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Cannabis Theory

Dive into the theory of Cannabis with us.  




Prehuman & Early History


History of Cannabis


Cannabis Biology








The Modern Industry


Cannabis Theory Introduction

Cannabis in general terms refers to a genus of flowering plants in the Cannabacae family. Cannabis describes the Cannabis Sativa plant in particular and is used as a generic term for it’s derivatives, including fibre products, edible seed, psychoactive chemicals and so on. Unfortunately, prohibition has distorted our view of the Cannabis plant. Concern over it’s usage as an illegal drug led to the rise of very polarised camps within society who seek to advocate for or to control it’s usage. The lack of authoritative sources and the abundance of radicals both in the pro and anti Cannabis camp has led to a biased, emotional and selective consideration of the available data. Policy makers often refer to outdated and often demonstrably false information to justify their decisions, as do proponents of the Cannabis plant and it’s usage. 

We have tried to draw from multiple sources during the creation of this document and as such, we aim to provide a relatively objective view of the facts as they are known to us. 

The Cannabis Plant

Cannabis Sativa, best known as the source of dank nugs, maybe the most controversial and famous plant in the world. At first glance it may seem innocuous - perhaps beautiful, yet the architectural adaptations of C. Sativa are very complex and ingeniously carry out a number of functions. The variations found in height within Cannabis plants are extreme, depending on the environment and whether it was used for stem fiber or not but typically - they range from one to five metres tall.  Hemp has been known to grow much taller, sometimes up to twelve meters in height and it is often confused with C. Sativa. The main stalk is erect, furrowed (especially when large), with a somewhat woody interior and it may be hollow in the internodes (portions of the stem between bases of the leaf stalks). The species is often referred to as a herb or forb (an herbaceous flowering plant that is not grass-like, i.e., not like grasses, sedges, or rushes), despite the fact that the stem is more or less woody. Herbs and forbs are both classified as plants with little to no woody tissues, so these meanings aren't entirely true.

A comprehensive term

In its broadest meaning, “Cannabis” refers to the cannabis plant, especially its psychoactive chemicals (which are used in a variety of illegal and medical drugs), fiber products (such as textiles, plastics, and hundreds of building materials), edible seed products (which are now used in over a hundred processed foods), and all related considerations. In a nutshell, cannabis refers to all facets of the plant, especially its goods and how they are used. Italicization of scientific names, such as Homo sapiens, is customary among biologists and editors. Cannabis corresponds to the plant's biological name, which is italicized (only one species of this genus is commonly recognized, C. sativa L.). “Cannabis” is a non italicized generic abstraction that is generally used as a noun and adjective, and is generally (and sometimes erroneously) applied to cannabis plants and/or some or all of the intoxicant preparations made from them.

Cannabis “Flowers”?

Both for medicinal and nonmedical uses, “herbal marijuana” is the most commonly used type of cannabis. Herbal weed is clearly made up of C. sativa plant oil, so where does it come from? Low-grade marijuana used to be made up of a mixture of foliage, twigs, “seeds” (technically one-seeded fruits called achenes), and material from the flowering part of the plant, and was often derisively referred to as “ditchweed.” However, this word more narrowly applies to wild growing low-tetrahydrocannabinol [low-THC] weedy plants. Only “sinsemilla” (material from the unfertilized female plant's flowering part) is widely harvested nowadays. Botanists use technical jargon to explain how flowers are placed on branches or branch structures on most plants. The word "inflorescence" refers to a cluster of flowers on a terminal branch, as well as the whole branching system bearing flowers. The branching structures are known as "infructescences" when the flowers are fertilized and produce fruits.


Many Cannabis strains have been chosen for their ultimate flowering branches, which have culminated in very congested, short branching structures with a large number of flowers. This is marijuana's "buds," which are highly sought after due to their high THC content. Buds are actually "inflorescences," and are a mixture of flowers and the branching system's ultimate little twigs that subtend the flowers. Buds are meristems (growing points or places where cells divide) of stems or flowers, or embryonic stems, leaves, or flowers that will mature and enlarge over time, according to traditional horticultural terminology. The weed industry has embraced and modified the word "bud" to mean something other than what it initially meant, as it has done with a variety of other generic words. The “flowers” of Cannabis sativa are commonly referred to as marijuana. Herbal marijuana was once referred to as "Cannabis Flos" (literally, "cannabis flowers") in pre-World War II drug literature. A flower is generally characterized as a reproductive structure composed of one or more sepals, petals, stamens, and pistils in technical botany. (There are wider botanical meanings available; this is a limited sense botanical definition.) Female C. sativa flowers are devoid of sepals, stamens, and petals. Since a female flower, as seen in Figure 1.6, is practically devoid of THC, it is scientifically incorrect to define or characterize marijuana as the plant's flowers (which are present). (In a related way, states that identify illegal marijuana as the plant's flowers face legal challenges because the content is abuse-free.)


