Cannabis Strains and Their Therapeutic Applications

Figuring out a particular strain’s medical applications is a very difficult if not impossible task. Moreover, it can sometimes lead to erroneous thinking. Hybridization, the environment a plant is grown in, when the plant was harvested, and the phenotype ultimately expressed all make an impact as to which cannabinoids, terpenoids and flavonoids show up in the final product.

The Indica vs. Sativa Distinction is Mostly Meaningless

The fact is, it is the lab test results which will give you more idea of what effect a particular “strain” has, as opposed to the name of the strain itself. This could mean that a sativa strain may well have the same or similar effect as an indica, if the chemical composition (or chemotype) is the same. This ultimately means that two different varieties of indica may well have more differences than an indica and a sativa.

Another issue is that people react differently to even the same strain with the same cannabinoid-terpenoid profile. This is because everyone has their own endocannabinoid system (ECS). Where one person with anxiety may find relief in a particular cannabis strain, another finds that the same strain makes them more anxious. This makes generalizing the effect of any particular kind of strain very difficult indeed. However, it should also be noted that this is not necessarily unique to cannabinoid-based medications – genetic differences between people can affect the way they process drugs and medications of any type.

With all this being said, there are some broad differences between indicas and sativas by popular definition, even if they are rough rather than definitive distinctions. Landrace strains that have not been hybridized with other strains may well have more unique characteristics and chemical properties not seen in other varieties of cannabis. Some of today’s most uniue varieties of cannabis are a mixture of landrace strains, developed over generations by skilled breeders to express unique cannabinoid-terpene-flavonoid profiles. Technically, a particular variety of cannabis may express more of its own characteristics, regardless of whether it grows tall or short! Therefore, it is better to think of cannabis in chemovars rather than “strains”. Which cannabinoids and terpenes is it rich in, and which others display similar profiles at the time of testing? How regular is this pattern? Once you have these questions answered, you have an idea of the plant’s actual chemical content, and possibly a little about its geographic location.

So, here’s some of those broad differences between cannabis varieties using common terminology for ease of understanding, and what conditions they may be useful for …

Cannabis ruderalis; Cannabis sativa; Cannabis indica

Cannabis sativa

Sativa plants are noted for their tendency to grow tall, have thin leaves and longer flowering periods. Sativas tend to grow in lower altitudes and in equatorial climates, where sunlight is consistent and longer flowering periods are possible.

Sativas are often associated with more cerebral, energetic effects. Sativas tend to have high amounts of THC and little-to-no CBD in them. THCV is a cannabinoid that is often found in equatorial sativas. Terpene-wise, sativas tend to contain more pinene, limonene, beta-caryophyllene (which is a cannabinoid as well), and nerolidol.

Due to its effects, sativas are usually recommended for daytime use. However, there are many sativas that contain terpenes with more sleepy effects (e.g. myrcene), so once again, this is a rough distinction. Due to the fact that environment also plays an effect with regards to how cannabis grows, there are varieties of cannabis that will grow like sativas at lower altitudes, and indicas at higher altitudes! Distinct chemical variances are more likely to be found in varieties of cannabis that have grown in regions with little outside influence, and have adapted to their surroundings, not necessarily according to their growth pattern.


  • Increased focus
  • Increased energy
  • Uplifted mood
  • Euphoria
  • Happiness

Symptoms Potentially Relieved

Conditions Sativas May Be Useful For

Possible Negatives

  • Paranoia
  • Increased anxiety, especially in high doses
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased heart/pulse rate

Popular Sativas or Sativa-Dominant Hybrids

  • Acapulco Gold
  • Panama Red
  • Super Silver/Lemon Haze
  • Girl Scout Cookies
  • Green Cush
  • Jack Herer
  • Sour Diesel
  • Neville’s Haze
  • Pineapple OG
  • Maui Wowie
  • NL #5 x Haze
Cannabis sativa plants flowering.
Cannabis sativa plants in full bloom.

Cannabis indica

Indicas are short, stout and bushy. Indica hails from the more mountainous regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Indicas grow at higher altitudes, and tend to have shorter flowering times compared to sativas. Indicas tend to contain moderate to high amounts of THC, as well as more CBD in comparison to sativa strains. Of course, there are many CBD-rich sativas. It is definitely the case that, in any given population of a particular variety of cannabis, there will be some phenotypes that express different (which can be distinct in landrace varietals and those bred over time) cannabinoid profiles.

