Marijuana (Cannabis sativa, C. indica) Cannabaceae

1.     Cannabis sativa is one of the oldest cultivated plants, known since the discovery of agriculture in the Old World ten thousand years ago, and has been used for a number of purposes.

2.     It has followed two divergent paths to this day:

a.      The first path, begun in ancient China, and moved west thru Europe and into the Americas, was as a plant selected for the strength and length of its fibers (main source of paper and cloth).

b.     Along the other path, which began in central Asia, moved down thru India, into Africa, and across to the Americas with the slaves, cannabis was selected for its psychoactive and medicinal properties.

c.     Ten thousand years later, hemp and marijauna are as different as night and day: hemp produces negligible amounts of THC, and cannabis is worthless as a fiber.

3.     In addition to its use as a hallucinogen, the plant has been used medicinally and for its fiber, its oil, and it seed.

a.      Its durable fibers can be turned into ropes, fishnet, and clothing.

b.     Its seeds are highly nutritious

c.     The oil expressed from them can be used for lamps or in paints and varnishes.

d.     The Chinese were using it to make paper as long ago as 105 CE.




1.     Marijuana plants are dioecious annuals with inconspicuous staminate and pistillate flowers on separate individuals.

2.     Inflorescences occur in the axils of the upper leaves.

3.     The leaves are palmately compound with 5-7 toothed leaflets.

4.     Although there has been some taxonomic confusion regarding the placement of the plant, there are now 3 recognized species: C. sativa, C. indica, and C. ruderalia.

5.     The plants are known for their resin production by glandular hairs (trichomes), with the maximum amount of resin coating the unfertilized pistillate flowers and adjacent leaves. These are particularly rich in the psychoactive substances.

6.     Whereas the psychoactive principles of most hallucinogenic plants are alkaloids. The active constituents of Cannabis are non-nitrogenous and occur in a resinous oil. The hallucinogenic properties are due to cannabinoids, of which the most effective is THC.

7.     The psychoactive substance is known as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

a.      The concentration of THC varies widely, based on genetic strain, sex, climate, and growing conditions.

b.     THC is fat-soluble, and accumulates in body tissues, and measurable amounts may remain in the body for days afterwards. (Because it is fat-soluble is why you can't make good marijuana tea without adding butter or some fatty product).

8.     Since resins protect vulnerable plant parts from drying, they are produced in greatest abundance when the plants are exposed to heat and sun. Marijuana grown in Mexico, Colombia, and India generally has higher "street value" because of its higher THC concentrations.

9.     The stimulation of resin production by dry conditions explains why plants grown in semiarid climates are more potent than those from cool temperate regions.

10. By growing the plants widely spaced and removing thee male plants (to prevent fertilization and prolong female flowering), growers can enhance resin production.

11. Marijuana is believed to have originated in central Asia, but today has a cosmopolitan distribution that is the greatest among all the psychoactive plants.

12. Its wide cultivation has led to many common names for the plant: marijuana, hemp, pot, grass, hash, hashish, bhang, charas, ganja, ma, and dagga to name a few.



1.     The Chinese were the first to use Cannabis and although they seemed to be aware of the plants' psychoactive properties, they were primarily interested in its medicinal and utilitarian properties.

a.      Emperor Shen Nung recommended marijuana for treatment of rheumatism, gout, malaria, absentmindedness, and constipation.

2.     The earliest documented records of marijuana's use as a hallucinogen can be traced to the Scythians (ancient Slav horsemen from central Asia) who burned Cannabis and inhaled the smoke.

a.      In ritualistic ceremonies, they'd pile the plants on burning coals in a small tent made of sheepskin pelts.

b.     When vapors accumulated, they'd lift the sheepskin and inhale.

3.     India was one of the first places where the plant was first used for its hallucinogenic properties.  (The ancient Vedas, sacred writings, describe Siva, Lord of Bhang, bringing Cannabis down from the Himalayas for the enjoyment of the Indian people.

a.      Whereas the Chinese grew their plants tightly spaced to discourage branching and therefore to improve fiber production, the Indians grew it in such a way as to enhance production of its psychoactive properties.

b.     Three grades of Cannabis have been recognized in India:

1.     bhang - least potent; consists of the dried cut tops that are ground with spices to prepare a drink or candy. One of the most common ways of ingesting Cannabis in India is in the form of bhang, a milk-based beverage made with ground Cannabis leaves, sugar, and an assortment of spices.

