Understanding the Difference Between the 3 Big Types of Weed: Sativa, Indica & Ruderalis

weed plant - sativa, indica and ruderalis
Image by Herbal Hemp from Pixabay
This is a collaborative post

2020 was a huge year for cannabis, with 36 states legalizing the plant for medical use, 18 states for recreational use, and 13 decriminalizing it.

With different terms thrown around and the amount of buzz surrounding the potential benefits of cannabis, you’re probably wondering what it all means.

One thing for sure, if you want to use the drug or infused products, be it for medicinal or recreational purposes, it’d be better to learn the differences among the main cannabis strains.

What Plant is Cannabis?

Let’s back up a bit.

When talking about cannabis (the plant and not the drug), it’s worth noting that they come in three primary forms.

Researchers suggest that there are many species in the cannabis family. However, what’s popularly accepted is that cannabis refers to three groups of flowering plants known as sativa, indica & ruderalis.

These main species are also known to have many subspecies, which are usually bred for better results in their chemical profile.

Let’s dive into these plants to figure out what makes them different when they are all under the same plant family.

Cannabis Sativa vs. Cannabis Indica

Sativa is the most known type of cannabis and enjoys a wide range of uses. Weed or marijuana, popularly smoked around the globe, is usually a variant of sativa.

One thing to remember is that sativa, indica, and ruderalis are standalone species of the same family and NOT subspecies. Each of the plants always had various strains either as a result of breeding or environmental adaptation.

Marijuana and Hemp

Image by Michael Moriarty from Pixabay

The most popular subspecies of c.sativa that are not a result of breeding are hemp and marijuana. These two strains occur naturally.

However, marijuana doesn’t have to be sativa. It can also be indica. Basically, you can’t tell apart weed and hemp if the former is a strain of sativa. It’s a different story if it’s indica because there’s a clear physical difference there.

Now, the legally recognized difference between marijuana and hemp lies in the chemical profile. A c.sativa plant with high THC composition, legally set above 0.3%, is considered marijuana.

Anything below that percentage is considered hemp.

Keeping in mind that high THC content is what defines marijuana, therefore indica species automatically becomes marijuana due to its high THC content.

If you’re wondering what THC is, it’s one of the many cannabinoids found in cannabis. It’s well-known for its psychoactive effect.

Physical Differences

Indica and sativa have distinct physical differences. Sativa plants tend to grow tall, sometimes reaching 15 feet. They are also pretty slim with long, narrow leaves that look delicate.

On the other hand, indica plants are shorter, reaching about 6 feet tall but often shorter than that. The plant looks bushy, has broad leaves, and is healthy-looking compared to sativa.

The two species also flower differently, with sativa taking a lot longer than indica to bloom.

Cannabis Ruderalis

C. ruderalis is a lesser-known species of cannabis. It may or may not be a distinct species, after all, there’s disagreement among experts on that. Some believe ruderalis is a subspecies of indica since both share some similarities.

Physical Appearance

When it comes to physical appearance, ruderalis looks more like indica than sativa. It’s a short plant, way shorter than indica, standing at about 2 or 3 feet tall. It has a rough appearance with broad leaves and a strong stem.

In general, ruderalis is small compared to the other two, but it’s also the strongest. The plant easily thrives in surroundings that would kill the other species.

THC Content

On the other hand, ruderalis is more like hemp (hemp is c.sativa with low THC), containing very low THC content. However, the concentration of THC is generally at 3%, which is still higher than hemp.

Are you’re wondering whether ruderalis has the psychoactive effect of indica and sativa?

Well, it most likely won’t get you high due to the extremely low THC. Still, if you find a variant with high enough THC, you may get high.


As a consumer, knowing the type of cannabis to get for your specific needs is essential. The reason being, each strain has a different effect.

Knowing the type of cannabis flowers you have helps you figure out how to properly store the stash to protect its unique flavour and compounds.

Here’s additional info if you wish to learn more about properly storing cannabis flowers to keep them in good condition longer.