Indicas are associated with a relaxed, “body” effect, and are the downer to sativas’ upper. This could be due to the sorts of terpenes that can often be found in indica strains, like linalool, myrcene and humulene. These terpenes can be found in many sativa strains as well, so this is not always the case.

Indicas are often recommended for nighttime use due to their sleepy effects. Due to the fact that both sativas and indicas can have a wide variety of terpene profiles, it is possible to find an indica with a sativa effect or a sativa with an indica effect!


  • Sleepy
  • Relaxed
  • Uplifted Mood
  • Increased Appetite
  • Euphoria

Symptoms Potentially Relieved

  • Inability to sleep
  • Pain
  • Spasms
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Stress
  • Headaches
  • Conditions Indicas May Be Useful For
  • Insomnia
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Lupus
  • Chronic Pain
  • Neuropathic Pain
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Epilepsy
  • Arthritis
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Crohn’s Disease

Possible Negatives

  • Couch lock (when undesirable) – over-sedation
  • Decreased sociability
  • Lethargy
  • Sedative effect may be negative for someone in a low mood

Popular Indicas or Indica-Dominant Hybrids

  • Blueberry
  • Northern Lights
  • Granddaddy Purple (GDP)
  • Hindu Kush / Master Kush
  • Bubba Kush
  • Purple Kush
  • Blackberry Kush
  • King Louis XIII
  • Skywalker
  • God’s Gift
  • White Rhino aka Medicine Man
Indica Cannabis Plant - Northern Lights
Northern Lights – an Indica Cannabis strain.

Cannabis Hybrids

In the past, when cultivating cannabis was mostly an outdoor endeavour mostly taking place in sunny, equatorial or Meditteranean climates, sativas were more often grown. Then, some time in between the 60s and 70s, some people went to regions in India and Afghanistan and bought seeds from indica plants back with them.

These pioneers not only brought with them whole new varieties of cannabis, but also the possibility of hybridizing the two types together. This brought forward the homegrown revolution, which allowed for sativas to be grown indoors and with greater vigor.

It is likely that most strains on the market today are hybrids of some sort. With hybridization comes standardization, which has been both beneficial and detrimental (increased vigor, saving of rare genetics, greater yield; loss of diversity to some extent, too much focus on THC and bang-for-the-buck in the early years of hybridization). Hybrids can contain a huge number of different cannabinoid-terpenoid-flavonoid profiles, and to be fair to the hybridization process, may have actually saved some unique landrace varietals’ genetics and adding them to the overall gene pool! It would be fair to say that cannabis would benefit from a mixture of hybrodized varieties and landrace varieties that are kept as-is as much as possible for their unique properties.

A hybrid’s effects are determined by which phenotype is expressed. An indica-sativa hybrid may be indica- or sativa- dominant, or could be an equal mix of the two or three (or more) strains used to create the hybrid. When the hybrid expresses a roughly 50:50 mix between indica and sativa, many claim that the effects are balanced, too. This can mean an energetic feel followed by a relaxed, sleepy feeling, or vice-versa. However, these attributes can be applied to indicas and sativas as well, so it is difficult to tell if hybrids have effects that are distinct from indicas or sativas.


Depending on which phenotype is expressed, can be either sativa-like, indica-like or a mixture of the two.

Symptoms Potentially Relieved

See the lists for both indica and sativa.

Conditions Hybrids May Be Useful For

See above

Possible Negatives

See above

Popular Hybrids

There are many hybrid strains in the lists above. Here are some hybrids that are not necessarily dominant one way or the other, and have often been described as having a “balanced” effect between a sativa and an indica.

  • OG Kush
  • Gelato
  • Skunk #1
  • Cheese
  • Chemdawg
  • Blue Dream
  • Double Dream
  • Cherry AK-47
  • Headband
  • Alien OG
  • White Widow
Cannabis Plant
Cannabis plant in bloom.

CBD-Rich Strains

CBD-rich strains can be developed from sativas, indicas and hybrids. Breeders often select a plant that is particularly high in CBD, and cross it with other plants high in CBD in order to produce hybrids that consistently produce CBD-rich strains or plants with a more balanced CBD:THC ratio.

