The Botany of Cannabis


| 11/5/2010 1:26:45 PM


11-5-2010-pot book coverExcerpted from The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis, edited by Julie Holland, M.D., with permissission from Inner Traditions Bear & Company (c) 2010. The following excerpt can be found on Pages 35 to 43. 

In many locations, the plant genus Cannabis has become synonymous with the recreational drug marijuana. While Cannabis plants are grown and used for food, fiber, fuel, medicine, and shelter (Brown 1998a, Guy 2004) in different areas of the world, primary cultivation, especially in the United States, is for the psychoactive chemical constituents known as cannabinoids. These cannabinoids have been demonstrated to be effective in the treatment of an assortment of human disease conditions (Russo 2004), but they have also been deemed addictive and dangerous substances with no therapeutic value (NIDA 2007). Thus, species of Cannabis are considered to be both a botanical blessing and a scourge to society.

As a plant with a long history of cultivation and use (Russo 2004; Schultes 1970; Wills 1998), Cannabis has been dispersed from origins in Central Asia, the northwest Himalayas, and, quite possibly, China (Nelson 1996; Schultes 1970) to a number of habitats throughout the tropical and temperate regions of the world (Russo 2004; Wills 1998) by populations enthralled by the intoxicating resin and the functional applications of the fibers and the extractable oil from the fruit (achenes, commonly known as seeds) (Clarke 1993; Schultes 1970). This dichotomy of uses for Cannabis as a medicinal and recreational drug and as a fiber and oil source has continuously stimulated public and scientific interest and curiosity in the value of the plant, leading to earlier reviews on the botany and other aspects of the plant (Brown 1998b; Boyce 1912; Clarke 1993; Guy 2004; Joyce and Curry 1970; Walton 1938). Cannabis is a member of the Cannabaceae family along with the genus Humulus (hops) and the genus Celtis (hack-berry and sugarberry).

11-5-2010-cannabis
Cannabis ilustration courtesy
Wikimedia Commons 

Nomenclature 



Complete taxonomic classification within the genus Cannabis remains under considerable dispute. Some authorities (Small and Cronquist 1976; Quimby 1974) claim that all Cannabis plants grown for fiber or resin or other purposes belong to the species C. sativa, with subspecies, such as C. sativa subspecies indica, to differentiate among types. Other authorities (Schultes and Hofmann 1991) insist that morphological differentiation (narrower leaflets, thinner cortex, and more branches) and lack of cannabinoids within plants of European origin, as compared with plants in India, indicate two species, C. sativa (historically identified as the source of hemp fibers) and C. indica (historically identified as the source of canabinoid-containing resin). Additional species have been distinguished: C. ruderalis (wild/naturalized accessions) and C. chinensis (currently thought to be a subset of C. indica) have been proposed due to differentiation in phenotypic traits of the plants (Schultes and Hofmann 1991). A recent investigation on allozyme (an enzyme that differs by one amino acid from other forms of the same enzyme) variation within 157 populations of Cannabis (Hillig 2005) strongly suggests that the genus Cannabis consists of only two species, C. sativa and C. indica.



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