Everything You Need to Know About The Cannabis Plant

Reading time - 15 minutes

We always talk about Marijuana or Cannabidiol but often forget about the plant that they come from - the Cannabis plant itself! Today, we’re going to delve into the anatomy of the Cannabis Sativa Plant and provide you with everything you need to know about the plant that produces CBD!

Cannabis

Hemp and marijuana are both members of the Cannabaceae family; this group is a small family of flowering plants. As now circumscribed, the family includes about 170 species grouped in about 11 genera, including Cannabis (hemp, marijuana), Humulus (hops) and Celtis (hackberries).

The term 'hemp' refers to cannabis plants that produce levels lower than 0.3% of a substance known as Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This substance is responsible for the euphoric and intoxicating effects that are commonly associated with the use of cannabis. This classification, however, fails to take into account any other cannabinoids. Hence, if a plant produces 20% CBD and higher alongside only 0.29% THC, it's still legally considered hemp.

"Marijuana," also referred to as "drug cultivars" are the key terms used to distinguish the variations of cannabis that produce more than 0.3% levels of THC. There is a broad diversity of compounds that plants (in this legal category,) are capable of producing. Some of these compounds namely, are cannabidiol (CBD), cannabichromene (CBC) and cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinoids which are valued for their medicinal properties.

Cannabis produces 113 unique cannabinoids. The human body however, reflects the makeup of these compounds and creates its own cannabinoids separately, in the human body. These cannabinoids, or phytocannabinoids, work in place of the body's endogenous cannabinoids, or endocannabinoids by interacting with the Endocannabinoid System (ECS), present in our bodies.

The growth of Cannabis

Cannabis is primarily grown in soil indoors or outdoors, hydroponically indoors (hydroponic; a type of horticulture and subset of hydroculture which is a method of growing plants), or in greenhouse conditions. Several key factors need to be focused upon for the success of cannabis growth, including some factors such as climate, water quality, nutrients used, and consistency of the irrigation system.

The light cycle to which a cannabis plant is exposed during its lifetime plays an essential role for the plant's growth, as well as the phytocannabinoids and terpenes it produces. Another important factor is that of the number of hours in a day to which cannabis is exposed to light will determine the type of growth the plant will experience: vegetative (engaged in the development and architectural functions) occurs with more than 16 hours of sunlight per day and flowering (involved in reproductive functions) transpires when the light is confined to 12 hours per day.

Once the plant has successfully grown and flowered, it is then ready for processing. The flower needs to be dried and cured to be consumed or used for concentrate production. The freshly harvested plant can be sent immediately to be processed and to create live resin concentrates. After the cannabis has successfully been processed, it is then ready to be consumed.

Similarly, once Hemp has been threshed (separate grain from crops), it is ready to be used as fibres, hurds, seeds, and flowers. Cannabis, no matter the variety, is truly a plant of many functions.

Hemp fibres have been used for centuries to manufacture clothes, bags, shoes, paper, building materials, and insulation purposes. It is also used as a food and is not the same as cannabinoids used for intoxication purposes.

Hemp hurds are used in animal bedding, material inputs, papermaking, and oil absorbents.

Hemp seeds have long been prized as a high-quality source of plant-based protein and omega fatty acids. Hemp seeds can be eaten raw, roasted, or cooked with other foods. Hemp Seed oil has been used as food or made into medicine for thousands of years in China.

Parts of the Plant

Cannabis Sativa is a herbaceous flowering plant annually grown and is indigenous to eastern Asia. However, it is now at the stage of cosmopolitan distribution due to its widespread cultivation.

Cannabis has been cultivated throughout recorded history  mainly being used as a source of industrial fibre, food, seed oil, recreation, religious and spiritual moods  and the most significant use being for medicine  and treating ailments. A unique point to mention is that each segment of this plant is harvested in a different manner, which entirely depends on the purpose of its use. The species was initially classified by Carl Linnaeus in 1753. The word "Sativa" refers to things that are cultivated.

Going into the literal breakdown of the plant; listed below are all the essential sections of the Cannabis Sativa plant.