CBD-rich strains are often used for their little-to-no psychoactivity, anxiety, depression and pain, especially for daytime use and when a person needs to remain functional. Those who have a low tolerance for THC, or have a condition that may be extremely sensitive to THC (e.g. those with bipolar disorder and/or some types of anxiety disorders), may wish to consider a variety of cannabis that contains high amounts of CBD


  • Clear-headed
  • May produce a “wiry” effect when high doses of CBD are used
  • Little psychoactivity
  • Symptoms Potentially Relieved
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Pain
  • Inflammation

Conditions CBD-Rich Strains May Be Used For

Possible Negatives

  • Dry Mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced Appetite
  • Sleeplessness for some when used in high doses

Popular CBD-Rich Strains

  • Cannatonic
  • ACDC
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • Canna-Tsu
  • Harlequin
  • Harle-Tsu
  • Ringo’s Gift
  • Sweet and Sour Widow
  • Stephen Hawking Kush
  • Sour Tsunami
  • Pennywise
  • Remedy

Cannabis ruderalis

Cannabis ruderalis is a subspecies of Cannabis sativa that is native to Central and Eastern Europe and Russia. Ruderalis plants are crossed with an indica or sativa to take advantage of its autoflowering traits – the ability to go from a vegetative state to flowering due to the maturity of the plant as opposed to the light cycle, making them quicker to grow. Ruderalis varieties are often called “Lowryders” due to their short stature and hardiness.

Lowryders are purposefully built with indoor and guerilla growers in mind – those who need short, quick-growing, tough plants that can handle stressful environments and can remain discreet. Cannabis ruderalis is also noted for its high CBD content, and it is possible to cross a ruderalis with an indica or sativa to increase a strain’s CBD concentration (although ideally, a CBD-rich strain will need to be bred properly to produce CBD consistently). This makes Cannabis ruderalis particularly useful for medical cannabis users who want CBD.

Cannabis ruderalis
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license


Hemp is a type of Cannabis sativa where the main focus is on the growing of the stalk for fiber, as opposed to the buds or flowers. This means that the concentrations of cannabinoids found in most types of hemp are usually quite low.

Whether a type of cannabis is labelled “hemp” or “marijuana/cannabis” is partly down to how much THC the plant contains. A cannabis variety is labelled “hemp” if it contains 0.3% or less of THC in it. There may be low, moderate or even high amounts of CBD in a hemp plant, and this can depend very much on whether or not a variety of hemp was grown for its flower or its stalk. Technically, only hemp-derived CBD is legal, so a variety of cannabis would have to be designated “hemp” for it to be legal. This means that, even if a strain of cannabis has 0% THC in it, if it is not designated “hemp”, it is not legal”


Therefore, the distinction between “marijuana” or “cannabis” and “hemp” is semi-political and legal rather than just scientific. However, over time and due to selective breeding, there are some differences between hemp and cannabis/marijuana. Hemp plants can be grown in close proximity with one another, are usually much taller and thinner than cannabis/marijuana, and are grown for fiber, paper, clothing, food, skincare, bioremediation and building material. Hemp also contains cannabinoids and terpenes, but at much lower concentrations than cannabis/marijuana. Ultimately, though, both varieties derive from the same Cannabis family.

Technically, there should not necessarily be much difference between hemp-derived CBD and cannabis/marijuana-derived CBD in terms of their effects. However, as hemp is an industrial plant with a less readily-available source of cannabinoids and terpenes, harsher extraction methods may need to be utilized to derive cannabinoids from it. This can lead to undesirable plant waxes found in the end product. Industrial hemp is also often used to suck pollutants from the soil in industrial areas, which can also sometimes see pollutants ending up in hemp-derived CBD products.

This is not to say there are not high-quality hemp-derived CBD products available, but that they are few and far between and exist in a market where there’s an unfortunate lack of quality control. This can mean that federally-illegal cannabis-derived products are held to a higher standard than federally-legal hemp-derived products!

Ultimately, You Have to Find the Best Product and Ingestion Method For You

So, as there is so much difference between products, and as cannabis is a living, complex organism that has a huge chemical variance, you will ultimately need to find the best form of cannabis for you personally. Check out our guide to dosing cannabis in order to get more information about this subject.

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Written by
Dipak Hemraj
Dipak Hemraj

Dipak Hemraj is a published author, grower, product maker, and Leafwell’s resident cannabis expert. From botany & horticulture to culture & economics, he wishes to help educate the public on why cannabis is medicine (or a “pharmacy in a plant”) and how it can be used to treat a plethora of health problems. Dipak wants to unlock the power of the plant, and see if there are specific cannabinoid-terpene-flavonoid profiles suitable for different conditions.

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