Figure 1

Cannabis Sativa L. Botanical Illustration From Franz Eugen Köhler's Medizinal-Pflantzen. Published and copyrighted by Gera-Untermhaus, FE Köhler in 1887 (1883–1914)

fig1.5 Female flower with bract

fig1.6 Female flower

fig1.7 Female fruit cluster

fig1.8 Fruit (Achene) with perigonal bract

fig1.9 Achene, wide (flat) side view

fig1.10 Achene, narrow side view

The primary component of marijuana that adds to the drug potential are the "bracts." A “bract” is a modified or specialized leaf, especially one associated with flowers, according to botany. Bracts are small structures in C. sativa that resemble miniature unifoliolate leaves (i.e. leaves with just one leaflet) and are connected with the flowers. Each female flower is covered in a cup-like manner by a "perigonal bract" (shown in Figure 1.5), which enlarges and becomes heavily covered with tiny secretory glands that contain the majority of the THC produced by the plant. (When the name "perigonal bract" is applied to Cannabis, the words "bracteole" and "perigonium" are often used interchangeably, although they have separate meanings when applied to other plants.) The bracts of sinsemilla marijuana, which is created by preventing pollination of female flowers, are tiny and densely coated with secretory glands.

Pollinated buds, on the other hand, grow into “seeds” (achenes), with a slightly greater perigonal bract and a smaller density of secretory glands. In C. sativa, in addition to the tiny perigonal bracts, the flowering axis produces tiny unifoliolate (one-leaved) leaves that are almost identical to the perigonal bracts, and when one moves down the branch bearing flowers (the axis of the bud), there are increasingly larder leaves.


Perigonal bracts and tiny young leaves can be seen in the green material visible in Figure 2. The smallest tiny leaves, including the perigonal bracts, are densely packed with tiny secretory glands, while the bigger leaves within the bud have less glands and thus less THC on a relative basis. The larger leaves within buds are often cut away, as discussed later, in order to increase the THC concentration of the buds. To reinforce the argument made earlier in this paragraph, marijuana (sinsemilla) is not simply “flowers,” though a small proportion, maybe 2%, is made up of female flowers that are almost entirely devoid of THC; rather, it is THC-rich content (bracts, tiny leaves) associated with the flowers. The difference made here is admittedly theoretical, and it is unlikely to affect the common use of marijuana as flowering material. While the stigmas of female flowers are initially devoid of THC, they are sticky, and gland heads rich in THC appear to slip away from the bud but get stuck on the stigmas, resulting in the flowers acquiring appreciable THC secondarily.

Figure 2

Strawberry Kush Closeup by Avery Meeker

Image by Avery Meeker

Sexual Reproduction in Cannabis

We humans are preoccupied with sex, which is also an extremely important topic for cannabis. While some species are hermaphrodites, most animals are divided into males and females (so male and female reproductive cells are formed on separate individuals). Most plants, on the other hand, produce both male and female reproductive elements (pollen and eggs respectively) on the same organism. Cannabis sativa is one of a small number of plants that reproduce in an animal-like manner rather than a plant-like manner. Plants bearing only female flowers or only male flowers make up the majority of populations (Figure 1.a & b). Male plants are called "staminate," after the important male floral organs, stamens, while female plants are called "pistillate," after the essential female floral organs, pistils, which hold the eggs. Male plants die after pollination, while female plants live on after pollination, maturing and shedding seeds before frost kills them. Female plants grown in a greenhouse or in climates without a cold winter can survive for years, though their vigor gradually deteriorates. Because of this possible durability, others have called the plants "annual or seasonal depending on climate," but the genus is obviously an annual. In domesticated plants, sex expression has been remarkably manipulated, mostly to the detriment of males.


