There is a different perception of indica, sativa, hybrid and ruderalis (also known as autoflowering), depending on whether you are a breeder, or a consumer. When breeders are discussing the qualities of their own plants, they are usually referring to the growing characteristics of that plant. When a consumer is talking about these varieties, they are usually referring to how each will make them feel, regardless of growing characteristics.
But is that right? Is there a difference in sensations between Indica, Sativa and Hybrid? Short and truthful answer: There is no way to know. How cannabis feels from person to person and instance to instance is impossible to measure. It is insincere and dishonest to promise a specific experience (like creativity or motivation) when so much can affect that outcome (everything from mental health to what they ate for lunch that day). Set and setting and cannabinoid content is more relevant than marketing material, quite frankly.
The long answer? The plant’s genetic makeup, also called a genotype, acts as a blueprint for growth: it allows a spectrum of physical possibilities, but it is up to the environment to induce these characteristics. The physical expression of a genotype is referred to as a phenotype, which is simply defined as the traits that the environment pulls out from the plant’s genetic code. Everything from color, shape, smell, and resin production are affected by the environment. Variation is possible, you could have a sativa variety that grows like an indica or an indica variety that feels like sativa. Even the same pack of seeds with seeds that all came from the same plant can have different phenotypes that express distinctive characteristics. In a single pack of 4 seeds, you could have heterogenous expression (where the plants produced are all different–sometimes also referred to as “favourable variation”). In a room with 4 plants that grew from 4 seeds plucked from the same plant, one variety could turn out to be more citrusy, another taller, another more purple, and another heavier yielding than the rest. Just as siblings are not necessarily identical (but sometimes have similar features), plant varieties don’t look exactly like their brothers and sisters (even when they came from the same parents). The only way to ensure varieties grow out the exact same is to keep a mother plant of your favourite phenotype, and clip clones.
Sativa classified varieties are typically native to places with long summers- they need a lot of sun for a long flowering period 9-11+ weeks. They tend to be stretchy with thin leaves. Indica’s are native to places with much shorter summers and have a shorter flowering period of 6-9 weeks. They tend to be bushier and have super broad leaves. Hybrids (a combination of sativa and indica) will take 8-10 weeks of flowering (depending on the genetics and phenotype). Hybrids could be a mixed-bag variation of any of these qualities. Most varieties are truly a hybrid-very few categorize themselves as 100% pure sativa or 100% pure indica, which also adds to the possibility of different phenotype expressions.
Ruderalis/autoflowering is native to many regions and is different because it automatically goes into a flowering period without doing a light/season change (so you could keep it on 18-24 hours if you wanted); the entire life cycle is 8-10 weeks from start to finish.