Flower

The flowers of the female plant are primarily identified by their small teardrop-shaped structures, consisting of pistils attached to bracts.

Cannabis flowers are commonly covered with a frosty-looking coating of trichomes and have a more massive density of trichomes making for a more desirable flower.

Cola

The central part of the flower, at the end of a female plant's stem, is composed of many small floral clusters. In general, the more a cola is more decadent, bigger and densely covered in trichomes, the better quality it will be. However, some cultivars tend to naturally grow flowers that are loosely structured and airier. They are a prized possession amidst consumers and growers. This is due to the high concentration of active resin, as well as for their photogenic qualities due to their size and luster.

Node

The Node refers to the point at which the stem and the leaf meet. Nodes tend to hold one or more leaves or offshoots. Nodes are essential features to be aware of as they are where cannabis plants begin to grow either pollen sacs (male cannabis plants) or pistils (female cannabis plants). Another very crucial aspect for the final product when understanding the parts of Cannabis Sativa is the sex of a marijuana plant since only female plants produce flowers, and since non-pollinated flowers are far superior to pollinated buds when it comes to consumption.

Bracts

Bracts are the small leaves that encircle the reproductive cells of a female plant. When the female plant is exposed to pollen from a male marijuana plant, the bracts surround the seed pod and shield it.

Trichomes

Trichomes are hairlike appendages that can be found on the surface of the cannabis plant. These Trichomes protect the plant from external stress factors, and also contain resinous glands that create various substances known as cannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenes  — the chemical compounds that give the marijuana plant its unique features and effects. Trichomes give cannabis buds a crystal-like sheen, giving them a sticky sensation.

Stem

The stem is the key supporting structure of the marijuana plant; this is because the stem transports nutrients, fluids, and information from the roots to the rest of the plant. The stem also provides a foundation to give fan leaves access to the light they need to facilitate growth and carries the weight of heavy colas. The stems are a lot more than scraps to throw out when grinding your cannabis flower. In fact, if you store up enough, you can get plenty lifted off those alone. And, if you don't want to get high, you can even give them a second life as arts and crafts items, or even mulch!

Fan leaves

Leaves are essential components of a weed plant, and there are actually a couple of different marijuana leaves. Fan leaves are the large, protruding leaves that appear along the length of the plant. These leaves are very crucial to the living plant's photosynthesis but are ironically always removed from the finalised, harvested product.

Sugar Leaves

Sugar leaves, however, are small leaves found throughout cannabis colas' cupping buds which are trimmed off the flower after harvest. These leaves are referred to as "sugar leaves" because a high volume of trichomes are found on them, making them look like they are covered in sugar. Sugar leaf trim is also used to make edibles or concentrates.

Terpenes

Cannabis cultivars, also referred to as strains, produce substances called terpenes. These substances are the aromatic molecules that are the primal ingredient in essential oils produced by many plant specimens.

Cannabis cultivars possess unique terpene profiles, which allow one to determine the aroma alongside flavour of the flower. Although there is still ongoing research upon this factor, it is known that terpenes possess the ability to enhance and possibly alter the psychological and physiological effects of phytocannabinoids. Once the whole-plant cannabis is consumed, there is an individual interaction between all molecules that appear to have a superior medical benefit compared to consuming isolated molecules. This phenomenon is termed as the entourage effect.

The Difference between Female Marijuana Plants

You will typically be able to distinguish between the male and female cannabis plants when the plant has grown to be approximately six weeks old. In order to figure out the sex of a marijuana plant, you need to look at the plant’s nodes, from where the leaves and branches intersect to the main stem.

Male plants produce pollen sacs that look like little tiny balls which then grow into larger clusters of oblong-shaped sacs. A female cannabis plant produces pistils, which in their early stages look like thin hairs and then eventually grow into more structured ovules and stigmas.

There is one crucial reason why it’s important to distinguish between male and female plants; only female plants produce flowers. This is because male plants produce pollen sacs; thus, they do not generate any of the buds that people harvest and use for the extraction of compounds such as CBD and THC. Male plants are essentially, only useful for propagating brand new baby plants from the seed.