Femaleness has been increasingly valuable in cannabis plants, though males are now considered the lesser sex. Another intriguing fact is that, unlike other mammals, C. sativa's sexual expression can be altered by a multitude of pressures, and females can also be made to become males and vice versa. Male and female plants are nearly identical during the early growth process of Cannabis sativa, which grows leafy branches in the early part of its seasonal life cycle. The timing of floral induction is one of many ecological characteristics of the plant and a key factor in optimizing the plant's productivity for the different purposes for which it is cultivated. Most populations are induced to bloom by shortening days in the late season.


Figure 1

Cannabis Sativa L. Botanical Illustration From Franz Eugen Köhler's Medizinal-Pflantzen. Published and copyrighted by Gera-Untermhaus, FE Köhler in 1887 (1883–1914)

fig1.a Flowering male

fig1.b Fruiting female

Sexual Reproduction in Cannabis

Cannabis plants are extremely diverse, and this has generated extraordinary widespread misunderstanding concerning the classes or categories deserving recognition, not just by the general public but also among professionals in numerous disciplines. It is no exaggeration to say that both the popular literature (notably as reflected by information on the Web) and the professional literature (particularly scientific publications) present highly confused and confusing interpretations of how variation among cannabis plants is structured and what terminology is appropriate. 

The root of misunderstanding of variability in Cannabis is that humans, not nature, have generated the most conspicuous differences. It is important for clarity of understanding to appreciate the four principal kinds of plant that are significant to human welfare. These are (1) “wild” weedy plants, (2) plants selected for valuable fiber in the stems, (3) plants selected for edible oil–containing seeds, and (4) plants selected for intoxicating and medicinal drugs. The variation pattern exhibited by domesticated kinds of Cannabis is paralleled by many other examples of how humans have enslaved wild species, domesticating them (changing them genetically) into different utilitarian classes with characteristics uniquely suited to different purposes. Numerous domesticated plants and animals have been so drastically altered by selection that they cannot survive without the assistance of humans. Domesticated kinds of C. sativa, however, are frequently very hardy, and when they escape to the wild, they are often capable of living on their own. Biological classification of exclusively wild plants and animals is based only on natural genetic relationships. However, classification of living things that have been substantially altered by humans is often also based on utilitarian considerations, particularly the ways that they have been genetically modified for particular purposes. The many different kinds of plant in C. sativa can be grouped into four basic categories, the first three of which include cultivated plants that have been selected for one of three economic products:

  1. Fiber from the main stalk (employed for textiles, cordage, and numerous recent applications). 

  2. Oilseed (oil-rich seed employed for human food, livestock feed, nutritional supplements, industrial oils, and occasionally as a biofuel). 

  3. Psychoactive drugs from the flowering parts (used mostly illicitly for recreation and more recently legally as medicine). 

  4. “Wild” (weedy) plants that have escaped from cultivation and grow independently in nature. 

Figure 3

Marijuana growing in a ditch in Buffalo County, Nebraska; photographed in mid-June.


Wild Plants

Outside of cultivation, Cannabis sativa is generally observed growing as a weed (Figure 3), the presence of such "wild" plants is the subject of much controversy regarding proper classification. The term "wild" can refer to any plant or animal that reproduces in nature without human intervention. However, the word is used in a variety of specific ways, and it's important to appreciate in which way certain cannabis plants are considered "wild." 

Both wolves and feral dogs are considered "wild," but wolves are the descendants of dogs, while feral dogs are just escapes that are more or less similar to domestic dogs, despite being heavily hybridized. The Australian dingo, on the other hand, is an escaped dog who has adapted to life in the wild. As a result, “wild” can refer to (1) groups that have never been tamed by humans (such as wolves), (2) groups that have escaped and developed characteristics more suited to wild life (such as feral dogs), and (3) groups that have escaped and evolved characteristics more suited to wild existence. Occasionally, one can come across four (4) "wolfdogs," who are wolf-dog hybrids that occasionally share genes.

