “strain” of cannabis really doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that you chose the right product for your unique needs.

Five important questions when choosing medical cannabis

For example, if you are in pain, you probably want the side effect of cannabis to be that you have less of it. If you are feeling anxiety, you may want your product to reduce this and calm the nervous system. If you are having trouble sleeping, studies have shown that certain cannabis products can indeed help.

In order to determine how you wish to feel when using cannabis for your unique situation, ask yourself the following questions: 

  1. How do I really want to feel in general?
  2. If I want to experience more energy, how uplifted do I want to be?
  3. If I want to be uplifted, do I want to be energized or just “even keel?”
  4. If I want to calm down, how sedated do I really want to feel?
  5. If I want to calm my energy, do I just want to relax, or do I want to go to sleep?

After you have determined the effects that you want from medical cannabis, then a WholesomeCo pharmacist can help recommend the right product for you. These recommendations will be based on what they know about the products on hand, where they come from, and their chemical makeup (cannabinoids and other phytonutrients). In addition, our pharmacists also use their vast knowledge about the endocannabinoid system, drug interactions (if you are also taking prescription medication), and other factors to make their determinations. 

What’s important to remember about cannabis

Simply put, classifying medical cannabis-based solely on indica vs. sativa is the “old way” and really is a thing of the past. The reality is that cannabis is a complex and amazing plant that is made up of many different phytonutrients, including cannabinoids and other substances, and its effects are based on many different factors. 

What is most important to remember for you is, again, how you want to feel? Once you have helped us understand how you want cannabis to help you, then together we can find the right strain and product that matches this. 

The great news is that each time you enter our doors or ask for delivery, you will become more and more empowered on your medical cannabis journey. 

Our team of Doctorate-level pharmacists and others here at Wholesome are so honored to be a part of your journey with medical cannabis. Be sure to contact a Wholesome Pharmacist today. Most people are able to speak to a member of our pharmacist team staff within 24 hours. 



  1. Cannabis: From Cultivar to Chemovar II—A Metabolomics Approach to Cannabis Classification
  2. The Cannabis sativa Versus Cannabis indica Debate: An Interview with Ethan Russo, MD

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