Beginner's Guide to Cannabis Plants and Strains (2024)

The two main types of cannabis, sativa and indica, are used for several medicinal and recreational purposes. Sativa has primarily an energizing effect, while indica has a relaxing effect and can help you sleep.

Some people in the cannabis industry have moved away from the terms “indica,” “sativa,” and “hybrid,” instead classifying the different “strains” or, more correctly, “chemovars,” as:

  • Type I: high THC
  • Type II: THC/CBD combined
  • Type III: high CBD

More and more, the cannabis industry is moving away from the term “strains” and using chemovars (chemical varieties), since the word “strain” is often used to refer to bacteria and viruses.

In other words, the category, or type, of cannabis may not be the greatest indicator of the effects you’ll experience.

Here’s how to find the right plant for your needs, strains to consider, potential side effects, and more.

The often-applied rule of thumb is that sativa is more invigorating and energizing, while indica is more relaxing and calming — but it’s not that simple.

Individual plants produce varying effects, even among the same type of cannabis. It all depends on the plant’s chemical composition and the growing technique used.

Instead of looking at the type alone — sativa or indica — look at the description the grower and dispensary provide.


Cannabis plants contain dozens of chemical compounds called cannabinoids.

These naturally occurring components are responsible for producing many of the effects — both negative and positive — of cannabis use.

Researchers still don’t understand what all of the cannabinoids do, but they have identified two main ones: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

Less common compounds include:

  • Cannabinol (CBN): CBN is used to ease symptoms and side effects of some neurological conditions.
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol acid (THCA): This is similar to THC but has no psychoactive effects.
  • Cannabigerol (CBG): CBG is thought to help reduce anxiety and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression.


A great deal of attention is paid to the amount of THC and CBD in a given type of cannabis, but research suggests that terpenes may be just as impactful.

Terpenes are other naturally occurring compounds in the cannabis plant that may influence the effects that specific types produce.

Learn more about the common terpenes in cannabis.

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  • Origin: Cannabis sativa is found primarily in hot, dry climates with long sunny days. These include Africa, Central America, Southeast Asia, and portions of Western Asia.
  • Plant description: Sativa plants are tall and thin with finger-like leaves. They can grow to about 6 feet (ft) or 2 meters (m). They take longer to mature than some other types of cannabis.
  • Typical CBD-to-THC ratio: Sativa often has lower doses of CBD and higher doses of THC, whereas indica tends to have less THC than CBD.
  • Commonly associated effects of use: Sativa often produces a “mind high” or an energizing, anxiety-reducing effect.
  • Daytime or nighttime use: Because of its stimulating effects, sativa is often used in the daytime.
  • Popular strains: Various sativa strains may be used for different purposes.
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  • Origin: Cannabis indica is native to Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and Turkey. The plants have adapted to the often harsh, dry, and turbulent climate of the Hindu Kush mountains.
  • Plant description: Indica plants are short and stocky with bushy greenery and chunky leaves that grow wide and broad. They grow faster than sativa, and each plant produces more buds.
  • Typical CBD-to-THC ratio: Indica strains often have higher levels of CBD, but the THC content isn’t necessarily less.
  • Commonly associated effects of use: Indica is sought after for its intensely relaxing effects. It may also help reduce nausea and pain and increase appetite.
  • Daytime or nighttime use: Because of its deep relaxation effects, indica is typically consumed at night.
  • Popular strains: Like sativa, there are also various indica strains.
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Each year, cannabis growers produce new and unique strains from different combinations of parent plants. These cannabis hybrids are often grown to target specific effects.

  • Origin: Hybrids are typically grown on farms or in greenhouses from a combination of sativa and indica plants.
  • Plant description: The appearance of hybrid strains depends on the combination of the parent plants.
  • Typical CBD-to-THC ratio: Many hybrid cannabis plants are grown to increase the THC percentage, but each type has a unique ratio of the two cannabinoids.
  • Commonly associated effects of use: Farmers and producers select hybrids for their unique effects. They can range from reducing anxiety and stress to easing symptoms of chemotherapy or radiation.
  • Daytime or nighttime use: This depends on the predominant effects of the hybrid.
  • Popular strains: Hybrids are typically classified as indica-dominant (indica-dom), sativa-dominant (sativa-dom), or balanced.
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A third type of cannabis, Cannabis ruderalis, also exists. However, it’s not widely used because it usually produces no potent effects.

