Indica, sativa and ruderalis
4 min

The Three Species Of Cannabis: Sativa, Indica & Ruderalis

4 min
Facts News

Contemporary cannabis hybrids owe their variety and spectacular effects to the sophisticated crossbreeding of different species of marijuana. The three different species from which all modern marijuana strains are bred, are called sativa, indica and ruderalis.


The rise in popularity of the indoor cannabis growing scene and the freedom of legalization in some countries means, that there are now literally thousands of choices when it comes to buying or growing cannabis. Tall, short, dense, blue, purple or clone-only cheesy mutant, every modern marijuana plant has one thing in common. They are originally bred from landraces. Landraces have three distinct forms, depending on where in the world they originate. These three distinct forms are sativa, indica and ruderalis.


Humans have had an intimate relationship with cannabis for at least twelve thousand years. As people spread all over the globe, cannabis spread with them and over thousands of years has evolved to adapt to many different climates. Nobody really knows what kind of interbreeding went on in the distant past or what the original plants were like. It is known ancient humans held cannabis in high regard as an entheogen, medicine and hardy source of fibre and food.


The three discernible species share common traits of the cannabicea family. They are generally dioceous, meaning they have male and female plants. They are fast growing annuals, that have vegetative and blooming phases. They have palmate leaves made up of an odd number of serrated leaflets, ranging from 3 to 13, depending on the age and species of the plant.

They have unique compounds called cannabinoids in differing quantities and qualities depending on species. When the female flowers remain unfertilized they produce an impressive range of terpenes and flavonoids in their essential oils. When fertilized, they produce a prolific amount of multipurpose seed, often up to 80% of the weight of a plant. They often resort to hermaphroditism under stress to guarantee fertilization.

Cannabis can be found in one of its forms in the tropics, in high altitude mountain valleys or bordering northern tundra rivers.


Sativas are the archetypal cannabis plant. The well-known Christmas tree or spindle-shaped silhouette and long thin leaves, that even the layman recognizes, have been used for cannabis graphics for decades. You can be guaranteed all marijuana smoked in the West prior to the early eighties were some kinds of sativa smuggled from a tropical country like Colombia, Thailand, Africa or South East Asia.

Sativa strains evolved in the tropics between 30 degrees north and 30 degrees south. Outdoors they can grow to five metres tall, with sugar leaves as big as dinner plates and main colas as big as a human arm. Indoors, sativa-dominant hybrids, that are crossbred to mature faster, are more common than pure breeds, that need a substantial amount of light and time to grow.

Sativa strains have a high content of the cannabinoid THC, complemented by a range of terpenes, that have predominantly cerebral effects. Described as elevating, euphoric and creative, the effects of sativa strains can turn any frown upside down. Occasionally these effects can be truly dumbfounding with the world and its desires all fading before the distracting visuals and total contentment of an incredible high.

THC is identified as one of over sixty cannabinoids discovered so far, that have therapeutic benefit to humans. Among a long list of practical medical applications, the arousing and stimulating mental effects of THC-rich sativa marijuana has been shown to help in the fight against anxiety and depression related to chronic pain.

Cannabis Sativa


Examples of great indica landraces evolved between thirty and fifty degrees of latitude. Outside the tropics and at higher altitudes, the cannabis plant had to respond to shorter summers and harsh winters, that were quick to descend. Rarely growing larger than two metres tall, the indica strains are more stout in their trunk and branch formation, often having closely spaced internodes.

The palmate leaves are formed from oblate and heavily serrated leaflets that overlap. Together with distinct vein ridges and a deeper green, the indica leaf has a rounder silhouette. Indicas have minimal side branching with a dominant central cola, that is tightly packed with trichome-covered calyxes. The extra resin and compactness is thought to act as insulation against the mountain cold, although it is doubtful, that sinsemilla would grow wild.

There are some phrases, that are idiosyncratic to cannabis culture compliments of indica and indica-dominant hybrids. Couchlock for example describes the analgesic physical sensation, that can overcome anyone indulging in powerful indicas. That feeling of being pressed into your seat like the air suddenly has weight. Ideal for relaxing and watching a movie, the indica experience is more sedative and heavy-lidded.

The anodyne physical effect makes indica-dominant marijuana strains ideal for the treatment of physical disorders like pain from arthritis and chemotherapy. Having a higher percentage of other cannabinoids means, that THC is regulated in the brain, but CBD and CBN are fully active in the body. In early trials indica extracts have proven beneficial in controlling seizures in epilepsy patients.

Cannabis Indica


During a field trip in southern Siberia in 1942, the Russian botanist Janischewski discovered Cannabis ruderalis, the third family of cannabis. Derived from the Latin "rudera", a ruderal species is one, that is first to colonize cleared areas after competing plants are removed. The weedy, thick-stalked, but sparse, stout and quick growing ruderalis is a very hardy species. The plant is too short in stature to be used as fibre hemp. It has a minimal THC value, but has been used as an antidepressant in Mongolian and Russian folk medicine for centuries.

Setting it apart from the other cannabis strains, ruderalis is not photosensitive and not seasonally dependant at all and will vegetate and enter the flowering cycle according to its own internal clock. Usually the short vegetative stage is 21 to 30 days, with finishing times between 70 to 110 days from seed. This is called autoflowering.

The true value of the ruderalis form is in the autoflowering characteristic. When expertly crossed and backcrossed with known powerful strains, the autoflowering characteristic is passed on with little drop in THC levels.

This way sativas that once had a grow season of up to eight months can be grown to maturity from seed in eleven weeks. Already quickly maturing indicas can be ready in sixty days from seed. When breeding high CBD medical cannabis, ruderalis can amplify the CBD production, making the highest quality flowers for therapeutic oil extraction.

Cannabis Ruderalis


Contemporary marijuana is generally grown so well and is so hybridized and powerful, that it is becoming difficult to distinguish between indica or sativa.

A superbly grown indica will set your neurons reeling just as much as an equally fabulous sativa. The unique terpene and cannabinoid profile of each strain modifies the experience for each individual and plays a distinct role in their therapeutic effectiveness.


  Guest Writer  

Written by: Guest Writer
Occasionally we have guest writers contribute to our blog here at Zamnesia. They come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, making their knowledge invaluable.

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