People have cultivated Cannabis for medicinal, spiritual, and recreational purposes for ten thousand years. In 2008, an archaeological dig of a shaman’s grave in China revealed the earliest record of its medicinal use some twenty-seven hundred years ago. Evidence shows that ritual use is more than four thousand years old. Recreational and mood-altering services are likely just as ancient. The Greek historian Herodotus, writing in 440 BCE, mentions its euphoric effects in his History. More modern times, people have made paper, clothing, and rope from hemp fiber, oil, and milk from the seeds.
Because of our relationship with this hardy plant, humans have carried Cannabis around the globe for so long that it’s challenging
to determine precisely where it originated or even how many species of Cannabis exist. One example of cannabis proliferation came from nineteenth-century Europe when ships carried the seeds around the world so sailors could sow them in every port to ensure a ready supply of hemp rope for rigging. Such practices make it a challenge to determine the natural History of Cannabis. In addition, its botanical classification and nomenclature are constantly changing.
Knowing something about the botanical classification and nomenclature of marijuana helps breeders and growers make informed decisions about what strains to grow and how best to nurture them. Marijuana growers use the term “strain”, whereas other horticulturalists or agriculturalists would use the terms “species” or “cultivar” (cultivated variety). By knowing and recognizing a specific strain, you know something about the genetic background of the plant you want to grow. The genetic background determines many of the plants’ cultural needs (such as whether it prefers warm or cool temperatures, how big it will get, and its light requirements for flowering).
Although botanists have argued about this for over two hundred years, two different kinds of cannabis plants are generally recognized and widely cultivated: Sativa and India.
Authorities differ as to whether these two plants are, in fact, different species (Cannabis sativa and C. indica) or whether they are two other subspecies of a single species (C. sativa subsp. sativa and C. sativa subsp. indica). Some botanists have named C. afghanis a separate species, while others declare that this plant is merely a variety, C. sativa var. afghanis. No matter which botanical name you prefer, afghani is grown to produce hashish. To confuse the issue further, many growers incorrectly name C. afghanis as C. indica. An additional species, C. ruderalis, is not commonly cultivated but is occasionally included in breeding programs.
All about marijuana
Although in formal horticultural nomenclature, plant species names are not usually isolated from the genus name (as in Cannabis sativa), to make things a bit easier, we will refer to the two primary species or types as “sativa” and “indicia” throughout this book, without the genus name or italics.
To a botanist, the fact that these different types of Cannabis are recognizably different, taste different, and have very other psychoactive properties does not mean that they are separate species. For example, it’s easy to see the differences between broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale. They look different, taste different, and have other culinary uses. But that does not mean they are separate species. All four of them are simply cultivars of one species, Brassica oleracea. The same might be said of Cannabis. All of these different forms are fully interfertile
—that is, they will readily interbreed with one another, and their offspring will be fertile.
Despite the botanical confusion, everyone generally agrees that the two primary kinds of marijuana plants, sativa, and indica, differ in the compounds they contain and in the effects they produce.
Recent research on the effects of these compounds reveals that the psychoactive constituents, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), induce euphoria and alter mental states. The other components, cannabidiol (CBD), are not as psychoactive and be valuable medicinal compound.
Sativa plants, or sativa-dominant strains, grow very tall (8 to 15 feet/2.5 to 4.6 m) and have relatively thin leaflets. In tropical lowland regions worldwide, Sativa was the top marijuana product transported from Mexico into the United States for many years. Modern strains, known as pure sativa or mostly Sativa, are high in THC and low in CBD. Sativa consumers report that consuming these strains creates a feeling of relaxation and euphoria.
Indica plants, or indica-dominant strains, are generally much shorter (less than 5 feet/1.5 m tall), bushier than sativa, and have broad leaflets. They are adapted to cooler climates and originated at high elevations in Central Asia. Many Indica strains, known as pure indica or mostly Indica, are low in THC and high in CBD. Even though consuming them does not contribute much to euphoria, they can produce a hypnotic effect, like a sedative. Thus, the low level of THC makes these strains more useful for medicine because the consumer achieves the healing benefits without getting high.
Contemporary breeders are creating hybrids of sativa and indica, constantly improving the quality and increasing the quantity of the active ingredients. Today, Cannabis treats chronic pain, muscle spasms, glaucoma in adults, epilepsy, and other seizures in children. It also reduces nausea and vomiting in patients undergoing chemotherapy and improves the appetite of people with HIV/AIDS. Promising new research strongly indicates that Cannabis is effective in the treatment of cancer as well. A study compiled in 2011 reported that medical patients in California used Cannabis to treat pain, anxiety, muscle spasms, and headaches and as a relaxant and sleep aid. Undoubtedly, further
The research will reveal more benefits from this remarkable plant.