In broad terms, Cannabis as a plant has three different species (although this is debated by some taxonomists who believe there may just be one species due to the plant’s ability to interbreed). The three species of Cannabis generally acknowledged are:
- Cannabis Indica
- Cannabis Sativa
- Cannabis Ruderalis
Some taxonomists would name Afghanica (or kafiristanica) as a fourth cannabis species. You will probably hear the least about this form of cannabis however, with most cannabis medicines labelling only sativa or Indica.
What are the differences?
Due to modern interbreeding and seed cultivation the different species now tend to look quite similar, although this wasn’t always the case.Nonetheless, it can still be useful to understand the original differences that were once distinct.
Visually, sativa can grow up to 15 feet tall, with long pointed leaves. Indica, on the other hand, is smaller at around 4 feet with wider, shorter and more rounded leaves.
In terms of effect,it’s often said that pure Indica strains create a more relaxing and sedating effect whilst sativa strains create a more stimulating,creative and cerebral effect. Again though, modern interbreeding of these strains means that these once distinct differences are now blurred, with other plant chemicals used in the growing process also affecting these effects.
The plant itself
Cannabis plants can be male, female or sometimes even hermaphrodite. However, it is the female plants that are most vital for medicinal use; a typical cannabis greenhouse consists of only the female plants for this reason.
The type of plant that growers nurture and develop is the female unfertilised flower head –the Sinsemilla. This is because this part of the plant contains the highest concentration of cannabinoids, which cover the female flower head in the tiny mushroom shaped glands called trichomes. These trichomes contain the cannabinoids. The female flower head can be used directly as a medicine and is typically ground up into a substance called ‘kief’.
Keif is a sticky and powdery crystal-like substance that naturally exudes from the resin glands of the flower trichomes and the leaves. This can then be compressed into a block called Hashish.
Aside from Kief and Hashish, the flower head can be vaped in a vaporising unit or smoked in cigarette form. However, for medicinal purposes it is mainly cannabis oils that are prescribed, and smoking is never recommended. Under many jurisdictions,it is only oil and capsules than can currently be prescribed legally.
The other parts of the cannabis plant do contain some cannabinoids but in far smaller amounts. The leaves, for instance, contain only 2-3% THC, the cannabinoid that causes the high associated with recreational use.
The roots, stalks and seeds contain practically no phytocannabinoids although recent research suggests that the roots are rich in many non-psychoactive plant compounds including terpenoids, sterols and anti-inflammatory compounds. More research is needed to understand how this part of the plant will be of modern clinical use however.
Further investigation and research into cannabis use (both recreational and medical) is thoroughly encouraged by The Academy, particularly through the use of our own online courses, evidence base and whitepapers.