Marijuana 101: Meet the Family

Cannabis’ rich history of geography informs its place in contemporary culture, but more importantly, its geography directly informs its physiological evolution. Plant evolution is a phenomenon that takes place over geologic time that involves genetic mutations, hybrid strains, and new plant development.

Many plants and their flowers have different varieties, including strawberries for example. Strawberries have three main varieties, and the Junebearer plant is the one that the Farmer’s Almanac recommends for home gardeners. Similarly, cannabis plants have been categorized into three main species—Sativa, Indica, and Ruderalis—and have different recommendations for gardening, physical structure and appearance, grow time, geographic heritage and varying levels of THC and CBD.

While the taxonomy of the cannabis family was first recorded in 1753 by Carrolus Linneaus, it wasn’t until the 1970s that cannabis became commonly categorized as one of three main species, with hybrid species blended from these three.

Recently, there has been some debate as to the accuracy of the three species from a 2014 study by John McPartland, a researcher affiliated with GW Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: GWPH). McPartland proposed a new naming convention for cannabis but until these changes are agreed upon in the scientific community, MJINews will stick with the popular and most practiced nomenclature.

According to Zerrin Atakan’s article, “Cannabis, a complex plant: different compounds and different effects on individuals,” on PMC National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health,

“The cannabis plant has two main subspecies, Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa, and they can be differentiated by their different physical characteristics. Indica-dominant strains are short plants with broad, dark green leaves and have higher cannabidiol content than the sativa plants in which THC content is higher. Sativa-dominant strains are usually taller and have thin leaves with a pale green colour. Due to its higher THC content, C. sativa is the preferred choice by users. It is a complex plant with about 426 chemical entities, of which more than 60 are cannabinoid compounds.”


The Three Main Species

C. sativa possibly originated north of the Himalayas in India, growing much taller than the c. indica strain at 8-12 feet, with some plants growing to 20-50 feet. Sativa is an herbaceous annual plant with a longer blooming period than indica, when grown outdoors. Typically, sativa plants bloom from the late summer season to almost the end of autumn and have long, narrow leaves and long branches. As mentioned above, sativa has a greater THC content, and is known for producing cerebral highs.

C. indica plants are native to central Asian countries such as Afghanistan, Turkestan, Pakistan and look short and squat in comparison to its cousin sativa. The shorter height of the plant is a plus for indoor growers. Indica leaves are wide and flat in appearance with thick branches and plump flowers. The THC content and CBD levels vary in indica and sativa species, but there is no predominant scientific evidence stating which high is better, stronger, smoother, more enjoyable, or better for certain conditions. Indicas are often known for producing body highs. Doug Benson, host of “Getting Doug with High,” remembers the indica’s proclivity for such highs by referring to it as “in-da-couch.”

C. ruderalis is smaller in height, leaf length and THC levels. It hails from eastern Europe and Russia, grows well in cooler climates with less light, and looks more like a small bush. Not known for its psychoactive ingredients, it isn’t often ruderalis is used recreationally or medicinally, but hybrid strains can be developed and used for these purposes.

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