  • Origin: Ruderalis plants adapt to extreme environments, such as Eastern Europe, the Himalayan regions of India, Siberia, and Russia. These plants grow quickly, which is ideal for the cold, low sunlight environments of these places.
  • Plant description: These small, bushy plants rarely grow taller than 12 inches (in), but they grow rapidly. One can go from seed to harvest in little more than a month.
  • Typical CBD-to-THC ratio: This strain typically has little THC and higher amounts of CBD, but it may not be enough to produce any effects.
  • Commonly associated effects of use: Because of its low potency, ruderalis isn’t routinely used for medicinal or recreational purposes.
  • Daytime or nighttime use: This cannabis plant produces few effects, so that it can be used anytime.
  • Popular strains: On its own, ruderalis isn’t a popular cannabis option. However, cannabis farmers may breed ruderalis with other cannabis types, including sativa and indica. The plant’s rapid growth cycle is a positive attribute for producers, so they may want to combine more potent strains with ruderalis strains to create a more desirable product.

Although cannabis use is often associated with potential benefits, it can also produce unwanted side effects.

Most of these effects are associated with THC, not CBD or other cannabinoids. However, any cannabis product can produce side effects.

The method of use may increase the risk of side effects, too.

For example, smoking or vaping cannabis can irritate your lungs and airways. This may lead to coughing and respiratory problems.

Oral cannabis preparations, such as gummies or cookies, are less likely to affect your overall respiratory health.

However, though the effects are felt more slowly, ingested cannabis, especially THC, is more potent as it converts to 11-hydroxy-THC, which produces stronger psychoactive effects that can last for hours and, in some people, days.

Acapulco Gold sativa 0.1%15–23%• fatigue
• stress
• nausea
• pain
Blue Dream hybrid less than 1%30%• pain
• cramps
• inflammation
• insomnia
• mental fog
Purple Kush indica less than 1%17–22%• chronic pain
• muscle spasms
• insomnia
Sour Diesel sativa less than 1%20–22%• fatigue
• stress
• acute pain
• mental fog
• anxiety
Bubba Kush indica less than 1%14–25%• insomnia
• acute pain
• nausea
• low appetite
Granddaddy Purple indica less than 0.1%17–23%• low appetite
• restless leg syndrome
• insomnia
Afghan Kush indica 6%16–21%• acute pain
• insomnia
• low appetite
LA Confidential indica 0.3%16–20%• inflammation
• pain
• stress
Maui Waui sativa 0.55%13–19%• fatigue
• depression
Golden Goat hybrid 1%23%• depression
• anxiety
• mental fog
• low energy
Northern Lights indica 0.1%16%• pain
• mood disorders
• insomnia
• low appetite
White Widow hybrid less than 1%12–20%• low mood
• mental fog
• social anxiety
Super Silver Haze sativa less than 0.1%16%• stress
• anxiety
• mental fog
• low energy
Pineapple Express hybrid less than 0.1%23%• mental fog
• acute pain
• social anxiety
Supernatural sativa less than 1%22%• migraine
• glaucoma
• headache
• low mood

Remember: The potency of cannabinoids and terpenes vary among growers, and while certain strains may be helpful for certain conditions, your own experience may vary.

When you’re looking for the right cannabis product for you, talk with the dispensary employee about your goals for cannabis use, whether that’s treating insomnia, reducing anxiety, or increasing energy.

Some strains, such as Pineapple Express, are considered “entry level.” Their effects are typically mild and tolerable. Strains with higher levels of cannabinoids may be too potent for a first-time user.

It’s important to know your tolerance level, as well as your medical history, in case of potential interactions with medications.

Each technique for consuming cannabis has benefits and drawbacks. If you smoke or vape cannabis, you may feel the effects more quickly, but it can irritate your lungs and airways.

Gummies, chewables, and other edibles may be easier to tolerate, but the effects take longer. They may be much more potent than inhalation, too.

Cannabis isn’t legal everywhere. A few years ago, all cannabis products were illegal in most parts of the United States. Today, many states have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational purposes or both.

CBD laws are also evolving. Some states allow it for medicinal purposes, but they heavily regulate the source to prevent THC-laced CBD products.

Before you attempt to purchase or use cannabis, know the laws in your state.

Keep in mind that cannabis is still illegal under federal law. If you don’t know the laws where you are, you could face legal consequences.

You may be subject to different laws if you live outside the United States.

Is sativa an upper or downer?

