Marijuana: A Brief Summary & Botany

Cannabis sativa commonly known as marijuana is a native hemp plant of Central and South Asia. It was cultivated throughout history in Asia, Europe and China; and is one of the oldest known plants used for food, fiber and medicine.It can grow almost anywhere within 35° of the equator provided long hours of daylight and well drained fertile soil.

Cannabis is an annual herb, that is wind-pollinated, generally dioecious (separate male and female plants) and rarely monoecious. The sexes of the flowers can only be distinguished once the plants start flowering. Nonetheless, both sexes produce the amounts of flowers differently. Females plants produce more with clusters of flowers with one at the top and remaining on lower branches of the plant. For both scientific and recreational use female flowers are the most significant part of the plant also called flos in Latin. For this particular reason, the females plants are mostly cultivated throughout the world.


life cycle of cannabis

Figure 1: Life cycle of cannabis (Cannabis Botany by R.C. Clark)

Cannabis: Classification

For forensic and legislative purposes Cannabis classification is widely divided into two types: the fiber type often referred to as Hemp (Type 1) and the drug-type (Type 2). The main difference between each is the presence of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabidoinl or THC a psychotropically active compound. A low presence of THC classifies the plant as Type 1 while a high presence of THC along with its precursor component named tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) is found in Type 2. All cultivates used in scientific and medical purposes are drug-type.


Classification of Cannabis

Classification of Cannabis


While there appear to be innumerable varieties of ‘strains’ available in the legal and medical marijuana sectors, each claiming to provide a different spectrum of the active chemical constituents – however almost all of them are derived from one of two family species: Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa.


While Cannabis is one of the best-studied plants with over 500 known constituents found to date, many have not been characterized for their specific biological activity. Of these constituents there are a group of chemical compounds unique to the cannabis plant called cannabinoids. Read more about the Pharmacology of Cannabis.

Cannabinoids and Active Compounds Present in Cannabis

Representing an exceptionally diversified chemistry, Cannabis consists of more than 500 constituents making it one of the most studied plant in history of botanical research. Most commonly identified compounds are: cannabinoids, terpinoids, steroids, flavinoids, amino acids, fatty acids, simple acids, lements, hydrocarbons, sugars and related compounds, pigments, simple alcohols, vitamins, simple aldehydes, nitrogenous compounds, non cannabinoid phenols, easters and lactones, proteins, enzymes and glycoproteins.


Of all these compounds cannabinoids are unique structures found only in the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids interact with the receptors in our body to induce effects within our nervous system and our brain. Read more about the interaction of cannabinoids on the Endocannabinoid System in this post.

While there are more than 60 cannabinoids identified so far, there most commonly known of these are: THC and CBD.


Delta-9tetrahdryocannabidinol or THC often referred to as the active constituent of cannabis as it is the compound responsible for the intoxicating or psychotropic effects. However, in addition to these effects, THC has been found to have an abundant scope of therapeutic applications such as the treatment of chronic pain, insomnia, depression, nausea, appetite loss and more.

TCH is a highly active compound however plant pharmacology is complex and with more than 60 cannabinoids identified to date, there are several other compounds with highly active applications.



Cannabidiol or CBD is a non-psychoactive component of marijuana that produces a wide range of therapeutic effects. When found in larger quantities, CBD has been shown to enhance the positive effects of THC wile negating many of the negative ones.

CBD is being studied widely and according to a 2013 review published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology has been shown to have therapeutic roles as an anti-inflammatory, anti-convulsant, anti-oxidant, anti-emetic, anxiolytic and anti-psychotic agent, and is therefore a potential medicine for the treatment of neuroinflammation, epilepsy, oxidative injury, vomiting and nausea, anxiety and schizophrenia. In addition it has been found to play a role in the treatment of schizophrenia and certain types of epilepsy.

CBD Compound

CBD Compound