Classes 2, 3, and 4 claim to be “natural” weed plants, but there do not appear to be any truly wild plants that have not been genetically altered by humans. It suggests that the ancient wild ancestor of C. sativa that lived in pre-Neolithic times (i.e., prior to 10,000 BC) is no longer extant, and the world's so-called wild cannabis plants are possibly heavily interbred with cultivated plants. C. sativa plants that thrive outside of cultivation have adaptations that aren't seen in domesticated plants. The genes that adapt wild plants to the stresses of life in the wild are extremely useful for improving cultivated C. sativa varieties. 

Unfortunately, despite their low potential for use as illegal drugs, there have been decades of passionate, costly, and short-sighted attempts to eliminate wild plants in North America. In the United States, law enforcement officials commonly refer to wild-growing C. sativa as "ditch grass." Since nearly all wild-growing plants in North America lack the ability to produce intoxication, ditch weed has become a generic term for all plants that produce little or no intoxication. The informally used word "pot" is the most common of the myriad of words used to refer to marijuana and marijuana plants.

Image by Maximilian Weisbecker

Figure 4

During the "Age of Sail" (from the sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth century), hemp was crucial for Navy sails and rigging.

Fiber Plants

The name "hemp" is used to refer to C. sativa plants used for fiber as well as the fiber derived from the stalk (i.e., the main stem). (When hemp is cultivated for oilseed, it is referred to as "oilseed hemp" or "hempseed," as discussed below.) Hemp was a staple resource for both civilian and military uses in previous centuries, mostly for textiles and cordage. Hemp products have been used in the shipping industry for centuries (Figure 4). Hemp was once billed as "the new billion dollar crop" (Popular Mechanics 1938), with the assertion that it "can be used to manufacture more than 25,000 products, ranging from dynamite to Cellophane".  Despite this, after WWII, C. sativa fiber production in Western countries almost came to an end. However, there has been a revival in interest in fiber applications in recent decades, mostly for nontraditional uses. At the moment, hemp fiber cultivation for different purposes is limited to small, niche markets. The fiber is also used for fabric, cordage, and paper, but these items are very costly and only cater to a small market. New fiber-based products, on the other hand, have re-energized the hemp industry (Roulac 1997; Bouloc et al. 2013). Both the long exterior fibers (bark, phloem) and the short internal fibers (hurds, wood) are now used in specialty pulp materials and composites. Fiberboard, insulation, pressed fiber products, masonry products (concrete, stucco, mortar, and tiles), carpets, straw-bale building materials, animal bedding, and a wide variety of plastics are all examples of these applications. The automotive industry has been at the forefront of pressed fiber and molded plastic product production. Geotextile goods, such as landscaping cloth, take advantage of the fiber's high rot resistance. Hemp has mainly been used for these new fiber applications in Europe, and subsidies were crucial in developing new hemp-related industries.

Indian Hemp

The term "Indian hemp" has been confusingly used to describe intoxicating Asian drug varieties of C. sativa (so-called C. indica Lamarck of India), jute (Corchorus capsularis L., also known as Bengal hemp, Calcutta hemp, and Madras Hemp; see Ash 1948), and Apocynum cannabinum L. (also known as American hemp and by other names), which was used by North American Indians.

Oilseed Plants

The seeds (technically fruits called "achenes"; Figure 5) of Cannabis sativa are used to produce a multipurpose fixed (i.e., nonvolatile) vegetable oil. C. sativa seeds have been an essential source of edible oil in recent decades. The seeds have been referred to as "hempseed" in the past, and this term has now been applied to C. sativa varieties grown specifically for the oilseed. While the use of oilseeds was historically minor compared to fiber applications, commercial hempseed products have much greater importance and promise today than fiber applications. C. sativa seeds are being more commonly accepted as a legal source of medicinals, nutraceuticals (nutritional extractives), and usable (nutritionally fortified) foods. Although “medical marijuana” is generally believed to have amazing therapeutic potential (with good reason), “medical hempseed” also has impressive therapeutic potential.

Figure 5

Cannabis Sativa Achenes


Oilseed Plants

The seeds (technically fruits called "achenes"; Figure 5) of Cannabis sativa are used to produce a multipurpose fixed (i.e., nonvolatile) vegetable oil. C. sativa seeds have been an essential source of edible oil in recent decades. The seeds have been referred to as "hempseed" in the past, and this term has now been applied to C. sativa varieties grown specifically for the oilseed. While the use of oilseeds was historically minor compared to fiber applications, commercial hempseed products have much greater importance and promise today than fiber applications. C. sativa seeds are being more commonly accepted as a legal source of medicinals, nutraceuticals (nutritional extractives), and usable (nutritionally fortified) foods. Although “medical marijuana” is generally believed to have amazing therapeutic potential (with good reason), “medical hempseed” also has impressive therapeutic potential.

