sativa head high or body high

The Real Difference Between Body Highs and Head Highs

Weed is great but weed is also a mysterious creature. Why is it that sometimes, no matter how long you keep your greedy hands on your friend’s joint and take many deep and very serious inhales, you just can’t get high? Then other times, maybe even the very next day, after a half puff from a one-hitter, you’re sitting there in a cold-sweat and completely baked?

While smoking can yield unpredictable results, edibles are another complicated monster. Rest assured, if you’re planning to drink an entire bottle of weed lube, then you’ll absolutely be fucked up fast. Since that isn’t a predicament most of us will face, your biggest edible-related issue is likely waiting for it to kick in; this can turn into an intense test of self-control, where you’re tempted to overeat yourself into a stupor, later realizing you’ve been staring at a blank wall for hours.

Beyond this delicate recipe of finding the right way to attain a successful high, there are even different kinds of highs, with the most common being head and body highs. The two are very different, with head highs described to me by Lola* as “incredibly trippy and fun, everything becomes more vivid. Everything is interesting and TV is amazing,” and body highs described to me by Kara* as “extremely relaxing from my fingers to toes, it’s like my insides are glitter and my chronic back aches go away.”

While most people have experienced the two different highs, there’s surprisingly very little available literature about them, aside from weed forums where contributors are busy educating lurkers that indica means “in da couch.”

Broadly spoke to Dr. Aury Holtzman, a medical doctor based in Huntington Beach, California who specializes in marijuana and has evaluated over 11,000 patients to determine their medical marijuana needs, and asked him to explain the difference between those glorious head and body highs.

In order to understand why we get different kinds of highs, we need a cursory understanding of how our bodies get high in the first place. The human body has evolved to include an endocannabinoid system with various neurotransmitters and receptors. “It’s like a lock and key,” said Dr. Holtzman describing how neurotransmitters, the messenger chemicals in the brain, bind with receptors. Some neurotransmitters are believed to regulate specific processes—serotonin for mood, sleep and learning, and dopamine for the brain’s “reward system.”

In 1988, a cannabinoid receptor was discovered in the brain and its peripheries, suggesting that our brains already have a naturally-occurring neurotransmitter similar to those found in marijuana. That neurotransmitter native to the body is called anandamide and comes from the Sanskrit word for “bliss.” It plays a role in the body that impacts pain management, depression, appetite, memory, and fertility. Dr. Holtzman simplifies it by saying, “It tends to make people feel good.” Cannabinoids from cannabis plants bind with our natural brain receptors, activating the overall system and getting us high.

So, what happens in our bodies to make us experience different head and body highs?

One of the biggest factors is the way you ingest your weed. “When you smoke, the cannabinoids go straight into your lungs,” said Dr. Holtzman. “They go right into your blood supply, into your brain, across the blood-brain barrier and then you get the high.” It’s different when you eat that phat pot brownie. “[The cannabinoids] don’t go into your blood, they go to the liver and then the liver will convert the THC,” said Dr. Holtzman. “You get a slightly different effect on the receptor.” So basically, when cannabinoids go straight to your lungs, you’re more likely to feel a head high. When they go through your liver, it’s more of a body high.

Another thing that can affect your high is marijuana strain. Dr. Holtzman believes marijuana plants are very smart and over time they have evolved to contain different terpenes, which are essential oils that impact a plant’s smell and strain. “The head versus the body high is due to the different terpene levels,” explained Dr. Holtzman. Historically, there are two species of cannabis with different terpenes: indica and sativa. “Indica is known as the body high, with a focused calm feeling and sativas were known for the head high, used for more cerebral things,” said Dr. Holtzman. “When you think of sativa, you think of enhanced, raised elevated but the side effects of sativas can be too much anxiety or panic attacks.”

And while it may sound easy to determine your highs by your strains, it’s become tougher over the years as all weed plant strains have become hybridized. “There are very few plants that would be pure indica or sativa,” said Dr. Holtzman. “All these strains out there are hybrids but some give you more indica effects, other mores sativa effects.” So if you’re smoking an indica and experiencing more of a head high, there’s a chance that your strain is more hybrid than your dealer led you to believe.

So what do you do when you’ve smoked or eaten too much? Kara* told me that when she needs to not be high anymore, she exercises. “It makes me feel like I’m burning out all the THC in my system,” she said. I asked Dr. Holtzman if there is any validity to that and surprisingly, he said yes. “The exercise mobilizes your blood which helps you excrete [THC] faster.” Which explains why you might not feel that edible if you’re out skating or doing anything that isn’t lying immobile on your couch while listening to Fetty Wap on vinyl.

“While medicating with THC, it’s really important to stay hydrated and keep your electrolytes in balance,” adds Dr. Holtzman. So the next time you got too baked and need to go somewhere and not seriously weird everyone out, do some jumping jacks and chug some water before heading out.

Get a personalized roundup of VICE’s best stories in your inbox.

By signing up to the VICE newsletter you agree to receive electronic communications from VICE that may sometimes include advertisements or sponsored content.

