A Cannabis Primer:

Part I:
Botany & Regulation

Past years have brought an exciting recovery in cultural acceptance of herbalism, after a century of pharmaceutical industry and governmental assault on the legitimacy of plant medicine. Among the most enthusiastically welcomed botanicals – having endured decades of the most contemptuous maligning - is Cannabis, remarkable in its unique combination of potency and gentleness.

Even within the community of companies that manufacture Cannabis products - and the legion of paper and web-based Cannabis journals, along with the bloggers/ thinkers that write about Cannabis – there is widespread confusion about Cannabis botany, definitions and regulations.

The Language of Cannabis Botany

Botanically, there remains some controversy about the taxonomical organization of the Cannabis genus. Some botanists propose a monotypic genus, C. sativa; while others argue that Cannabis is composed of two species, C. sativa and C. indica; and some include a third species, Cannabis ruderalis, in the genus. To further confuse matters, others propose that there are two species, C. sativa and C. ruderalis; with C. sativa consisting of C. sativa and a subspecies, C. sativa indica. 

However, the most commonplace current taxonomical perspective contemplates the Cannabis genus as consisting of three species: C. sativa, C. indica and C. ruderalis.  

The number of distinct cannabinoids found in Cannabis continues to increase; as of this writing, we have identified a claimed 130 distinct cannabinoids. Complete cannabinoid content and composition is highly variable among Cannabis plants. The two primary cannabinoids present in Cannabis are THC and CBD, and the respective content and ratios of these compounds differs substantially between strains. There are significant differences in the minor constituents within the basic chemotypes; however, until very recently, little attention has been paid to the remaining Cannabis phyto-compounds, whether distinctly or within the context of whole plant synergy.  

Growers hybridize among the available varieties of Cannabis, a process designed to produce consistent, desired profiles of plant compounds. Our current ability to identify and test for cannabinoids and terpenes is lending to both academic and lay research into the therapeutic benefits of specific bio-chemical profiles.  

The Language of Cannabis Regulation

"Hemp" and "marijuana" are both Cannabis. 

We commonly use the word "hemp" to describe a Cannabis strain that has been bred for high CBD/ low THC content and use of the term “hemp” is legally defined as containing less than .3% THC. We commonly use the word "marijuana" to describe a Cannabis strain that has been bred for high THC/ low CBD content and use of the term “marihuana” (sic) is legally defined as containing more than .3% THC. Thus, one strain of C. sativa may be marijuana, while another strain of C. sativa may be hemp. 

Marijuana is federally regulated as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance. In states that have legislated allowed-use of marijuana, its use must be maintained within individual state boundaries from "Seed to Sale." This means that marijuana must be grown, processed, dispensed and used without crossing states lines in order to comply with the law.

Hemp is legally regarded as non-psychoactive and legal for use in the whole of the United States.  Following the 2014 Farm Bill, hemp may be grown in states that have established commercial industrial hemp programs; however, United States grown hemp and any materials derived from hemp in these programs must stay within the boundaries of the state in which it is grown, using the same “seed to sale” system that applies to marijuana.  

There is a thriving medicinal hemp culture in Europe, where hemp oil is extracted and concentrated, and imported into the United States. The hemp oil sourced from Cannabis sativa, imported from other countries, is legal for use and legal to transport throughout the United States.

 

NEXT

 

A Cannabis Primer: Part II

Cultivation: The influence of Terroir, and Conventional v Organic Methods

 

A Cannabis Primer: Part III

FDA, DSHEA, Pharmaceutical & Patent Law

Protecting Access