General myths and Common Questions

A common myth about the plant exists that marijuana is a gateway drug that most certainly leads to the usage of "harder" drugs. While some evidence exists that exposure to marijuana may make it easier to use other substances, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) suggests that most people who use marijuana do not go on to become addicted to other drugs.

Another common myth is that marijuana on its own is not addictive. Supposedly, repeated use can lead to both mental and physical dependence on the substance. The Centers for Disease Control states that approximately 1 in 10 people who use marijuana will develop an addiction. Marijuana today contains much higher THC levels than in the past, which increases its addictive properties.

Treatment for marijuana use often utilizes counselling and psychotherapy. The prime goal is to help people learn new behaviours and address any additional addictions or co-occurring psychiatric conditions.

Forms of counselling or therapy that may be effective include:

  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy
  • Motivational incentives
  • Support groups
  • Family therapy
  • Individual or group counselling

While there is no particularly approved medication for the treatment of marijuana disorder, antidepressants and other medications may be used to treat symptoms of conditions such as depression or anxiety.

What is Cannabis used for

You're definitely familiar with the fact that Hemp has many uses. In fact, it's been used for decades by our ancestors for practically every purpose, varying from healing rituals, to religious services and even for food. Hemp seeds have also long been used in many cultures for their nutritional benefits to humans and other animals alike. To date, Hemp still holds a position of importance due to all of its redeemable qualities. Its fibres can be used for canvas, paper, rope, and other textiles, it is incredibly efficient bioremediation (it pulls toxic substances out of the soil while growing), and its hurds are increasingly being used as a construction material and a fibreglass alternative. Another captivating fact about Hemp seeds is that they are now also being studied as a source of biofuel. The Hemp flowers are a vital ingredient for the production of CBD-rich infused oils. The flower section of the plant is used as an alternative to smokable tobacco, too.

Medical uses + benefits

The use of cannabis consists of the marijuana plant to help assist with the treatment of diseases or medical conditions. This is practically the same form as that of recreational marijuana, but is instead taken for medical purposes.

These diseases have resulted in more states in the US, legalising the use of marijuana to treat chronic pain and illnesses. Researchers are also studying whether medical marijuana can help treat a number of conditions, including:

Cannabinoids; that are, the active chemicals in medical marijuana; hold similar properties to chemicals in the body that are involved in appetite, memory, movement, and pain.

Limited research suggests cannabinoids assist with:

  • Reducing anxiety
  • Reducing inflammation  and relieving pain
  • Control levels of nausea and vomiting that are side effects of cancer treatment, i.e. chemotherapy
  • Relax tight muscles in people with MS
  • Stimulate the appetite and improve weight gain in people with cancer  and AIDS

Effects of Cannabis

The membranes of particular nerve cells existing in the brain contain receptors that bind to THC. This kicks off a series of cellular reactions that ultimately lead to the high people experience upon the use of marijuana. People tend to use the drug because it elevates their mood and provides a relaxing sensation. Users also tend to experience euphoria, hallucinations, and paranoia, depending on the level of THC. Effects occur in the form of the drug having various psychological  and physiological  effects on the human body. Variegated plants of the genus Cannabis contain different and often unpredictable concentrations of THC and other cannabinoids and hundreds of other molecules that have a pharmacological effect, so that the final net effect cannot be foreseen.

Acute effects while being under the influence, include euphoria  and anxiety.  Although some assert that cannabidiol  (CBD), another cannabinoid found in cannabis in varying amounts, may alleviate the adverse effects of THC that some users experience, little is known about CBD's effects on humans. The well-controlled studies with humans have a hard time showing that CBD can be distinguished from a placebo or that it has any systematic effect on the adverse effects of cannabis.

The most popular way to use cannabis is to smoke it. It is rolled into a "joint" cigarette; it is also smoked as a "blunt" which is when the marijuana is added to an emptied cigar or smoked in a pipe or a "bong" that is a water pipe.

A recently popular method of use is smoking or consuming different forms of THC-rich resins extracted from the marijuana plant. Cannabis, in the form of marijuana can also be baked into food (called edibles) such as brownies, cookies, or candy, or brewed as a tea.

