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Marijuana and Hemp ... is it the same?


We often read about or hear different names for the herb that brings so many benefits to humanity and, since ancient times has had multiple uses and popularity with many different cultures. But is Marijuana and hemp, the same? ...The answer is yes. Both plants are classified within the same genus and species: Cannabis sativa L. Genus of the Cannabaceae Family.

But are there differences? Yes, there are. Marijuana and hemp, despite belonging to the same genus and species, have differentiated in the intensification or strengthening of some phenotypic or morphological characteristics, as well as; biochemistry. This as a result of artificial selection and due to its use over time; gave rise to multiple genetic varieties.

Throughout history cannabis use has given rise to the diversification of varieties and cultivars. Similar to what happens at the evolutionary level in crossbred dogs. At taxonomic level, a dog is still Canis lupus familiaris (a subspecie of the wolf Canis lupus) although some are more specialized in their instinct to be hunters or domestic subject to selected breeding of desirable traits. The same is true for cannabis variations.

C. sativa L. is a specie that has been cultivated almost since the beginning of civilization and has been used over time as psychotropic, recreational, ritual and medical purposes; as well as, for food, clothing, textiles, oils, cellulose or industrial manufacturing purposes. The long coexistence between humanity and cannabis has led to an early domestication of this plant.

Read more: The sky is the limit but has social media imposed a lower ceiling on cannabis?

According to the evidence, cannabis is native to Asia and one of the first plants grown during the Neolithic period. A hemp fiber was found in Czechoslovakia in 1997, dating back to 26,900 B.C, so far, the oldest known object associated with marijuana; it is believed that hemp has played an important role in the development of humanity. For thousands of years, marijuana in addition to being legal; was a very popular crop among cultures around the world. Its commercial, medicinal and spiritual relevance has been historically enormous. Another of the first evidences of cannabis use dates back to 6000 B.C. where in China its seeds were used as food while its use as a medicine is reported in the year 2727 B.C. when Sheng Nung, a Chinese emperor and healer, included it in the pharmacopoeia as a medicinal plant to relieve gout pain and rheumatism. "Thousands" of years of human/cannabis interaction have been documented historically with its uses varying by regions and cultures globally.

New concepts in the systematics regarding the nomenclature and phylogenetics of cannabis are currently being reviewed (MacPartland, 2018), however; according to recent studies, the classification of the genus Cannabis L. only accept one specie: Cannabis sativa L. and two subspecies: C. sativa spp. sativa and C. sativa spp. indica as seen in Figure 1 of the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS). As for C. ruderalis, whose probable origin is Central Asia; according to recent studies by Merlin & Clarke in 2018, it is considered an ancient ancestor among the spp. sativa and indica and is believed to be extinct today. Apparently ancestral populations; are descendants of wild plants that escaped from crops a long time ago. In Figure 2 courtesy of Harvard University for the investigation of MacPartland, we can observe some proposed differences in morphology.

As mentioned, C. sativa L. currently has a great diversity of varieties and cultivars, and they are made up of two large groups where the controversial division between marijuana and hemp is found. Given the current use of cannabinoids present in C. sativa spp. sativa and C. sativa spp. indica and, cultivation practices throughout the world; the gap for the differentiation of this species is becoming increasingly narrow, as the number of varieties and cultivars increases globally.

Its diversity has emerged because cannabis has been selected according to its use, by way of generalities until recently its differentiation lies broadly by different characteristics and biochemical composition.

In the case of what is commonly called marijuana, the selection has been made according to its psychoactive properties due to its high levels of THC generally greater than 0.3% and the presence of other cannabinoids such as CBD. The plants are usually smaller than those of hemp with a reduced height between 1 and 3 meters. Their thinner stems and their branched structure with slightly distant internal spaces; Its inflorescences are quite abundant since that is where the interest for cultivation lies. Those plants that have only female flowers are selected because that is where the structures that provide the substances that are used for recreational or medicinal purposes are located.

Hemp is the term coined to refer to those cannabis varieties with high amounts of fiber and low content of the psychoactive THC. Hemp is usually larger than marijuana (between 2 and 5 meters high) with thicker stems and less branching as well as very few flowers. Their morphology may vary depending on the objective of the crop and the use of the cultivar. Hemp use has been accentuated to obtain raw materials in industries and nutritionally, obtaining CBD, cellulose, textiles, oils, fibers, biodegradable plastic and biofuel. It is a very ecological and sustainable alternative for the planet and the current civilization.

Although currently with the boom in the use of CBD, the differentiation features .between hemp and marijuana have become a bit narrower. When we receive information about cannabis, it refers to the plant from which two subspecies and a lot of varieties exist.

Thanks for reading!


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