2.     ganja - prepared from resin-rich pistillate flowers and tops of specially bred high-yielding strains of marijuana, and is usually smoked.

3.     charas - the most potent; consists of pure resin from these special strains. Also known as hashish.

c.     The most common way of ingesting Cannabis in India is in the form of bhang, a milk-based beverage made with ground Cannabis leaves, sugar, and an assortment of spices. Bhang is widely drunk and is commonly offered as a gesture of hospitality.

d.     In ancient India, bhang was considered a sacred libation; so sacred that it was thought to deter evil, bring luck, and cleanse man of sin. It was the favorite drink of Indra, god of the firmament, and the Hindu god Shiva commanded that the word Bhangi be chanted repeatedly during sowing, weeding, and harvesting of the holy plant.

e.      The folk-medicinal value of hemp - frequently indistinguishable from its hallucinogenic properties - may even be its earliest role as an economic plant. Indian medicine esteemed Cannabis and praised its success in lowering fevers, improving judgement, inducing sleep, curing leprosy, stimulating the appetite, improving digestion, relief from headaches, etc.


4.         The use of Cannabis spread throughout the Muslim world, into the Middle East and Africa.

a.      Hookahs or water pipes were commonplace in the bazaars of the Arab and North African world.

b.     Legend of the Old Man on the Mountain: 12th century Persian Al-Hasan ibn-al-Sabbah, a leader of a Muslim sect whose followers became known as Hashishins (after their leader), swore to kill all enemies of their faith. Legend has it that they were worked into a murderous frenzy by smoking Cannabis. Nevertheless, the name of this sect, hashishins, left a legacy in the word assassin, as well as the name for the resin, hashish.


5.     In 15th and 16th centuries, Arab traders introduced Cannabis into Africa.

a.      Cannabis was commonly given to calm women during childbirth.

b.     Here the plant as referred to as dagga.

c.     Africans originally mixed the dried plant parts into beverages or chewed them.

d.     Smoking became popular only after the Dutch had colonized most of the continent. (the Dutch had taught the Europeans how to smoke, but North Africans contributed the water pipe, or hookah, a device that cools smoke by drawing it through water. (Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - 1865 - depicts the Caterpillar sitting on a mushroom smoking a hookah and giving advice to Alice about parts of the mushroom to eat to make her grow tall again).

6.     The British, hoping to produce a lucrative fiber product, brought hemp to Jamaica around 1800. Although their commercial attempts failed, Cannabis escaped cultivation and spread around the island. When African slaves were brought to the island in the middle of the century to harvest sugar cane, they found their familiar drug already established.

7.     Cannabis  was introduced into North America sometime in the 18th century, primarily as hemp (for rope making). George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both hemp farmers: hemp was known as a tough, durable fiber.

a.      Its introduction as a plant with psychoactive properties happened much later on, perhaps brought into the country through Mexico or the Caribbean Islands.

b.     It spread in the 1920s among the urban poor in the south, and became very popular with jazz musicians in the '20s and '30s.

c.     In the1930s the Federal Bureau of narcotics launched a campaign that greatly distorted and exaggerated the dangers of marijuana, which culminated, in 1937, in the Federal Marijuana Tax Act which controlled the legal sale of the plant (taxed it heavily), and resulted in virtual elimination of Cannabis from the nation's pharmacopoeia.

d.     Subsequent to that, in the 1960s and 70s, marijuana once again enjoyed a period of great popularity, and movements have developed ever since working towards the legalization (or decriminalization) of the plant.


Medical Uses

1.     Presently, marijuana is sometimes used in the treatment of glaucoma.

a.      Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases characterized by increased ocular pressure, and resulting damage to the optic nerve that may lead to blindness.

b.     Smoking or eating marijuana has been shown to significantly reduce ocular pressure in patients with glaucoma.

2.     Marijuana is also used for patients undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.

a.      The side effects of nausea, vomiting, and appetite loss has been greatly reduced by the use of marijuana, as well as by marinol, a synthetic form of THC.

3.     Marijuana has also been effective in counteracting the weight loss associated with the AIDS wasting syndrome and to reduce spastic movements in multiple sclerosis patients.

4.     Marijuana appears to be effective as a pain reliever, for combating hypertension, and for dilating bronchial vessels providing relief for asthma sufferers.

