Cannabis (/ˈkænəbɪs/; Cán-na-bis) is a genus of flowering
plants that includes three putative varieties, Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica,
and Cannabis ruderalis. These three taxa are indigenous to Central Asia, and
South Asia. Cannabis has long been used for fibre (hemp), for seed and seed
oils, for medicinal purposes, and as a recreational drug. Industrial hemp
products are made from Cannabis plants selected to produce an abundance of
fiber. To satisfy the UN Narcotics Convention, some Cannabis strains have been
bred to produce minimal levels of THC, the principal psychoactive constituent
responsible for the "high" associated with marijuana. Marijuana
consists of the dried flowers of Cannabis plants selectively bred to produce
high levels of THC and other psychoactive cannabinoids. Various extracts
including hashish and hash oil are also produced from the plant.
Cannabis is an annual, dioecious, flowering herb. The
leaves are palmately compound or digitate, with serrate leaflets. The first pair
of leaves usually have a single leaflet, the number gradually increasing up to a
maximum of about thirteen leaflets per leaf (usually seven or nine), depending
on variety and growing conditions. At the top of a flowering plant, this number
again diminishes to a single leaflet per leaf. The lower leaf pairs usually
occur in an opposite leaf arrangement and the upper leaf pairs in an alternate
arrangement on the main stem of a mature plant.
The leaves have a peculiar and diagnostic venation pattern that enables persons
poorly familiar with the plant to distinguish a Cannabis leaf from unrelated
species that have confusingly similar leaves (see illustration). As is common in
serrated leaves, each serration has a central vein extending to its tip.
However, the serration vein originates from lower down the central vein of the
leaflet, typically opposite to the position of, not the first notch down, but
the next notch. This means that on its way from the midrib of the leaflet to the
point of the serration, the vein serving the tip of the serration passes close
by the intervening notch. Sometimes the vein will actually pass tangent to the
notch, but often it will pass by at a small distance, and when that happens a
spur vein (occasionally a pair of such spur veins) branches off and joins the
leaf margin at the deepest point of the notch. This venation pattern varies
slightly among varieties, but in general it enables one to tell Cannabis leaves
from superficially similar leaves without difficulty and without special
equipment. Tiny samples of Cannabis plants also can be identified with precision
by microscopic examination of leaf cells and similar features, but that requires
special expertise and equipment."
Cannabis normally has imperfect flowers, with staminate "male" and
pistillate "female" flowers occurring on separate plants. It is not
unusual, however, for individual plants to bear both male and female flowers.
Although monoecious plants are often referred to as "hermaphrodites,"
true hermaphrodites (which are less common) bear staminate and pistillate
structures on individual flowers, whereas monoecious plants bear male and female
flowers at different locations on the same plant. Male flowers are normally
borne on loose panicles, and female flowers are borne on racemes." At a
very early period the Chinese recognized the Cannabis plant as dioecious,"
and the (ca. 3rd century BCE) Erya dictionary defined xi 枲 "male
Cannabis" and fu 莩 (or ju 苴)
All known strains of Cannabis are wind-pollinated and the fruit is an achene.
Most strains of Cannabis are short day plants, with the possible exception of C.
sativa subsp. sativa var. spontanea (= C. ruderalis), which is commonly
described as "auto-flowering" and may be day-neutral.
Cannabinoids, terpenoids, and other compounds are secreted by glandular
trichomes that occur most abundantly on the floral calyxes and bracts of female
plants. As a drug it usually comes in the form of dried flower buds
(marijuana), resin (hashish), or various extracts collectively known as hashish
oil. In the early 20th century, it became illegal in most of the world to
cultivate or possess Cannabis for sale or personal use.
Cannabis plants produce a unique family of terpeno-phenolic compounds called
cannabinoids, which produce the "high" one experiences from consuming
marijuana. There are 483 identifiable chemical constituents known to exist in
the cannabis plant, and at least 85 different cannabinoids have been isolated
from the plant. The two cannabinoids usually produced in greatest abundance are
cannabidiol (CBD) and/or Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), but it is generally
believed that only THC is psychoactive (this maybe disputed). Since the early
1970s, Cannabis plants have been categorized by their chemical phenotype or
"chemotype," based on the overall amount of THC produced, and on the
ratio of THC to CBD. Although overall cannabinoid production is influenced by
environmental factors, the THC/CBD ratio is genetically determined and remains
fixed throughout the life of a plant. [Non-drug plants produce relatively low
levels of THC and high levels of CBD, while drug plants produce high levels of
THC and low levels of CBD. When plants of these two chemotypes cross-pollinate,
the plants in the first filial (F1) generation have an intermediate chemotype
and produce similar amounts of CBD and THC. Female plants of this chemotype may
produce enough THC to be utilized for drug production.
