Cannabis sativa: A unique plant

Cannabis sativa, the cool plant

Cannabis sativa is the scientific name of a multifaceted and world famous plant. Some will know it because it is the source of the marijuana plant, others because of the hemp. The Cannabis sativa plant can be used as an intoxicant or food, medicine or building materials, it can be legal or illegal.

In this post you will find a real manual about the Cannabis sativa plant and all the secrets of this intriguing plant. Find out why it is so extraordinary!

What is the Cannabis sativa plant?

Cannabis sativa is a plant species in the Angiosperm family of flowering plants called Cannabaceae [1]. In this family we also find the hop plant(Humulus lupulus), an essential ingredient of beer and the genus closest to Cannabis sativa, since they share an ancestor from which they diverged approximately 27 million years ago [2, 3].

What is the origin of the Cannabis sativa plant?

All indications are that the Cannabis sativa plant originated in Central Asia and was domesticated more than 10,000 years ago [2, 3]. In China they had a multitude of uses for all the plant’s compounds, including its fiber for fabrics, seeds for extracting oil, food, and for medical uses as an anesthetic, for example [4]. The Egyptians used the plant for eye treatments, and the Indians to treat diarrhea and in spiritual ceremonies [5]. That is, these ancient cultures used the hemp plant for its fiber and grain, and the marijuana plant for its psychoactive effects.

If you want to learn more about the historical uses of cannabis, we invite you to read our post about the history of cannabis .

Are hemp and marijuana the same plant Cannabis sativa?

Yes, hemp and marijuana are the same plant. This is the reason why many people are still confused as they do not fully understand the difference between the marijuana plant and hemp, an illegal drug or a legal plant. The kit of the matter is that the Cannabis sativa plant is quite versatile: it presents an enormous genetic and phenotypic variety, which makes it produce specimens as different as hemp and marijuana.

The Cannabis sativa plant has an extraordinary genetic and phenotypic variability, which makes it the origin of such different plants as hemp and marijuana.

Hemp and marijuana are designations of groupings of the Cannabis sativa plant, with differences between these groups. Industrial hemp plants are used to obtain its fiber and grain [6], which can be used for textiles, construction material, food, clothing or rope, among others. This is why these plants tend to be tall with long, slender stems [7] and produce seeds, so pollination is essential.

You can expand this information in the post about the benefits of hemp for the environment and its use in ecological materials. .

In contrast, marijuana plants are shorter, their stems are wide [7] and they are grown for the marijuana flower produced by the female, the bud, where there is an abundance of trichomes [8, 9]. Trichomes, which comes from the Greek “hair”, are small filaments where the plant produces compounds such as cannabinoids. cannabinoids y terpenes [10].

Types of Cannabis sativa plants: Morphological and compositional differences between marijuana and industrial hemp
Types of Cannabis sativa plants: Morphological and compositional differences between marijuana and industrial hemp

Differences between hemp and marijuana

One of the main differences between marijuana and hemp is that the former is cultivated for the presence and quantity of compounds, in particular the cannabinoid THC, while the latter is cultivated to obtain fiber and/or seeds. The Cannabis sativa plant has different varieties depending on the desired purpose.

To learn much more about this exciting topic, don’t miss the post about the differences between hemp and marijuana. .

Cannabis CBD: the legal marijuana plant

Marijuana plants generally contain high amounts of THC and are classified as an illegal recreational drug in most countries of the world. However, there are Cannabis sativa plants that, although called hemp, are closer to marijuana than to industrial hemp. This is the case of some varieties of CBD cannabis, from which CBD flowers or CBD marijuana are obtained. CBD flowers or CBD marijuana [11-13].

Because they contain very little THC, CBD cannabis flowers acquire the legal denomination of hemp, although genetically they are closer to marijuana plants than to industrial hemp. So, we have a legal definition of Cannabis sativa based on the THC content of the plant, which will group as hemp both varieties for obtaining fiber and grain, but also those varieties of cannabis without THC.

Cannabis sativa and its legal denomination: It is not a botanical question!

What determines what is legal hemp, and what is illegal marijuana? The legal form of Cannabis sativa is not necessarily governed by the biology of the plant. Cannabis sativa plants used to obtain CBD have more similarities to marijuana than to industrial hemp, but acquire the legal definition of hemp due to their low THC content. In fact, they could be considered a low THC type of marijuana.

Botanical classification of Cannabis sativa

There are several groupings within the single species C. sativa, and some propose subspecies so nomenclature has been a point of controversy [15, 16]. Currently, it is accepted that Cannabis sativa L. is a single species and so far research supports this hypothesis [2, 3, 14].

Depending on its phenotype, the plant is either marijuana or hemp. Also, certain regions of the plant genome are quite diverse [12, 17, 18]. This is why the plant can have so many different commercial uses.