Intoxicating Drug Plants

Especially over the last thousand years in Asia, where intoxicating drug preparations (such as marijuana and hashish) have been ingested for ritualistic, religious, and hedonistic purposes, forms of C. sativa with significant concentrations of intoxicating chemicals were chosen. Marijuana use has risen dramatically over the past century, to the point that it is now the world's most common illicit recreational drug. Because of the huge demand for Cannabis, the chemistry and variation patterns of cannabinoids (particularly the key intoxicant THC) have changed drastically. We'll take a better look at this at a later stage.

Figure 6

Patterns of gene flow, genetic stabilization, and genetic destabilization among wild and domesticated races of Cannabis sativa.

  1. Humans cultivate selections, principally for stem fiber, oilseed, and narcotic floral resin.

  2. Such selections retain their desirable characteristics only if maintained by stabilizing selection (shown here for simplicity only for the oilseed form).

  3. In recent times, deliberate hybridization among oilseed and fiber kinds has generated valuable new selections.

  4. In the absence of stabilizing selection, cultivated plants are likely to undergo populational genetic changes over several generations, that are undesirable agriculturally (degenerative) since the highly selected characters of interest to humans are usually deleterious to the plants (for simplicity, such degeneration is shown only for the oilseed form).

  5. Genes from cultivated plants may be released to the uncultivated gene pool. Selections may escape directly from cultivation and re-establish populations outside of cultivation, or pollen from cultivated selections may fertilize wild plants (for simplicity, such gene escape is shown only for the oilseed form).

  6. Pollen from uncultivated plants may fertilize a cultivated selection, reducing the desired characteristics of the latter (for simplicity, this is shown only for the oilseed form). (7) Pollen from cultivated plants with undesirable characteristics (e.g., from clandestine marijuana plants) may pollinate a cultivated selection (e.g., grown for fiber or oilseed), reducing the desired characteristics of the latter

From: Evolution and Classification of Cannabis sativa (Marijuana, Hemp) in Relation to Human Utilization, Ernest Small - The Botanical Review

12229_2015_9157_Fig26_HTML (1).jpeg

The Suppression of Cannabis

Cannabis sativa is known for being the most commonly used illegal plant on the planet. Cannabis has been considered a leading drug of trafficking since the Second World War, and nearly all science and industrial development—both drug and nondrug aspects—have been ignored for the majority of the twentieth century. Following WWII, C. sativa became the most commonly illegally grown black market crop in the Western world, with law enforcement putting forth considerable effort to eliminate the plants everywhere they were found. In Western nations, the majority of experimental investigations were either forensic experiments to assist law enforcement or medical and social science aimed at documenting and reducing adverse impacts. Cannabis criminalization has been linked to high drug enforcement costs and social upheaval. Many people have died as a result of the decades-long "war on drugs" waged with extraordinary ferocity against marijuana. Science has been one of the most significant casualties. For much of the past century, the stigma applied to "narcotics" was so serious that scholars endangered their lives by trying to do research on almost every type of cannabis other than its harmfulness. It is fitting to remember the martyrdom of the illustrious Russian crop geneticist N.I. Vavilov (1887–1943), who carried out experimental experiments on C. sativa and amassed invaluable seed collections. Attempting to present scientific reality to a tyrant (Joseph Stalin) resulted in his incarceration and eventual death. It is not unreasonable for elected legislatures of democracies to curb or even forbid taxpayer-funded scientific research. Prohibition of study that bears on ethical problems is more contentious, but at least debatable (such as human reproduction). The quest for evidence that undermines ignorant dogma must not be discouraged, as the sorry past of cannabis shows.

One of the unfortunate but less apparent effects of cannabis criminalization has been the hasty removal of C. sativa seed collections collected by agriculture departments (mostly in North America) and orders to refuse further collection. Seed banks are stocks of seeds, mainly of crop plants, that have a value far exceeding that of traditional banks' monetary holdings. The conservation of C. sativa's "germplasm capital" is of the utmost importance for the world's future health, just as it is for other important crops such as wheat, barley, rice, and potato.