Cannabis indica may have a CBD:THC ratio 4–5 times that of Cannabis sativa.
Cannabis strains with relatively high CBD:THC ratios are less likely to induce
anxiety than vice versa. This may be due to CBD's antagonistic effects at the
cannabinoid receptors, compared to THC's partial agonist effect. CBD is also a
5-HT1A receptor agonist, which may also contribute to an anxiolytic effect. This
likely means the high concentrations of CBD found in Cannabis indica mitigate
the anxiogenic effect of THC significantly. The effects of sativa are well known
for its cerebral high, hence used daytime as medical cannabis, while indica are
well known for its sedative effects and preferred night time as medical
Relative size of varieties of Cannabis
In 1924, Russian botanist D.E. Janichevsky concluded that ruderal Cannabis in
central Russia is either a variety of C. sativa or a separate species, and
proposed C. sativa L. var. ruderalis Janisch. and Cannabis ruderalis Janisch. as
alternative names. In 1929, renowned plant explorer Nikolai Vavilov assigned
wild or feral populations of Cannabis in Afghanistan to C. indica Lam. var.
kafiristanica Vav., and ruderal populations in Europe to C. sativa L. var.
spontanea Vav. In 1940, Russian botanists Serebriakova and Sizov proposed a
complex classification in which they also recognized C. sativa and C. indica as
separate species. Within C. sativa they recognized two subspecies: C. sativa L.
subsp. culta Serebr. (consisting of cultivated plants), and C. sativa L. subsp.
spontanea (Vav.) Serebr. (consisting of wild or feral plants). Serebriakova and
Sizov split the two C. sativa subspecies into 13 varieties, including four
distinct groups within subspecies culta. However, they did not divide C. indica
into subspecies or varieties. This excessive splitting of C. sativa proved too
unwieldy, and never gained many adherents.
In the 1970s, the taxonomic classification of Cannabis took on added
significance in North America. Laws prohibiting Cannabis in the United States
and Canada specifically named products of C. sativa as prohibited materials.
Enterprising attorneys for the defense in a few drug busts argued that the
seized Cannabis material may not have been C. sativa, and was therefore not
prohibited by law. Attorneys on both sides recruited botanists to provide expert
testimony. Among those testifying for the prosecution was Dr. Ernest Small,
while Dr. Richard E. Schultes and others testified for the defense. The
botanists engaged in heated debate (outside of court), and both camps impugned
the other's integrity. The defense attorneys were not often successful in
winning their case, because the intent of the law was clear.
In 1976, Canadian botanist Ernest Small and American taxonomist Arthur Cronquist
published a taxonomic revision that recognizes a single species of Cannabis with
two subspecies: C. sativa L. subsp. sativa, and C. sativa L. subsp. indica
(Lam.) Small & Cronq. The authors hypothesized that the two subspecies
diverged primarily as a result of human selection; C. sativa subsp. sativa was
presumably selected for traits that enhance fiber or seed production, whereas C.
sativa subsp. indica was primarily selected for drug production. Within these
two subspecies, Small and Cronquist described C. sativa L. subsp. sativa var.
spontanea Vav. as a wild or escaped variety of low-intoxicant Cannabis, and C.
sativa subsp. indica var. kafiristanica (Vav.) Small & Cronq. as a wild or
escaped variety of the high-intoxicant type. This classification was based on
several factors including interfertility, chromosome uniformity, chemotype, and
numerical analysis of phenotypic characters.
Professors William Emboden, Loran Anderson, and Harvard botanist Richard E.
Schultes and coworkers also conducted taxonomic studies of Cannabis in the
1970s, and concluded that stable morphological differences exist that support
recognition of at least three species, C. sativa, C. indica, and C. ruderalis.
For Schultes, this was a reversal of his previous interpretation that Cannabis
is monotypic, with only a single species. According to Schultes' and Anderson's
descriptions, C. sativa is tall and laxly branched with relatively narrow
leaflets, C. indica is shorter, conical in shape, and has relatively wide
leaflets, and C. ruderalis is short, branchless, and grows wild in central Asia.
