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.
Indica is a classification for a family of marijuana plants with its own distinct morphology, including plant size, leaf shape, and chemical profile. Indica landrace strains are generally agreed to have originated near Central Asia and spread to regions in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Morocco, and Turkey.
These original indica landraces (a region’s native, naturally-occurring cannabis strain) are locally adapted strains optimized through natural evolution to grow in their specific microclimates. Indica landraces like Afghani Kush, Hindu Kush, and Mazar I Sharif generally thrived between 30° and 50° latitudes by adapting to these local growing conditions.
Most indica strains found on dispensary shelves are not pure landrace indicas. Rather, they are indica-dominant hybrids created by crossbreeding two or more individual strains. Original landrace strains now mostly exist as heirloom strains and are rarely found in commercial shops.
Indica strains are known for producing high quantities of resin, perhaps as an adaptation to protect itself against harsh weather conditions in the mountainous regions from which it originates. This high resin content in these indica strains was ideal for making hash, the dominant form for consuming indica strains early in the cannabis trade that remains popular in much of the Eastern Hemisphere still today.
Indica strains are known for having flavor profiles ranging from sweet musk and rich earth to dark fruit, like berry and grape. Effects from indica strains manifest predominantly in the body, though the hundreds of indica dominant hybrids that are available differ widely in their effect profiles.