CannabisMarketCap - Understanding Cannabis: The Basics
6 min

Understanding Cannabis: The Basics

The Subspecies, Popular Categories, and Biology of the Cannabis Plant

Investing in the cannabis industry can be a daunting prospect, especially if your knowledge of its key commodity is lacking. To that end, CannabisMarketCap is going to outline the basic principles of cannabis, its classification as a species, and the major categories you’ll find throughout the industry.

Getting to Know Cannabis Sativa L.

Cannabis is the term used for the genus of plants belonging to the Cannabaceae family. The cannabis species can be found all over the world and despite the sophisticated cultivation facilities used today, it can be grown in virtually any conditions. Believed to originate in Central Asia, the plant is predominantly dioecious (there are male and female organisms), and flowers once a year. Monoecious plants do exist, with male and female flowers on different parts of the same plant.

While we are on the subject of male and female classification, it is important to note that the female cannabis plant is the one that provides us with a harvestable product. When females flower, they produce buds which are then dried and cured to become a profitable commodity. Males are used predominantly for breeding, and through the use of selective breeding it is possible to grow plants with unique or specific characteristics.

Cannabis Sativa L. Can Be Split into Three Major Subspecies

Cannabis sativa L. is the dominant genus that can be split into three subspecies. You may have already seen these names before, and for the most part it will be how companies and services define cannabis.

  • Indica (C. indica)

Indica cannabis plants are renowned for relaxing muscle tension properties and delivering a body-centric effect. They are shorter than their sativa counterparts, only growing several feet tall. They are also distinguished by their broader, bushier structure, and larger leaves. Indicas need less time to flower.

  • Sativa (C. sativa)

In contrast to the indica subspecies, sativas can reach over six metres in height. Their origins drive part of this difference. Sativas are believed to have originated in tropical, slightly humid climates and have adapted to the extensive sunlight offered by these environments. The effects of a sativa are typically uplifting and focused on the mind.

  • Ruderalis (C. ruderalis)

The main difference of the ruderalis cannabis species is that it does not rely on the seasonal transition to trigger flowering. Instead, it has an in-built biological clock, defined by its genetics that causes the plant to flower automatically. It is also more resilient than both the sativa and indica subspecies and capable of growing in environments far from ideal.

It is important to note that due to centuries of cross-breeding, very few pure (landrace) indica and sativa strains exist. This means that particular attributes are less defined, or can cross over between both subspecies. The cannabis industry still chiefly distinguishes strains as “mostly sativa” or “mostly indica”.

Cannabis Can Be Divided into Several Popular Categories

Aside from categorising cannabis via its dominant subspecies, many companies operate under the following categories: recreational cannabis, medical marijuana and hemp. In most circumstances, the category they are focused on will define the products they offer.

  • Recreational Cannabis

Free from any criminal repercussions, recreational cannabis can be enjoyed by everyone (pending age restrictions) regardless of their circumstances. The degree of freedom varies from country to country, but recreational cannabis can either be grown at home or purchased from a licensed dispensary. Popular products in this category include cannabis flower, pre-rolled joints, smoking accessories, and edibles. While the number of countries accepting the use of recreational cannabis is rising, it is available in significantly fewer areas compared to medical marijuana.

  • Medical Marijuana

Medical marijuana is a term used to describe cannabis prescribed to treat a specific patient condition. Medical marijuana can be bought from a licensed dispensary, and users have to prove that they have been prescribed cannabis by a registered doctor. The number of conditions eligible for cannabis treatment continues to grow, it includes arthritis, epilepsy, cancer, insomnia and multiple sclerosis among others.

In most cases, smoking is not suitable for medicating with marijuana. For this reason, popular product categories include concentrates, tinctures, topicals and edibles.

Both medical marijuana and recreational cannabis feature a mix of strains from all three subspecies listed above. It is essential to look at a products' intended use and a company’s target market when making any investment decisions.

  • Hemp

Hemp is considered legal in most parts of the world as long as it contains trace amounts of THC. Hemp is technically an offshoot of the sativa subspecies, but years of selective breeding has caused it to contain a different ratio of cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are the compounds that give cannabis its wide range of effects and include THC, CBD, CBC and CBN.

Hemp is used exclusively for its high CBD concentration and features heavily in the lifestyle and wellness sectors. The lack of restriction surrounding its legality means hemp-based products are available worldwide. Through the use of sophisticated extraction processes, it is possible to remove and retain the high amounts of CBD afforded by hemp and use it in a wide range of products. These include oils, supplements, topicals, edibles and cosmetics.

Global Prohibition Didn’t Begin Until 1961

Cannabis has not always been viewed as an illicit substance. In fact, its prohibition was not instigated until quite recently. Before 1961, cannabis tinctures were available across the United States and parts of Europe as a medicinal product. Going back further than that, researchers have found an example of cannabis being used medicinally in parts of ancient China over 2000 years ago. Similar scenarios have been found in ancient Egyptian, Indian, and Nordic cultures.

It wasn’t until 1961 that the use of cannabis was outlawed across the modern world. This was a result of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs put into action by the United Nations and its member states. It is possible for a substance to be removed from the treaty’s four schedules of drugs, but this involves a lengthy review process and several other international bodies. At present, cannabis is part way through this process, and it is possible we will see amendments to its schedule 1 classification in 2019. Being classified as a schedule one narcotic implies it has the most significant risk to human health, something researchers are working hard to disprove.

Many countries have already decided to legalise the use of cannabis (whether recreationally or medicinally) despite the UN’s current classification.