This taxonomic interpretation was embraced by Cannabis aficionados who commonly
distinguish narrow-leafed "sativa" drug strains from wide-leafed
"indica" drug strains.
The scientific debate regarding taxonomy has had little effect on the
terminology in widespread use among cultivators and users of drug-type Cannabis.
Cannabis aficionados recognize three distinct types based on such factors as
morphology, native range, aroma, and subjective psychoactive characteristics.
Sativa is the most widespread variety, which is usually tall, laxly branched,
and found in warm lowland regions. Indica designates shorter, bushier plants
adapted to cooler climates and highland environments. Ruderalis is the informal
name for the short plants that grow wild in Europe and central Asia.
Breeders, seed companies, and cultivators of drug type Cannabis often describe
the ancestry or gross phenotypic characteristics of cultivars by categorizing
them as "pure indica," "mostly indica," "indica/sativa,"
"mostly sativa", or "pure sativa."
One of the most popular and potent sativas in Africa is Malawi Gold, locally
known as chamba. It is internationally known for its potency and its flavor.
Cannabis sativa fruits (achenes) that contain the seeds.
Cannabis is predominantly dioecious, although many monoecious varieties have
been described. Subdioecy (the occurrence of monoecious individuals and
dioecious individuals within the same population) is widespread. Many
populations have been described as sexually labile.
Cannabis flower with visible trichomes.
As a result of intensive selection in cultivation, Cannabis exhibits many sexual
phenotypes that can be described in terms of the ratio of female to male flowers
occurring in the individual, or typical in the cultivar. Dioecious varieties are
preferred for drug production, where typically the female flowers are used.
Dioecious varieties are also preferred for textile fiber production, whereas
monoecious varieties are preferred for pulp and paper production. It has been
suggested that the presence of monoecy can be used to differentiate licit crops
of monoecious hemp from illicit drug crops. However, sativa strains often
produce monoecious individuals, probably as a result of inbreeding.
Plant on the left and female plant on the right.
of sex determination
Cannabis has been described as having one of the most complicated mechanisms of
sex determination among the dioecious plants. Many models have been proposed to
explain sex determination in Cannabis.
Based on studies of sex reversal in hemp, it was first reported by K. Hirata in
1924 that an XY sex-determination system is present. At the time, the XY system
was the only known system of sex determination. The X:A system was first
described in Drosophila spp in 1925.Soon thereafter, Schaffner disputed Hirata's
interpretation, and published results from his own studies of sex reversal in
hemp, concluding that an X:A system was in use and that furthermore sex was
strongly influenced by environmental conditions.
Since then, many different types of sex determination systems have been
discovered, particularly in plants. Dioecy is relatively uncommon in the plant
kingdom, and a very low percentage of dioecious plant species have been
determined to use the XY system. In most cases where the XY system is found it
is believed to have evolved recently and independently.
Since the 1920s, a number of sex determination models have been proposed for
Cannabis. Ainsworth describes sex determination in the genus as using "an
X/autosome dosage type".
A male hemp plant.
Dense raceme of carpellate flowers typical of drug-type varieties of Cannabis.
Tetrahydrocannabinol, Cannabidiol, and Effects of cannabis
Cannabis is a popular recreational drug around the world, only behind alcohol,
caffeine and tobacco. In the United States alone, it is believed that over 100
million Americans have tried Cannabis, with 25 million Americans having used it
within the past year.
The psychoactive effects of Cannabis are known to have a biphasic nature.
Primary psychoactive effects include a state of relaxation, and to a lesser
degree, euphoria from its main psychoactive compound, tetrahydrocannabinol.
Secondary psychoactive effects, such as a facility for philosophical thinking,
introspection and metacognition have been reported amongst cases of anxiety and
paranoia. Finally, the tertiary psychoactive effects of the drug cannabis, can
include an increase in heart rate and hunger, believed to be caused by
11-OH-THC, a psychoactive metabolite of THC produced in the liver.
Normal cognition is restored after approximately three hours for larger doses
via a smoking pipe, bong or vaporizer. However, if a large amount is taken
orally the effects may last much longer. After 24 hours to a few days, minuscule
psychoactive effects may be felt, depending on dosage, frequency and tolerance
to the drug.
