September 19, 2018

Cannabis Species: The four species

Welcome to the Cannabis Supply Co. educational series! We’ll be taking a look at the four cannabis species: sativa, indica and hybrids as well as ruderalis. Be sure to check out our other educational posts via the links at the bottom of the page.

Cannabis: what’s in a name?

Marijuana, hemp, cannabis: they are all the same plant and they’ve all been strictly prohibited in most of the world for several decades. The scientific name of the genus is “cannabis” with sub-species of sativa, indica, hybrids and ruderalis. Did you know that the cannabis genus is related to hops? Their parent family is Cannabaceae which has both cannabis and humulus (hops) as genus. It’s no surprise when you look closely: hops are the female flower of the lupulus plant and look rather similar to the flowers of the cannabis plant. Flowers are good for more than just pretty bouquets!

While the hops variety of plant has been widely cultivated around the world for the brewing of beer, cannabis plants have encountered strict prohibition. Because of this prohibition people have developed many different code names for the plant so they could keep cultivating and using cannabis in secret. One name for a person or place that is cannabis positive is “friendly” or “420 friendly”. You’ll still see roommate ads on Craigslist and Kijiji that specify that the apartment is “420 friendly”!


Cannabis species & their uses: medical, recreational, & industrial

Uses for cannabis species

Cannabis is cultivated for one of two reasons: industrial use or medical/recreational use. Industrial cannabis uses the whole plant like the fibrous stems for paper or cloth and the natural oils and other components for food and body products.

Industrial Cannabis, or, Hemp:

Cannabis ruderalis is a low THC species that is cultivated for industrial uses instead of medical or recreational uses. It is commonly known as hemp and you will see it everywhere from food products (think hemp hearts, hemp oil) to fabrics, paper, and even structural items like flooring! In Canada, hemp must be below .3% THC content. Just because ruderalis has a low THC content doesn’t mean it’s not medically useful. Ruderalis has a high CBD content and many people will cross-breed ruderalis with higher THC sativas or indicas to get a balanced THC and CBD ratio and to benefit from ruderalis’ autoflowering characteristic.


Medical & Recreational Cannabis:

Medical cannabis species

There are three main species of cannabis that is cultivated for its flowers for medical or recreational use: sativa, indica and hybrid. All of these species have varying amounts of THC in them and they are all heavily regulated as medical and recreational products. There is much debate about whether any of these four species (including ruderalis) are truly different species because they are very similar plants.

With the beginning of trans-atlantic trade (and slave trade) in the 1500’s cannabis indica and sativa were brought to the Caribbean and Americas and hybrid plants were bred with the two original species. At this point it it believed that the ruderalis species was used just for industrial cultivation and was not cross-bred with sativa and indica. It was only later that the unique auto flowering characteristic of the ruderalis species started to be cross-bred with indicas, sativas and hybrids.

Let’s take a look at how these four species are alike and different:

Sativa Hybrid Indica Ruderalis
Where are they from? Eastern Asia Created later by cross breeding sativa and indica plants Hindu Kush mountain range which is in northern Afghanistan & Pakistan Central and Eastern Europe and Russia
What do they look like? Tall plants with thin leaves and sparse branches They will reflect the characteristics of the dominant species Short, bushy plants with wide leaves Very short, up to two feet tall with large leaves

Knowing that sativa and indica varieties come from different sides of a great mountain range, it’s easy to see how one species could evolve over thousands of years to appear to be two different species. Especially when the plant has been cultivated by humans for that period of time to produce specific characteristics. For example, indicas in the Middle East have been cultivated to produce hashish and also needed to endure extreme climates in the mountains. Thus, a short bushy plant came to be. With enough space and no competition for sunlight, indica plants didn’t need to grow tall, just wide with large leaves. Sativa on the other hand originated and was cultivated in East Asia where it would have had to compete for space with other plants, thus growing tall to get more sunlight. Knowing that both indica and sativa plants flower based on sunlight exposure and not maturity (time), it stands to reason that their main focus would be accessing sunlight.


Next up: a closer look at medical and recreational cannabis. What are the characteristics and how can they help you?

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Stay tuned for the rest of Cannabis Supply Co.’s educational series on all things cannabis!

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