The plant species C. sativa has a lot of diversity in its genome (DNA), its physical appearance (phenotype). For these reasons, it can be used in a hundred different applications.

Types of Cannabis sativa

Beyond its botanical classification, some distinguish between “sativa” and “indica” cannabis according to its effects on the organism. The C. sativa plant is a single species with groupings within it, therefore, the trade names ‘sativa’ or ‘indica’ are not botanical designations. If you want to know more, see the post about the differences between differences between sativa and indica effect cannabis . We also have a post about Marijuana Kush .

    Components of the Cannabis sativa plant

    The plant of C. sativa plant produces many compounds among which are cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, among others. The most famous compound is perhaps THC, or Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-nine-tetrahydrocannabinol), as it is the major compound in the marijuana plant and the one with the longest history of medicinal use and legal cannabis involvement. Although, in reality, there are about a hundred cannabinoids.

    The plant produces the compound THC in acidic form, THCA or Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (delta-nine-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid), when heated it is converted into the neutral form THC due to a chemical process called decarboxylation. THC is psychoactive, it is the one that produces the “high“.

    Another of the known cannabinoids is CBD or cannabidiol, which, like THC, is produced by the plant in an acidic form, CBDA (cannabidiolic acid), and also changes to its neutral form CBD with heat.

    Therapeutic uses of the plant Cannabis sativa

    Both THC and CBD have therapeutic possibilities [23-25], such as treatments for pain, epilepsy, nausea and vomiting among others [23, 26, 27]. These possibilities need medical and scientific exploration, which is currently being carried out by several researchers. In addition to cannabinoids, Cannabis sativa terpenes also have medicinal potential, including anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antimicrobial properties [28-31].

    Cannabinoids and terpenes from the Cannabis sativa plant promise to have significant therapeutic uses.

    Effects of the Cannabis sativa plant

    In general, the effects of consuming C. sativa can vary, but fall into two fairly broad categories: sedative or energetic. Although the names marijuana sativa and indica are associated with these two categories of sensations, we know that these names are not related to the plant chemotype [32-35], nor to the genotype [11, 12, 14].

    It is possible that the effect of the plant is produced by all of the plant’s compounds acting together, something that is known as the entourage effect [36-39]. As the plant produces so many compounds and these differ in proportions and combinations in the varieties, it is normal to observe different effects when consuming different varieties of marijuana.

    Curiosities and unknowns to be investigated about the Cannabis sativa plant.

    In the future, through double-blind experiments (where neither the experimenter nor the experimenter knows the procedure) we will understand whether chemotype is associated with effects.

    For now, many unknowns remain: Does the effect of cannabis on people differ depending on the chemotype of the plant? Does the effect differ more by plant chemotype than by person phenotype (e.g., sex, race, age)? Does the effect differ more by plant chemotype than by other environmental effects of the consumer (e.g., hours of sleep, physical activity, diet, health status, mental health)?

    I leave you with the questions I constantly ask myself about this cool plant, which has led to drug wars, social stigmas, cultural rites and ceremonies, and lately to an explosion of worldwide legalization with a billion dollar global industry. See you next time!

      Referencias bibliográficas

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      Cannabis sativa plant information (FAQ)

      What is Cannabis sativa and what is it used for?

      The Cannabis sativa plant is the same plant that produces marijuana and hemp. It can be drugs or food, medicine or building materials, reefer or clothing. Legal or illegal depending on the variety. In reality, the Cannabis sativa plant has a lot of genetic and phenotypic variability that it can present, and the amount of different compounds it is capable of producing. This is why this incredible plant, which has been used for thousands of years by mankind, still captures the interest of researchers interested in discovering new potential applications for this cool plant.

      How many types of Cannabis sativau are there and how is it botanically classified?

      There is only one species, Cannabis sativa, which is the accepted botanical name. But within the same, there are different groupings and varieties, which can be classified according to their usefulness, genetics, phenotype… The botanical nomenclature presents some controversy, because some propose subspecies. So far, research supports the hypothesis that Cannabis sativa is a single species.

      What components does the Cannabis sativau plant produce?

      The Cannabis sativa plant produces different compounds, including cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, terpenes such as beta-myrcene, beta-caryophyllene and limonene, and flavonoids, among others.

      What is the effect of Cannabis sativau?

      The effect of consuming Cannabis sativa can vary according to the variety, but they are divided into two fairly generic categories: energetic effect or sedative effect. Although the names ‘sativa’ and ‘indica’ are associated with these two categories of sensations, we know that these names are not related to the plant’s chemotype or genotype.

      Dra. Daniela Vergara
      Investigadora y catedrática | Especialista en cultivos emergentes y consultora de cannabis

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