The Re-Legitimisation of Cannabis

Several advances led to a boom in scientific and industrial growth of C. sativa by the last decade of the twentieth century. First, following a half-century of prohibition, several nations (with the notable exception of the United States) have resurrected the cultivation of the herb for non-drug purposes. Second, non drug hemp has gained a reputation for being highly environmentally friendly, and it has become a hallmark of organic agriculture. Third, there has been an increasing acceptance of marijuana's mainstream commercial usage in most of Western culture, as shown by a romanticized, idealized portrayal in the media, less zealous law enforcement, and even de facto decriminalization in certain jurisdictions. Fourth, the use of marijuana prescribed for medicinal uses has increased significantly. Many states have decriminalized cannabis for commercial hemp, medicinal marijuana, and recreational marijuana as a consequence of sociological, philosophical, legislative, and legal developments—complex and controversial topics that we can only touch on briefly.

The Resurrection of Industrial Hemp

The non-drug fiber and oilseed uses of C. sativa were generally regarded as outdated by the mid-twentieth century, with no fair scope for legal production. Furthermore, the problems of recreational and medicinal applications of Cannabis made fair consideration of the redevelopment of industrial hemp for reasons that everybody can accept are not dangerous quite difficult. Human rights in democratic countries is severely restricted, indicating the level of animosity toward even innocuous forms of C. sativa. Before the Queensland Parliament declared changes to the Drugs Misuse Act 1986 on September 27, 2002, it was illegal to simply publish or possess information on increasing industrial hemp in Queensland, Australia (Olsen 2004). For at least a half-century of complete prohibition, most Western countries saw the reintroduction of nonintoxicating hemp production at the turn of the twenty-first century. The cultivars approved are deemed safe enough to be grown for the production of fiber and oilseed products (generally under license). Fears that acceptance of the new crop will (1) be seen by the public as de facto acceptance of the legitimacy of all aspects of the species C. sativa, (2) function as a stepping stone to the legalization of marijuana, (3) stymie the war on drugs, and (4) necessitate costly monitoring to ensure that licensed crops are treated according to regulations caused the delay in reauthorizing hemp cultivation. When it became clear that hemp farming was being encouraged in the last decade of the twentieth century, numerous economic studies were performed in different countries (Riddlestone et al. 1994; Gehl 1995; McNulty 1995; Ehrensing 1998; Kraenzel et al. 1998; Marcus 1998; Pinfold Consulting 1998; Thompson et al. 1998; Johnson 1999). Since hemp production has been resurrected in many countries, and the resulting hemp goods have been tested in the marketplace over the past two decades, these studies are more or less outdated. A more recent study of fiber capacity by Fortenbery and Bennett (2004) is more hopeful of future growth. The potential in Kentucky is explored by Robbins et al. (2013), and the potential in the United States is examined by Johnson (2015); all reviews are somewhat more positive. With the significant exception of the United States, hemp is now cultivated commercially in around three dozen countries (although this seems about to change). Earlier economic studies typically failed to predict that hempseed applications would become the most exciting feature of industrial hemp production, rather than fiber applications. In the last two decades, a plethora of creative, revolutionary hemp fiber and hempseed goods have emerged on the market, providing significant impetus to growing industries (Small and Marcus 2002).

Hemp vs. Marijuana

C. sativa was selected specifically for three reasons, as previously stated: fiber (from the stem bark), edible seeds and seed oil, and intoxicating preparations (mostly from the flowering parts of the female plants). The generic names "hemp" and "marijuana" (much less frequently spelled marihuana) have been vaguely applied to all three groups, though traditionally, "hemp" has been used primarily for the fiber kind of plant as well as for its harvested fiber, and "marijuana" has been used primarily for the drug kind as well as for drug preparations made from it. Because of the long-held stigma associated with illegal drugs, companies dealing with non-intoxicating applications for fiber and oilseed have worked hard to distinguish themselves from marijuana uses of C. sativa. They make a point to stress that “hemp is not marijuana.” The word "industrial hemp" has been used to differentiate plants licensed for non-psychoactive drug uses (both fiber and oilseed). Industrial hemp is a term that is now widely used to describe C. sativa fiber and oilseed cultivars that have very little THC.