Sativa produces an energizing effect. If you use sativa-dominant strains, you may feel productive and creative, not relaxed and lethargic.

Do you feel more high with sativa or indica?

This depends on what you consider as “high.” Indica tends to have a more calming effect than sativa’s energizing effect.

If you’re curious how cannabis might help you, talk with a doctor or other qualified healthcare professional, or speak with a knowledgeable cannabis clinician.

They can discuss its potential positive and negative effects on your individual health and help you find something that suits your needs.

Then, you can begin to explore your options. Finding the right option for you may take time. You may also find that you don’t tolerate cannabis well.

If you live in a state that has legalized cannabis, you can visit a dispensary and talk with a trained staff member. They may be able to recommend specific strains or other products to suit your individual needs.

Beginner's Guide to Cannabis Plants and Strains (2024)


Should beginners start with indica or sativa? ›

Sativa strains are known for their uplifting and energizing effects. However, for beginners, the high potency of some sativa strains may be too intense and lead to increased anxiety or restlessness. It's recommended to start with indica-dominant or hybrid strains that provide a more balanced experience.

What is the best cannabis strain for first time? ›

Indica-Dominant Strains for Beginners
Strain NameFlowering TimeEffect
Granddaddy Purple8-11 weeksRelaxation, Euphoria
Northern Lights6-7 weeksRelaxation, Sleepiness
Bubba Kush8-9 weeksRelaxation, Happiness
Dec 23, 2023

How much cannabis will I get from 1 plant? ›

Under perfect, outdoor conditions, you can expect yields to extend to 500 grams or 17.5 oz per plant.

Does sativa make you hornier than indica? ›

Does sativa make you hornier than indica? In general, any strain tends to have a positive effect on your sexual satisfaction. But some studies show that too much THC can dampen your libido. Since sativa has a higher THC-to-CBD ratio than indica, it may not be the better bet for increasing your sexual desire.

Do you get higher on sativa or indica? ›

Sativa strains are known to produce a “mind high,” or a mood-boosting, energising effect that helps you feel more alert. Sativa often has higher doses of THC and lower doses of CBD. Indica strains offer relaxing effects that may also help to reduce pain, increase your appetite and aid sleep.

Can I harvest one bud at a time? ›

Yes, you can harvest one bud at a time when it is ready to harvest, especially if you have a staggered harvest due to different maturation rates among your cannabis plants. Just be sure to use clean, sharp scissors or pruning shears to avoid damaging the surrounding plant material.

Do seeds yield more than clones? ›

Problems can also arise with fighting off environmental stresses, diseases and insects, as the genetics weaken season after season. A plant grown from seed is capable of yielding more than a cloned offspring.

How much is 1g of cannabis flower? ›

How Much Does a Gram of Flower Cost? The cost of a gram of flower is influenced by several factors, including the strain's popularity, quality, and your state's taxes. Prices can vary widely, but on average, a gram of cannabis falls within an affordable range of $7-$15.

What is the fastest method of growing cannabis? ›

What is the fastest method of growing cannabis? The Sea of Green (SOG) technique is often hailed as one of the fastest. By planting cannabis densely and switching plants to the flowering stage as soon as they mature, SOG can significantly reduce the overall time to harvest.

What is the easiest medium to grow cannabis? ›

Soil is a very popular choice because it's easy to use, an all-natural resource, and available everywhere. Since all cannabis originates from the soil, it's sustainable and hard to beat.

What speeds up cannabis growth? ›

Cannabis plants require different kinds of nutrition during the different growth phases. During the vegetative phase, it's import to feed them nutrition with enough nitrogen. Nitrogen induces the production of chlorofyl, which is key to converting energy (light) to sugars, and helps the plants grow faster.

Is indica or sativa better for first timers? ›

Indica tends to be a good option if you're new to Dam's coffeeshops as sativa can sometimes bring on feelings of paranoia.

Is indica or sativa better for learning? ›

Picking any jar of sparkling buds in the shop, and you might find yourself with a sleepy indica. The best strains for studying will always be clear-headed sativas. Your budtender can help you find what's in stock, but we are also here to share the best strains on the market for studying and creative work.

Does sativa or indica make you calmer? ›

The two main types of cannabis, sativa and indica, are used for several medicinal and recreational purposes. Sativa has primarily an energizing effect, while indica has a relaxing effect and can help you sleep.

How much sativa should I start with? ›

So it's best to start slowly and with a low dose under 2.5 mg.


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