Weed can make you feel euphoric and buzzed, or it can just make you want to melt into the couch like that girl in those anti-drug commercials. We asked a doctor about what causes different highs.

Indica vs. Sativa – Stoned or High? Which Effects can you expect from Cannabis?

Sativa cannabis makes you high, while Indica makes you stoned. At least, that is what people have been saying for a long time. In reality, there is little evidence that all Sativa strains make you consistently high, while all Indicas are simply suitable for an evening of chilling out like a true couch-potato.This article explains that it is not at all that simple. Just look at the name because it’s wrong.

Sativa is actually Indica

It was Carl Linnaeus who, in 1753, published the scientific name of Cannabis Sativa for the first time. Strangely enough, the term “Sativa” describes the common hemp plant that has been used and grown for so long because of its long, strong fibers and healthy seeds. Sativa literally means: cultivated. Sativa cannabis does not actually exist. Sativa is THC-free fiber hemp.

The most recent and extensive research (Karl Hillig, 2004, 2005) into the origin of different types of cannabis shows that Cannabis Indica has a much greater genetic diversity than Cannabis Sativa. All cannabis actually finds its origins in Indica species, but from different varieties. What we nowadays call Sativa cannabis, is actually Cannabis Indica Indica, and Indica cannabis comes from the Cannabis Indica Afghanica.

People’s talk

Every coffee shop and every seed producer still sells Sativa and Indica cannabis. However much we’d like the critter to be called by the right name, we will also give you what you ask for: sativa and indica cannabis seeds. We would like to show you the differences and the similarities. Because they certainly do exist. Just have a look at the appearance of the two cannabis plants.

Recognising Sativa and Indica

The appearance of a cannabis plant tells the grower a lot but it doesn’t have that much to do with the effects of the weed. What’s important to know is that a sativa can ‘disguise’ itself as an indica, and vice versa. This all has to do with the way in which plants were cross-fertilized with each other in the past. We call the plant’s appearance its phenotype. One actual difference is that the two sisters grow differently.Thus, sativa is the taller plant of the two and has a longer flowering period, whereas indica often gives a bigger yield.

Sativa cannabis plants: Huge, fine-leaved mind expanders

What is the physical difference between plants from our cannabis seeds? Sativas are usually larger than Indicas. A Sativa weed plant also has a finer leaf. A Sativa dominant plant can be recognized by its decorative, thin fingers with ‘sharp nails’. An Indica leaf can be as wide as that of a maple.

A Sativa can grow into a huge shrub, of up to three meters high. As a result, the total yield per plant is high. The flowering period is also longer compared to those of Indicas. Sativa dominant crossings are particularly suitable for outdoor cultivation.

Narrow leaves and an open structure. So it must be a sativa. But look out: it could be a ‘disguised’ indica!

Indica cannabis plants: Compact, Broadleaf Christmas Trees

Indicas remain smaller than Sativas. Another characteristic physical property of the Indica plants is its broad weed leaf. Sativas usually have long and thin fingers, but an Indica leaf looks a bit like a maple leaf. An Indica plant also remains compact in size. This means you can reach higher yields per surface area. The flowering time of a pure Indica is significantly shorter than with Sativas. With a flower time of 6-8 weeks, the Indica is perfectly suited for a short summer season or indoor growing.

One way of recognising indicas is by the broader leaves. Note – the appearance (phenotype) of a cannabis plant can be different from what the genetics might lead you to expect.

Ruderalis Weed Plants: Automatically in Flower

Next to indica and sativa in the picture above you there is yet another one which not everybody recognises. That is the ruderalis. As you can see, and in contrast to the other two, it is a pathetically small plant. That’s because by nature the ruderalis comes from a completely different region than indica and sativa. Namely the Urals which are located a good deal further north. Due to the limited high season the ruderalis has evolved differently from its big sisters. It has the characteristic that despite the changing light it always comes into flower at the same time of the year. As the result of cross-fertilization of these three different types, it is a characteristic which is now found in sativa and indica. These cannabis plants are called autoflowers (they come into bloom on their own).


The cross-fertilization of the ruderalis type with both indica and sativa was only successfully done later. Initially the yield was much lower with the autoflowering types but now we are seeing autoflowers with substantial yields appearing on the market. Nonetheless, autoflowers are still small. That makes them ideal for putting in low growing cabinets and the garden. That’s useful if you prefer not to have your plant spotted by the neighbours or local police over the fence.

The cross-fertilization of ruderalis and sativa for example provides vigorous, low-growing plants which bloom on their own. We call that autoflowering.

A Short History of Cannabis

A brief excursion into the history will clarify where the supposed effects come from.

Cannabis Sativa

Cannabis Sativa is the first known cannabis plant. In contrast to the Indica varieties, Sativa was not hidden in the mountains, but has simply always grown in places with a lot of sun, as is the case in sunny parts of Europe. It was not only the fibers that were used often. For example, the Chinese already used cannabis as a medicine well before Christ, and also hashish was a well-known stimulant in the Arab world in the ninth century.