Image by Jeff W

Figure 7

Medical Cannabis pre-rolls

The Resurrection of Medical Cannabis

Cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times. Throughout much of the twentieth century, cannabis was illegal, which hampered study and advancement of treatments. Ironically, the use of black market marijuana by thousands of people suffering from a number of illnesses confirmed that cannabis can help ease symptoms, causing valiant attempts by patients, physicians, social advocates, and lawyers to make medical marijuana legal. Medical marijuana is now legal in a number of states, and its use is increasingly growing in Western countries. There have been significant developments in scientific knowledge of how cannabis influences human physiology over the past few decades, and novel medicinal drugs and innovations are either in development, being studied, or being recognised as effective in certain cases.


The medicinal literature has grown to be incredibly dense, and there is little consensus on the efficacy of cannabis in treating specific ailments. Indeed, there is a lot of controversy about whether or not using medical marijuana on most medical conditions is a safe idea. Regardless of the medical profession's majority opinion, medicinal marijuana has been extraordinarily commercialized in several jurisdictions, with the establishment of so-called medical dispensaries (Figure 7) that are more akin to pharmacies than hospitals, and certain doctors selling medical marijuana in a manner akin to street drug dealers. These shady trends, which represent a lack of proper regulatory preparation, will be addressed later.

The Resurrection of Recreational Cannabis

Cannabis is still heavily criminalized, especially in some Asian countries where it is punishable by death. The majority of the Western world bans marijuana use for recreational uses, but Uruguay and some U.S. states have legalized it, and other nations, especially in the Americas, are likely to follow suit. Recreational marijuana has been de facto legal in the Netherlands for decades (Figure 8), despite the fact that it is not legally recognized. There has been a general softening of sanctions, or at least of punishment, in democratic countries, coinciding with growing public awareness of illegal use. However, there is already a lot of debate and confusion on when and how existing prohibitions on recreational marijuana can be changed. Complicating matters, investment in the legal marijuana industry is generally regarded as highly lucrative, and market pressures are pushing trends. 

Figure 8

Dutch Cannabis "Coffeeshop"


Cannabis at the Crossroads of Science and Public Policy

There would be no interest in regulating marijuana and its products if it weren't for its well-known use as an illegal drug. Its potential would have been well studied by now. However, most of this potential has only recently been analyzed, and even more has not been studied at all. It's also worth noting that humans understand not only empirical data, but also whether the possible consequences of applying that knowledge are, on average, beneficial. Simply put, can the unavoidable risk from loosening cannabis laws overshadow the future benefits? Speed limits on automobiles serve as a useful analogy (World Health Organization 2014). A one-kilometer rise in average speed raises deaths by 4% to 5%. A person hit by a car driving at 50 km/h has an 85% chance of dying, whereas a person hit by the same car traveling at 30 km/h has just a 5% chance of dying. Speed is responsible for about 30% of traffic accidents in high-income countries. Many methods are used to recognize the risks of vehicle speed—education, police law control, speed zones, speed traps, speed bumps, and road designs that distinguish vehicles from pedestrians and bicyclists—to name a few. Grandstanding leaders invariably excel in bringing traffic to a halt at intersections where an infant has been killed by an irresponsible driver, and protecting vulnerable communities must surely be a top priority. Yet, in the end, it is human psychology on a much larger scale that dictates how far cars go and, most specifically, whether people follow every rule. People follow laws for two reasons: (1) to escape legal consequences and fines, and (2) because they believe the laws are legitimate (Tyler 1990). Present drug laws are commonly disregarded and disobeyed, resulting in immense societal financial and personal expenses. Much like driving speed limits must be established based on what the majority of citizens would willingly comply, even though it induces some unintended damage, cannabis legislation must be changed to represent not only "the truth," but also shifting popular sentiment.

