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The Cannabis Plant Varieties: Sativa, Indica, & Ruderalis

Updated: Mar 16, 2022

When people think of cannabis varieties, they often think of just cannabis and hemp. Most of us will then know Sativa and Indica from when choosing a strain and searching for certain effects. What some may not know is that cannabis can actually be put into three separate and distinct varieties.

By Cannabis News ZA - 16/07/2020

Cannabis has existed for thousands of years, and has been found scattered throughout the globe, being utilised by humans for much of our early years on this planet. The different varieties of cannabis plant are used for various reasons, from recreational and spiritual consumption to industrial and nutritional means. 

Cannabis, A Brief History 

Cannabis first became useful as a source of fibre for textiles, not for its recreational or medical potential. The earliest known evidence of cannabis use dates back to China, way back in 8 000 BC. Here we see evidence of processing the plant for fibres to make clothing and weaponry. 

Soon the medical potential was noted and the plant became commonplace in traditional medicine, evidence of its use for these purposes appearing in China, India and Egypt. Soon after the discovery of the plants medical potential, humans began to observe the recreational potential. The earliest evidence of recreational consumption of cannabis dates back to at least 2 000 BC. 

The Varieties 

Many of us may be familiar with the cannabis varieties, especially if you are a grower. Most commonly known are Sativa and Indica, largely due to consumers choosing the effects of either a Sativa or Indica when smoking up. The third, lesser known variety is Ruderalis. 


Cannabis Sativa may be the most diverse of the varieties, and has been applied recreationally, medically and industrially for years. The industrial form is more commonly known as hemp, often with low cannabinoid levels but numerous applications outside of recreational consumption. 

To be classified as hemp, cannabis plants may contain no more than 0.2% THC. However, many Sativa plants are also well known for high concentrations of THC and other cannabinoids. He plants can produce multiple harvests in a year, but have a relatively long period of flower. 

This variety is often identified by its long and thin leaves and is known to grow up to 3 metres in height. This variety is believed to have originated in Eastern Asia, but over the years these plants have evolved to survive most climates. 


Indica is hugely popular in the recreational community. These are fairly similar to Sativa, but they tend to not grow as tall, but are still used for industrial purposes despite this – such as paper and building materials. 

As mentioned before, most of us may be familiar with Indica and Sativa because they imply the effects of certain strains. Indica are believed to be more sedating (think ‘in-da-couch’, because that’s where it puts you), while Sativa varieties are considered more energetic and uplifting. However, this topic has seen much attention as there is debate to whether these varieties truly provide their own unique effects. 

The Indica variety was first categorised by Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in 1785. He named it this because he discovered it in India, but despite this name they can also grow in numerous climates. 


Cannabis Ruderalis is the least well-known variety and the most unappreciated. Many still debate whether this deserves to be its own variety or whether it should be a cannabis subspecies. A theory suggests that this variety evolved from an Indica, and that Ruderalis is the result of cultivated species that was left to grow in the wild, under harsh conditions and had to adapt. 

This variety is also the smallest, usually not growing much more than 1.5 metres but quite wild and bushy. This variety is popular amongst growers for its short flowering period and relatively low concentrations of THC. Ruderalis isn’t all that popular outside of the recreational world, but can be cross-bred with other varieties to obtain some desirable characteristics.

Knowing the differences between these varieties could prove important if you’re growing your own cannabis at home.

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