Cannabis (Cán-na-bis) is a genus of flowering plants that includes three putative species, Cannabis sativa subsp. indica L., Cannabis sativa subsp. sativa Lam., and Cannabis ruderalis Janisch. These three taxa are indigenous to central Asia and surrounding regions. Cannabis has long been used for fibre (hemp), for medicinal purposes, and as a psychoactive. Industrial hemp products are made from Cannabis plants selected to produce an abundance of fiber and minimal levels of THC (Δ9- tetrahydrocannabinol), one psychoactive molecule that produces the "high" associated with marijuana. The drug consists of dried flowers and leaves of plants selected to produce high levels of THC. Various extracts including hashish and hash oil are also produced. The cultivation and possession of Cannabis for recreational use is outlawed in most countries.
The further origin of the Scythian term is uncertain.
Cannabis usually has imperfect flowers with staminate "male" and pistillate "female" flowers occurring on separate plants, although hermaphroditic plants sometimes occur. Male flowers are borne on loose panicles, and female flowers are borne on racemes. It is not unusual for individual plants to bear both male and female flowers, though these are referred to as 'intersexual' or hermaphroditic rather than monoecious, since staminate and pistillate structures appear at different points on the plant, not within the same flower.
All known strains of Cannabis are wind-pollinated and produce "seeds" that are technically called achenes. Most strains of Cannabis are short day plants, with the possible exception of C. sativa subsp. sativa var. spontanea (= C. ruderalis), which is commonly described as "auto-flowering" and may be day-neutral.
Cannabis is naturally diploid, having a chromosome complement of 2n=20, although polyploid individuals have been artificially produced. Cannabis is a genus of flowering plant which includes one or more species. The plant is believed to have originated in the mountainous regions just north west of the Himalayas. It is also known as hemp, although this term usually refers to varieties of Cannabis cultivated for non-drug use. Cannabis plants produce a group of chemicals called cannabinoids which produce mental and physical effects when consumed. As a drug it usually comes in the form of dried buds or flowers (marijuana), resin (hashish), or various extracts collectively known as hashish oil. In the early 20th century, it became illegal in most of the world to cultivate or possess Cannabis for drug purposes.
The genus Cannabis was formerly placed in the Nettle (Urticaceae) or Mulberry (Moraceae) family, but is now considered along with hops (Humulus sp.) to belong to the Hemp family (Cannabaceae). Recent phylogenetic studies based on cpDNA restriction site analysis and gene sequencing strongly suggest that the Cannabaceae arose from within the Celtidaceae clade, and that the two families should be merged to form a single monophyletic group.
Cannabis plants produce a unique family of terpeno-phenolic compounds called cannabinoids, which produce the "high" one experiences from smoking marijuana. The two cannabinoids usually produced in greatest abundance are cannabidiol (CBD) and/or Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), but only THC is psychoactive. Since the early 1970s, Cannabis plants have been categorized by their chemical phenotype or "chemotype," based on the overall amount of THC produced, and on the ratio of THC to CBD. Although overall cannabinoid production is influenced by environmental factors, the THC/CBD ratio is genetically determined and remains fixed throughout the life of a plant. Non-drug plants produce relatively low levels of THC and high levels of CBD, while drug plants produce high levels of THC and low levels of CBD. When plants of these two chemotypes cross-pollinate, the plants in the first filial (F1) generation have an intermediate chemotype and produce similar amounts of CBD and THC. Female plants of this chemotype may produce enough THC to be utilized for drug production.
Whether the drug and non-drug, cultivated and wild types of Cannabis constitute a single, highly variable species, or the genus is polytypic with more than one species, has been a subject of debate for well over two centuries. This is a contentious issue because there is no universally accepted definition of a species. One widely applied criterion for species recognition is that species are "groups of actually or potentially interbreeding natural populations which are reproductively isolated from other such groups." Populations that are physiologically capable of interbreeding, but morphologically or genetically divergent and isolated by geography or ecology, are sometimes considered to be separate species. Physiological barriers to reproduction are not known to occur within Cannabis, and plants from widely divergent sources are interfertile. However, physical barriers to gene exchange (such as the Himalayan mountain range) might have enabled Cannabis gene pools to diverge before the onset of human intervention, resulting in speciation. It remains controversial whether sufficient morphological and genetic divergence occurs within the genus as a result of geographical or ecological isolation to justify recognition of more than one species.
The Cannabis genus was first classified using the "modern" system of taxonomic nomenclature by Carolus Linnaeus in 1753, who devised the system still in use for the naming of species. He considered the genus to be monotypic, having just a single species that he named Cannabis sativa L. (L. stands for Linnaeus, and indicates the authority who first named the species). Linnaeus was familiar with European hemp, which was widely cultivated at the time. In 1785, noted evolutionary biologist Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck published a description of a second species of Cannabis, which he named Cannabis indica Lam. Lamarck based his description of the newly named species on plant specimens collected in India. He described C. indica as having poorer fiber quality than C. sativa, but greater utility as an inebriant. Additional Cannabis species were proposed in the 19th century, including strains from China and Vietnam (Indo-China) assigned the names Cannabis chinensis Delile, and Cannabis gigantea Delile ex Vilmorin. However, many taxonomists found these putative species difficult to distinguish. In the early 20th century, the single-species concept was still widely accepted, except in the Soviet Union where Cannabis continued to be the subject of active taxonomic study. The name Cannabis indica was listed in various Pharmacopoeias, and was widely used to designate Cannabis suitable for the manufacture of medicinal preparations.