Prehistory & Early History

Prehuman and Early History of Cannabis sativa

Cannabis Sativa's Family Tree and Pre-Human Origins

Cannabis sativa is an angiosperm, a member of the flowering plants that dominate the Earth's surface. While there is some evidence of an earlier history, most fossil evidence shows that flowering plants originated about 125 million years ago in the Lower Cretaceous geological period and were diversifying into modern plant families by the Middle Cretaceous, around 100 million years ago. Cannabis and Humulus are the two genera that typically make up the Cannabaceae family (Small 1978a). Grudzinskaya (1988) divided Humulus into two genera and added the extinct genus Humulopsis to the Cannabaceae (although only Humulus is currently accepted). Humulus plants are vines that can be isolated easily from Cannabis. The fruits (achenes) are, however, very similar and may be mistaken for one another. For the family, older documents commonly use the outdated orthography Cannabiaceae and Cannabiaceae (Miller 1970). According to recent molecular data, the family can be divided into around ten genera (Sytsma et al. 2002; Yang et al. 2013; Figure 2.1). On the basis of parasitic relationships in Cannabis and related families, McPartland and Guy (2004a) proposed that the Cannabaceae lineage originated no more than 34 million years ago. Except for pollen grains, there are no fossils dating back millions of years to when C. sativa first evolved, and its age has not been reliably determined.


What is a landrace?

A landrace is a domesticated, locally adapted, traditional variety of Cannabis that has developed over time, through adaptation to its natural and cultural environment while being isolated from other populations of the species.


Specimens of a landrace tend to be genetically very similar, though much more diverse than members of hybrid, heirloom and IBL populations. Some heirlooms and modern hybrids originate from attempts to make landraces more consistent or stable through selective breeding, however, stabilising a landrace may result in the genetic resource of a landrace being lost through cross and inbreeding.

Landraces are distinct from ancestral wild-type Cannabis. Not all (if any) Cannabis landraces derive from ancient stock largely unmodified by human breeding interests. In a number of cases, domesticated cannabis escaped in sufficient numbers in an area to breed feral populations that, through evolutionary pressure, can form new landraces in only a few centuries.

In other cases, simple failure to maintain breeding regimens can do the same. For example, selectively bred cultivars can become new landraces when loosely selective reproduction is applied.

Increasing adoption of and reliance upon modern, purposefully selected cultivars, considered improved – "scientifically bred to be uniform and stable" – has led to a reduction in biodiversity. 

The majority of the genetic diversity of domesticated species lies in landraces and other traditionally used varieties, they can be considered "reservoirs of genetic resources".

What are the characteristics of a landrace?

General features that characterise a landrace may include:

  • It is morphologically distinctive and identifiable (i.e., has particular and recognizable characteristics or properties), yet remains "dynamic".

  • It is genetically adapted to, and has a reputation for being able to withstand, the conditions of the local environment, including climate, disease and pests, even cultural practices.

  • It is not the product of formal (governmental, organizational, or private) breeding programs, and may lack systematic selection, development and improvement by breeders.

  • It is maintained and fostered less deliberately than modern hybrids, with its genetic isolation principally a matter of geography.

  • It has a historical origin in a specific geographic area, will usually have its own local name(s) and will often be classified according to intended purpose.

  • Landraces tend to show high stability of yield, even under adverse conditions, but a moderate yield level, even under carefully managed conditions.

  • At the level of genetic testing, its heredity will show a degree of integrity, but still some genetic heterogeneity (i.e. genetic diversity).


Not every source on the topic enumerates each of these criteria, and they may be weighted differently depending on a given source's focus (e.g., governmental regulation, biological sciences, agribusiness, anthropology and culture, environmental conservation, pet keeping and breeding, etc.). Additionally, not all cultivars agreed to be landraces exhibit all possible landrace characteristics.

What does the word ‘landrace’ mean?

The word landrace literally means 'country-breed' (German: Landrasse) and close cognates of it are found in various Germanic languages. Equivalents are found in several other languages, notably ‘Bheldia’ as a term to describe Cannabis landraces from the Maghreb..


The term was first defined (in German) by Kurt von Rümker in 1908, and more clearly described (in Dutch) in 1909 by U. J. Mansholt, who wrote that landraces have better "stability of their characteristics" and "resistance capacity to tolerate adverse influences" but lower production capacity than cultivars, and are apt to change genetically when moved to another environment. H. Kiessling added in 1912 that a landrace is a mixture of phenotypic forms despite relative outward uniformity, and a great adaptability to its natural and human environment. The word entered non-academic English in the early 1930s, by way of the Danish Landrace pig, a particular breed of lop-eared swine.


A landrace native to, or produced for a long time (e.g. 100 years or longer) within the agricultural system in which it is found is referred to as an autochthonous landrace, while an introduced one is termed an allochthonous landrace. 

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