The plant Cannabis sativa is known to cause more of a "high" by
stimulating hunger and by producing a rather more comedic, or energetic feeling.
Conversely, the Cannabis indica plant is known to cause more of a
"stoned" or meditative feeling, possibly because of a higher CBD to
Cannabidiol (CBD), which has no psychotropic effects by itself (although
sometimes showing a small stimulant effect, similar to caffeine),
attenuates, or reduces the higher anxiety levels caused by THC alone.
According to the UK medical journal The Lancet, Cannabis has a lower risk factor
for dependence compared to both nicotine and alcohol. However, everyday use of
Cannabis can in some cases be correlated with psychological withdrawal symptoms
such as irritability and insomnia, and evidence could suggest that if a user
experiences stress, the likeliness of getting a panic attack increases because
of an increase of THC metabolites. However, Cannabis withdrawal symptoms are
typically mild and are never life-threatening.
Ancient and religious uses
Religious and spiritual use of cannabis
The Yanghai Tombs, a vast ancient cemetery (54 000 m2) situated in the Turfan
district of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of
China, have revealed the 2700-year-old grave of a shaman. He is thought to have
belonged to the Jushi culture recorded in the area centuries later in the Hanshu,
Chap 96B.Near the head and foot of the shaman was a large leather basket and
wooden bowl filled with 789g of cannabis, superbly preserved by climatic and
burial conditions. An international team demonstrated that this material
contained tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component of cannabis. The
cannabis was presumably employed by this culture as a medicinal or psychoactive
agent, or an aid to divination. This is the oldest documentation of cannabis as
a pharmacologically active agent.
Settlements which date from c. 2200-1700 BCE in the Bactria and Margiana
contained elaborate ritual structures with rooms containing everything needed
for making drinks containing extracts from poppy (opium), hemp (cannabis), and
ephedra (which contains ephedrine).
"While we have no evidence of the use of ephedra among the steppe tribes,
we have already seen that they did share in the cultic use of hemp, a practice
that ranged from Romania east to the Yenisei River from at least the 3rd
millenium BC onwards where its use was later encountered in the apparatus for
smoking hemp found at Pazyryk."
Cannabis is first referred to in Hindu Vedas between 2000 and 1400 BCE, in the
Atharvaveda. By the 10th century CE, it has been suggested that it was referred
to by some in India as "food of the gods". Cannabis use eventually
became a ritual part of the Hindu festival of Holi.
In Buddhism, cannabis is generally regarded as an intoxicant and therefore a
hindrance to development of meditation and clear awareness. In ancient Germanic
culture, Cannabis was associated with the Norse love goddess, Freya. An
anointing oil mentioned in Exodus is, by some translators, said to contain
Cannabis. Sufis have used Cannabis in a spiritual context since the 13th century
In the Punjab, Cannabis or Sukha ( ਸੁੱਖਾ
ਪ੍ਰਰਸਾਦ ), "peace-giver", is
the term Sikhs use to refer to it. Initiated by the tenth guru of the Sikhs,
Guru Gobind Singh, cannabis or bhang (ਭੰਗ) was used to help in
meditation and was also used before battles to aid as a painkiller, growing
naturally all over Punjab. Narrated by many historical and native accounts
cannabis is pounded by the Sikhs, especially during religious festivals like
Hola Mohalla. Even today, Nihang Sikhs gather in their thousands at Anandpur, on
the occasion of the festival of Hola Mohalla and display their martial skills
and of course cannabis is pounded by the Nihang Sikhs. This tradition has been
in place since the time of Guru Gobind Singh. Their fighting style is referred
to as shastar vidiya, which is among the most intimidating and brutal martial
art. The compositions from the Sri Dasam Granth are used in unison with the
In modern times the Rastafari movement has embraced Cannabis as a sacrament.
Elders of the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, a religious movement founded in the
United States in 1975 with no ties to either Ethiopia or the Coptic Church,
consider Cannabis to be the Eucharist, claiming it as an oral tradition from
Ethiopia dating back to the time of Christ. Like the Rastafari, some modern
Gnostic Christian sects have asserted that Cannabis is the Tree of Life. Other
organized religions founded in the 20th century that treat Cannabis as a
sacrament are the THC Ministry, the Way of Infinite Harmony, Cantheism, the
Cannabis Assembly and the Church of Cognizance.
Rastafari and Sikh use tend to be among the biggest consumers of modern Cannabis