In the 1970s, the taxonomic classification of Cannabis took on added significance in North America. Laws prohibiting Cannabis in the United States and Canada specifically named products of C. sativa as prohibited materials. Enterprising attorneys for the defense in a few drug busts argued that the seized Cannabis material may not have been C. sativa, and was therefore not prohibited by law. Attorneys on both sides recruited botanists to provide expert testimony. Among those testifying for the prosecution was Dr. Ernest Small, while Dr. Richard E. Schultes and others testified for the defense. The botanists engaged in heated debate (outside of court), and both camps impugned the other's integrity. The defense attorneys were not often successful in winning their case, because the intent of the law was clear.
In 1976, Canadian botanist Ernest Small and American taxonomist Arthur Cronquist published a taxonomic revision that recognizes a single species of Cannabis with two subspecies: C. sativa L. subsp. sativa, and C. sativa L. subsp. indica (Lam.) Small & Cronq. The authors hypothesized that the two subspecies diverged primarily as a result of human selection; C. sativa subsp. sativa was presumably selected for traits that enhance fiber or seed production, whereas C. sativa subsp. indica was primarily selected for drug production. Within these two subspecies, Small and Cronquist described C. sativa L. subsp. sativa var. spontanea Vav. as a wild or escaped variety of low-intoxicant Cannabis, and C. sativa subsp. indica var. kafiristanica (Vav.) Small & Cronq. as a wild or escaped variety of the high-intoxicant type. This classification was based on several factors including interfertility, chromosome uniformity, chemotype, and numerical analysis of phenotypic characters.
Professors William Emboden, Loran Anderson, and Harvard botanist Richard E. Schultes and coworkers also conducted taxonomic studies of Cannabis in the 1970s, and concluded that stable morphological differences exist that support recognition of at least three species, C. sativa, C. indica, and C. ruderalis. For Schultes, this was a reversal of his previous interpretation that Cannabis is monotypic, with only a single species. According to Schultes' and Anderson's descriptions, C. sativa is tall and laxly branched with relatively narrow leaflets, C. indica is shorter, conical in shape, and has relatively wide leaflets, and C. ruderalis is short, branchless, and grows wild in central Asia. This taxonomic interpretation was embraced by Cannabis aficionados who commonly distinguish narrow-leafed "sativa" drug strains from wide-leafed "indica" drug strains.
Karl W. Hillig, a graduate student in the laboratory of long-time Cannabis researcher Paul G. Mahlberg at Indiana University, conducted a systematic investigation of genetic, morphological, and chemotaxonomic variation among 157 Cannabis accessions of known geographic origin, including fiber, drug, and feral populations. In 2004, Hillig and Mahlberg published a chemotaxomic analysis of cannabinoid variation in their Cannabis germplasm collection. They used gas chromatography to determine cannabinoid content and to infer allele frequencies of the gene that controls CBD and THC production, within the studied populations. Hillig and Mahlberg concluded that the patterns of cannabinoid variation support recognition of C. sativa and C. indica as separate species, but not C. ruderalis. The authors assigned fiber/seed landraces and feral populations from Europe, central Asia, and Asia Minor to C. sativa. Narrow-leaflet and wide-leaflet drug accessions, southern and eastern Asian hemp accessions, and feral Himalayan populations were assigned to C. indica. In 2005, Hillig published a genetic analysis of the same set of accessions (this paper was submitted ahead of his 2004 manuscript with Mahlberg, but was delayed in publication), and proposed a three-species classification, recognizing C. sativa, C. indica, and (tentatively) C. ruderalis. In his doctoral dissertation published the same year, Hillig stated that principal components analysis of phenotypic (morphological) traits failed to differentiate the putative species, but that canonical variates analysis resulted in a high degree of discrimination of the putative species and infraspecific taxa. Another paper published by Hillig on chemotaxonomic variation in the terpenoid content of the essential oil of Cannabis revealed that several wide-leaflet drug strains in their collection had relatively high levels of certain sesquiterpene alcohols, including guaiol and isomers of eudesmol, that set them apart from the other putative taxa. Hillig concluded that the patterns of genetic, morphological, and chemotaxonomic variation support recognition of C. sativa and C. indica as separate species. He also concluded there is little support to treat C. ruderalis as a separate species from C. sativa at this time, but more research on wild and weedy populations is needed because they were underrepresented in their collection.
As of 2007, most taxonomy web sites continue to list Cannabis as a single species.