Reasons why people still choose to use cannabis:

  • Relieve stress or tension
  • Escape life's problems
  • Ease boredom
  • Feel good or euphoric
  • Fit in socially

Endocannabinoid system

Scientists, after decades of research, have studied the effects of the components of the cannabis plant, allowing them to make significant discoveries. Not only did they manage to identify the active ingredients in marijuana, but also did they discover where and how it works in the brain—via a system termed the endocannabinoid (EC) system.The ECS is a communications system in the brain and body that affects many essential functions, these include factors such as how a person feels, reacts, and moves.

Natural chemicals that are produced by the body and interact within the ECS are referred to as endocannabinoids, and like THC, they interact with receptors to regulate these essential body functions.

Brain cells communicate with each other and with the rest of the body by sending chemical “messages.” These messages help to coordinate and regulate everything we feel, think, and do. Typically, these chemicals (neurotransmitters) are released from a neuron (a presynaptic cell) attached to specific receptors located on a nearby neuron (postsynaptic cell). This spurs the receiving neuron into action, triggering a set of events that allows the message to be passed along.

Since cannabinoids act on presynaptic cells, they tend to control what happens next when these cells are activated. In general, cannabinoids function like a “dimmer switch” for presynaptic neurons, limiting the amount of neurotransmitter (e.g., dopamine) that gets released, which in turn affects how messages are sent, received, and processed by the cell. The ECS however, is not just involved in the brain, so cannabinoids interact with receptors throughout the body and that is how they have their effects

Is cannabis legal

Now we come to a question that looms over everyone's mind when they hear the word Cannabis.

Cannabis in the United Kingdom, however, is illegal for recreational usage and is distinguished as a Class B drug. Cannabis was made a Class C drug in 2004, with less severe penalties but was moved back to Class B in 2009. The medical use of cannabis  was legalised in November 2018, only upon being prescribed by a registered specialist doctor.

Cannabis is widely used illegally in the UK, while other strains lower in THC  have been used industrially for over a thousand years for fibre, oil and seeds. Cannabis  has been restricted as a drug  in the United Kingdom  since 1928, though its usage as a recreational drug was limited until the 1960s when increasing popularity led to stricter 1971 classification.

Even though Cannabis remains illegal in the UK, with limited availability for medical use, the United Kingdom is the world's largest exporter of legal cannabis.

The cannabidiol-based medication Epidiolex was approved in 2018 for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. Additionally, the FDA has approved two man-made cannabinoid medicines -- dronabinol (Marinol, Syndros) and nabilone (Cesamet)-- to treat nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy. The cannabidiol Epidiolex was approved in 2018 to treat seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.

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Written by   Infused Amphora Team 

The Infused Amphora Team is dedicated to creating resources to educate and engage consumers on the growing evidence of CBD benefits and the extensive health and wellness properties of CBD oil.  

Contributors  |  Angus Taylor + Dr Gaylord Wardell 

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Angus Taylor    |    LinkedIn   IPI website
CEO Infused Products International Ltd.


IPI is a pharmaceutical ingredient company that cultivates cannabis strains curated to extract specific cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids for the formulation of 
effects-based health and wellness products. Angus is an experienced public speaker, engaging stakeholders, governments and media. Angus was the co-founder of NewLeaf Cannabis, Canada’s most successful retail brand to date, and has been established as a well-known and recognized expert in the field. 

 

Dr Gaylord Wardell BSc, MD, FRCP    |     LinkedIn   IPI website  
Chair, Infused Products International Ltd., Science Advisory Board       



Dr Wardell is a practising physician with over 40 years of clinical and educational experience in pain managemen
t, medical practices and education.  Dr Wardell is past President of the Pain Society of Alberta, and current President of the Alberta Medical Association, section of Pain. He is a popular public speaker, an active blogger on medical and pain-related issues, and proponent for scientific validation for patients experiencing pain.   

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Infused Amphora “Learn” is intended for informational purposes only and is NOT a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.