Cannabis: The Hemp Plant

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Cannabis: The Hemp Plant Probably one of the oldest plants known to man, Cannabis was cultivated for fiber, food, and medicine thousands of years before it became the "superstar" of the drug culture (Schultes, 1973). Cannabis, as it turns out, not only has many usage's, but has been employed in various ways by different cultures. Linnaeus first classified Cannabis sativa in 1753 as a monotypic species (i.e., one of its kind with respect to its genus). Now, however, this question with regard to the lack of diversity of the genus has come under fire. Richard Evan Schultes proposed a polytypic classification in 1974. Many questions still remain about Cannabis. Is there one species of Cannabis or are there several or more? Many scientists have argued that the genus is monotypic. Indeed, even the Federal government and at least a dozen states have enacted marihuana laws that are based upon the assumption that the genus consists of only a single species, C. sativa. Others, on the other hand, believe the genus is comprised of many species. For example, Russian students in the 1920's and 1930's claimed that there were at least a dozen species of Cannabis. At the time, the Russian views were not widely accepted. However, in the late 1960's scientists began to accept the idea that there were more than one species, and more investigations were initiated. Looking back, the polytypic concept of Cannabis dates to 1783 when Lamarck published an account of Cannabis indica in his Encyclopedia, (Volume 1), and fully contrasted it with the account of C. sativa (Emboden, 1974). Many species have been proposed or claimed over the years, but have been later found to be identical to existing plants. The three species now widely accepted are C. sativa, C. indica, and C. ruderalis. Cannabis sativa is very tall, loosely branched, and the branches are remotely positioned from one another. On the other hand, C. indica is low-growing and densely branched, with more compact branches and with a tendency to be more conical or pyramidal in habit. Compared to other plants, C. ruderalis is small and slightly branched. However, the cannabolic content is highest in C. indica (Schultes, 1975). Cannabis plants are comprised of both staminate and pistillate plants. The female produces large amounts of seed, and the male produces pollen. The staminate plants generally are shorter in height than the pistillate. The differences between these two necessitates two periods of harvesting.

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