Indica – Cannabis from the East

Indica weed only arrived in the Netherlands comparatively recently. The origin, effects and also the growth and flowering are slightly different from pure sativa weed.

Virtually all pure Indica genetics can be traced back to the Himalayas and the Karakorum territory in Asia. The origin of Indica cannabis plants are the north of India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and a mountainous area known as the Hindu Kush (Hindu Kush).

Cannabis Indica was first identified and described by the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in 1785. It took until the 60s and 70s though, before Indica was introduced in the West. In particular, traveling hippies spoke to locals about growing cannabis. They took Indica seeds from this region back to their own Western country.

Due to the sheer scale of the Himalayan mountain range, the areas where indica comes from are extremely remote. As such, it was difficult pollen from one cannabis plant reached another kind of plant. Pure Indica strains were therefore easily kept pure, and genetics may greatly vary from strain to strain.

In the 1960s, the Indica strains brought home were first crossed with the already known Sativa strains. First, Indica genetics were used to improve the Sativa’s suitability for indoor cultivation, to keep the plant small and shorten the flowering time.

Effects – You get High from Sativa, you get Stoned from Indica

Today, about 700 different strains of weed have been classified. However, several thousands different strains (types of weed, cultivars) will actually be in existence. Some of them forgotten classics, other undiscovered top performers.

You notice the high chiefly in the head. Often it makes you more sociable, more creative and lively.

What is High and what is Stoned?

The difference between high and stoned is mainly in how you experience the weed. Stoned is that effect which you feel chiefly in your body, whereas ‘high’ plays out in your head. Being heavily stoned can result in so-called couch-lock in which you become, as it were, rooted to the spot. Getting up is simply not an option then. You could, but you just don’t want to. On the other hand, if you get really high, then it feels like a buzz in your head. So you feel more in party mode with a good high than when you’re utterly stoned. But they both have their place.

You might imagine that the enormous variety of types has led to a diversity of effects. As well as the familiar THC and CBD, there are some seventy other cannabinoids to be found in both indica and sativa weed plants. That’s without mentioning the more than 120 different terpenes present in weed. These are substances which influence the taste, aroma and also the effect of weed. Sativas are known for the complex composition of their terpenes. We call that a terpene profile. There are an increasing number of websites where you can view extensive analyses of weed together with terpene profiles. So you can see exactly what they contain.

A terpene profile will show you which terpenes are present. Research into how these natural fragrances and flavours interact with THC and CBD, among others, is still in its infancy.

Thus, THC and CBD are not the only active constituents in cannabis. The terpene β-myrcene is suspected to be partly responsible for the couch-lock effect (rooted to the spot because you are completely stoned). And actually most indica strains are now reasonably rich in myrcene. That’s partly why they say that you get stoned from indica.

Do you feel as though you’re rooted to the spot? That’s called couch-lock. A well-known phenomenon when you’re properly stoned.

Sativa for the Head, Indica for the Body

Sativa cannabis seeds are known for their mind-expanding effects, although Sativa cannabis seeds are difficult to describe as a single group. Some strains have a more social effect, while others allows you to better enjoy colors and sound. The CBD percentage is often slightly higher than the Indica-dominant strains. Indica cannabis seeds are renowned for their physically relaxing effects. The THC percentage is often higher than in the sativa-dominant strains.

The Effects of Sativa in a Nutshell:

  • Can work socially or creatively or even give you a laughing fit.
  • Highly suitable for relaxing medicinal applications at higher CBD percentages.
  • You feel excited and lively.
  • You feel Sativa more in your head (high or cerebral).
  • Better during the day than in the evenings.
  • Gives you energy and zip.

The Effects of Indica in a Nutshell:

  • Pleasantly relaxed.
  • Suitable for medicinal applications for pain at higher THC percentages.
  • Takes away stress.
  • Often applied before going to sleep.
  • Get enough food in for the munchies!

Indica buds are often more compact than sativa buds. Compare the indica-dominant kush (left) and sativa-dominant haze (right). See how hard it is to identify the differences. The drying process and the quality of the bud probably have more influence on the appearance than the genetics.

When comparing Indica cannabis seeds effects with its Sativa counterparts, one can conclude it is wise to look at the composition, or at least at the genetics of its ancestors.Weed in the coffee shop is often neither pure indica or sativa. More often you get hybrids with differing proportions of indica, sativa and ruderalis. Yet they are often cultivated to give you a particular effect. The genetics and above all the chemical composition of each type of weed is what determines its effect. We should not underestimate the so-called entourage effect of all the constituents. The total composition of your favourite weed determines what the effect is.

To make things easier for you, we have researched those effects and growth characteristics at the Dutch-Headshop. For every cannabis seed, we tell you everything we know about the plant. This helps you to make an informed decision about which seed best fits your needs.

Sativa cannabis makes you high, while Indica makes you stoned. At least, that is what people have been saying for a long time. In reality, there is little evidence that all Sativa strains make you consistently high, while all Indicas are simply suitable for an evening of chilling out like a true couch-potato. This article explains that it is not at all that simple. Just look at the name because it’s wrong.