5.     It has also proven effective in reducing the severity of epileptic seizures and symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

6.     Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I drug, which is defined as a drug with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

a.      The New England Journal of Medicine has advocated for the reclassification of marijuana as a Schedule II drug so that physicians could prescribe it when needed.

b.     In 1997, a panel of scientists from the National Institute of Health (NIH) reviewed the scientific evidence of specific medicinal uses of marijuana and agreed THC has some medicinal uses.

c.     Since 1996, a number of states (9) have passed referenda to legalize the medical use of marijuana. Included on that list of states are Arizona, California, and Nevada.

d.     Although study after study has been unable to find evidence of addiction or permanent deleterious medical effects with low to moderate use, heavy use has been correlated with reduced sex drive, lowered sperm count, reduced motor coordination, and impairment of short-term memory.

e.      Since marijuana is ordinarily smoked, heavy users can develop lung disorders similar to those incurred by cigarette smokers.



An irony of the modern prohibition against marijuana is that it led to a revolution in both genetics and the creation of a powerfully new plant.


  1. In the beginning, domestic marijuana was grossly inferior to the imported product.
  2. Cannabis sativa, an equatorial species is poorly adapted for life in the northern latitudes. It can’t withstand frost, and won’t set flowers north of the 30th parallel. Couldn’t get a high-quality crop outside of CA or Hawaii.
  3. Americans traveling the “hashish trail” thru Afghanistan returned with seeds of Cannabis indica, a stout, frost-tolerant species that had been grown for centuries by hashish producers in the mountains of central Asia.
    1. It rarely grows taller than 4-5’ (up to 15’ for C. sativa)
    2. It is considerably more potent.
    3. When hybridized with C. sativa, the hybrids produced the most desirable traits of each plant while downplaying its worst.
  4. Until the early 1980s, most marijuana grown in the U.S. was grown outdoors – hills of Humboldt County, CA, cornfields of the farm belt, and in back yards almost everywhere.
    1. The gov’t crackdown on marijuana pushed the cultivation of the plant indoors, where ideal conditions could be controlled for light, temperature, CO2 infusions, nutrients, water, and genetics.
    2. The THC concentration of Cannabis hybrids rose to 15-20%. The THC concentrations of ordinary marijuana ranged from 2-3%, according to the DEA.
    3. Growers did away with male plants, useless for THC concentrations, an ensured female marijuana plants remained unpollinated.

i.                     If unpollinated, it will continue to produce new calyxes, steadily adding to the length of the flower.

ii.                   In this state of perpetual sexual frustration, the plant also continues to produce large quantities of THC-rich resins.

iii.                  To ensure no males would contaminate the population, growers began to use clones, rather than seeds. With clones, the plants got to multiply their genes with out diluting them, as would be the case in sexual reproduction.

iv.                 Genetically identical, they were guaranteed to be female.



In mid-1960s, Israeli neuroscientist, Raphael Mechoulam, identified the chemical compound responsible for the psychoactive effects of marijuana: delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, a molecule with a structure unlike any found in nature.


In 1988, Allyn Howlett, researcher at St. Louis University Medical School, discovered a specific receptor for THC in the brain -  a type of nerve cell that THC binds to like a molecular key in a lock, causing it to activate.

            The cannabinoid receptors were found throughout the brain, but were clustered in regions responsible for the mental processes that marijuana is known to alter: the cerebral cortex (locus of high order thought), hippocampus (memory), basal ganglia ((movement), the amygdale (emotions). The only neurological address where the cannabinoid receptors did not show up was in the brain stem, which regulates involuntary functions such as circulation and respiration. This might explain the low toxicity of cannabis and the fact that no one is known to have ever died from an overdose.


The brain didn’t manufacture a structure (these receptors) to get itself high on marijuana. The brain must manufacture its own THC-like chemical for some reason. In 1992, Raphael Mechoulam found it – the brain’s own endogenous cannabinoid. He named it anandamide (Sanskrit for “inner bliss”).

            This network may regulate several different biological processes, including pain management, memory formation, appetite, coordination of movement, and emotion.


Purpose of THC?

  1. To protect Cannabis from ultraviolet radiation (the higher the elevation Cannabis grows, the more THC it produces).
  2. It exhibits antibiotic properties, suggesting a role protecting it from disease.
  3. Defense against pests – to discombobulate the insects (and higher herbivores) that prey on the plant. It might make a bug or rabbit forget what it is doing or where in the world it last saw that tasty plant.
  4. Whatever its purpose it is unlikely it would produce a compound just so a kid in SF could get high.