The Cannabis Plant

Like other plants, cannabis is made up of hundreds of chemical compounds. It also comes in many different types. Some people refer to indicasativa, or ruderalis types (commonly known as hemp), but all of these belong to the same species: Cannabis sativa L.

The Cannabis Plant
The Cannabis Plant

The Latin name is Cannabis sativa L., and it is a member of the Cannabaceae family. Many people are familiar with cannabis by the name hemp. One of its close relatives is Humulus lupulus L., better known as hops, a prime ingredient of beer.

Originally found in warm, arid climates, its home countries include India, Afghanistan and China. Nowadays, cannabis can be found in places all around the world, except in humid, tropical rain forests. There are male and female cannabis plants, each with a distinct way of blooming. The cannabis plant has a lifespan of one year. After fertilisation, the seeds mature and the plant dies.

The plant typically reaches a height of 2 to 3 meters (7 to 10 feet), after which it blooms and the growth ceases.


The cannabis plant serves multiple purposes. For centuries the plant was grown for the strong and resilient stem fibres. Indeed, in the glory days of global shipping by sail, 17th century ships were waterproofed with hemp fibres, and the ropes and sails were made of the same material. In Europe, for example, hemp is still grown for its strong fibres, and is used in the car manufacturing industry.

What sets the cannabis plant apart from all others are the unique chemicals it contains, the cannabinoids. Up until now more than 100 different cannabinoids have been identified. The most well-known of these is THC – delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. THC is the most abundant cannabinoid in ‘psychoactive’ cannabis plant types. This substance possesses mind-altering effects, which most users describe as a very pleasant and relaxing experience. The plant also contains CBD (cannabidiol) – the second major cannabinoid in cannabis. There is currently extensive scientific research into the possible medical use of these and other lesser-known cannabinoids. These functional components of the cannabis plant are produced in resin glands (glandular trichomes), which are located on the surface of the entire plant. The largest concentration of these glands are found in the flowering heads of the female plant. The functional components are released when cannabis is heated to a temperature of 180°C (356°F).

Cannabis or weed?

Like many mind-altering substances, cannabis possesses many acronyms. Of these, marijuana and hemp are the most well-known. On the street, cannabis is referred to as weed, pot and ganja.

Hemp is a word more associated with the fibre-type cannabis plants. Marijuana is the word most used in America and Spanish speaking parts of the world. Another well-known word is hash or hashish – derived from the Hindu-Kush region. Hash is a product extracted from the cannabis plant, containing the THC rich resin separated from the rest of the plant. Hash generally has a higher THC level compared to herbal cannabis.

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