Breeders, seed companies, and cultivators of drug type Cannabis often describe the ancestry or gross phenotypic characteristics of cultivars by categorizing them as "pure indica," "mostly indica," "indica/sativa," "mostly sativa", or "pure sativa."
In September 2005, New Scientist reported that researchers at the Canberra Institute of Technology had identified a new type of Cannabis based on analysis of mitochondrial and chloroplast DNA. The New Scientist story, which was picked up by many news agencies and web sites, indicated that the research was to be published in the journal Forensic Science International. As of 25 Feb 2007 the article is listed as "in press," and there is no mention in the abstract of "Rasta."
In many areas, wild or naturalized populations of Cannabis are considered invasive species, and are often targeted by government-sponsored eradication programmes.
Cannabis is predominantly dioecious, although many monoecious varieties have been described. Subdioecy (the occurrence of monoecious individuals and dioecious individuals within the same population) is widespread. Many populations have been described as sexually labile.
As a result of intensive selection in cultivation, Cannabis exhibits many sexual phenotypes that can be described in terms of the ratio of female to male flowers occurring in the individual, or typical in the cultivar. Dioecious varieties are preferred for drug production, where the female plants are preferred. Dioecious varieties are also preferred for textile fiber production, whereas monoecious varieties are preferred for pulp and paper production. It has been suggested that the presence of monoecy can be used to differentiate between licit crops of monoecious hemp and illicit dioecious drug crops.
Cannabis has been described as having one of the most complicated mechanisms of sex determination among the dioecious plants. Many models have been proposed to explain sex determination in Cannabis.
Based on studies of sex reversal in hemp, it was first reported by K. Hirata in 1924 that an XY sex-determination system is present. At the time, the XY system was the only known system of sex determination. The X:A system was first described in Drosophila spp in 1925. Soon thereafter, Schaffner disputed Hirata's interpretation, and published results from his own studies of sex reversal in hemp, concluding that an X:A system was in use and that furthermore sex was strongly influenced by environmental conditions.
Since then, many different types of sex determination systems have been discovered, particularly in plants. Dioecy is relatively uncommon in the plant kingdom, and a very low percentage of dioecious plant species have been determined to use the XY system. In most cases where the XY system is found it is believed to have evolved recently and independently.
Since the 1920s, a number of sex determination models have been proposed for Cannabis. Ainsworth describes sex determination in the genus as using "an X/autosome dosage type".
The question of whether heteromorphic sex chromosomes are indeed present is most conveniently answered if such chromosomes were clearly visible in a karyotype. Cannabis was one of the first plant species to be karyotyped; however, this was in a period when karyotype preparation was primitive by modern standards (see History of Cytogenetics). Heteromorphic sex chromosomes were reported to occur in staminate individuals of dioecious "Kentucky" hemp, but were not found in pistillate individuals of the same variety. Dioecious "Kentucky" hemp was assumed to use an XY mechanism. Heterosomes were not observed in analyzed individuals of monoecious "Kentucky" hemp, nor in an unidentified German cultivar. These varieties were assumed to have sex chromosome composition XX. According to other researchers, no modern karyotype of Cannabis had been published as of 1996. Proponents of the XY system state that Y chromosome is slightly larger than the X, but difficult to differentiate cytologically.
More recently, Sakamoto and various co-authors have used RAPD to isolate several genetic marker sequences that they name Male-Associated DNA in Cannabis (MADC), and which they interpret as indirect evidence of a male chromosome. Several other research groups have reported identification of male-associated markers using RAPD and AFLP. Ainsworth commented on these findings, stating,
It is not surprising that male-associated markers are relatively abundant. In dioecious plants where sex chromosomes have not been identified, markers for maleness indicate either the presence of sex chromosomes which have not been distinguished by cytological methods or that the marker is tightly linked to a gene involved in sex determination.
Environmental sex determination is known to occur in a variety of species. Many researchers have suggested that sex in Cannabis is determined or strongly influenced by environmental factors. Ainsworth reviews that treatment with auxin and ethylene have feminizing effects, and that treatment with cytokinins and gibberellins have masculinizing effects. It has been reported that sex can be reversed in Cannabis using chemical treatment. A PCR-based method for the detection of female-associated DNA polymorphisms by genotyping has been developed.
Although there are hundreds of strains of cannabis in existence, there are also many rumors and urban legends. Many alleged strains, such as Purple Haze, are very predominant in pop-culture (see right), but the actual existence of many of these strains is uncertain and the slang terms used to refer to these strains do not appear to be used by botanists. Some strains, such as G-13, are acknowledged to be urban legends.
Strains of cannabis:
Some of the strains' names, such as Chocolate Thai, popular in the early 1990s due to its supposed high potency, entered the mass culture. For example, Chocolate Thai was adopted as a stage name of a jazz performer, whose album The Real McCoy was released in 2006. It should be noted, however, that because there is no manufacturing or state control over the process of production of cannabis, many "strains" may in fact be just marketing brands adopted by drug dealers to increase sales.