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Cannabis Varieties (‘strains’)

The most common topics regarding cannabis varieties that one can hear about in the media or retail locations are the differences between hemp and marijuana on one hand, and on the other, the differences between sativa and indica. Understanding the differences between cannabis varieties is complex: various ways of classification are possible, and oftentimes, we are looking at a continuum of variations that are not as simple as black and white.

Marijuana and hemp

Hemp and marijuana are varieties, i.e. cultivars of the same plant, Cannabis sativa. You can compare this with the Granny Smith and the Red Delicious, which are different cultivars of apples. Often, hemp (see Figure 1) is distinguished from marijuana (see Figure 2) based on the percentage of THC in the dried plant. The threshold is 0.3% of THC – if there is less than 0.3%, the plant is considered hemp, whereas THC levels over 0.3% classify the plant as marijuana. Read more on the differences between these two varieties in the chapter Marijuana vs. Hemp. hemp not marijuana Figure 1: Hemp. marijuana not hemp Figure 2: Marijuana.

Sativa, Indica, and More

There are numerous characteristics by which cannabis varieties (often referred to as ‘strains’ by cannabis users) can be classified. The branch of science in charge of classification {call-out, text:The identification and categorization} and nomenclature {call-out, text:The naming and describing} of organisms is called taxonomy. There are various types of taxonomy which can be used on cannabis varieties: botanical taxonomy, chemotaxonomy, taxonomy based on genetic sequencing, and a vernacular taxonomy.1 It has been proven that they often overlap, but it has yet to be investigated in detail to what extent.2, 3, 4 For example, in 2013, the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP) classified cannabis as a botanical medicine. The way cannabis is classified can thereby simply depend on whether you ask a botanist (a plant scientist), a chemist, a geneticist, a budtender, or for example, a regulatory body. Read the detailed description of each classification system in the chapter Taxonomy (Sativa vs. Indica). water-based extraction Figure 3: Cannabis Sativa (image taken from Thayne Tuason, Cannabis sativa 2, CC BY-SA 4.0). water-based extraction Figure 4: Cannabis Indica (image taken from hexthat, Flowers(Purple Kush), CC BY 3.0. Watch a short video on Hemp vs. Marijuana made in collaboration with Enlighten on YouTube or on the screens page.References:
  1. Upton, Roy; Craker, Lyle; ElSohly, Mahmoud; Romm, Aviva; Russo, Ethan; Sexton, Michelle (2013). Cannabis inflorescence : cannabis spp. ; standards of identity, analysis, and quality control (61). American Herbal Pharmacopoeia.
  2. Hazekamp, Arno; Tejkalová, Katerina; Papadimitriou, Stelios (2016). Cannabis: From Cultivar to Chemovar II—A Metabolomics Approach to Cannabis Classification. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, 1(1), 202--215.
  3. McPartland, J. (2015). McPartland's Correct(ed) Vernacular Nomenclature | O'Shaughnessy's. O'Shaughnessy's Online.
  4. Piomelli, Daniele; Russo, Ethan B. (2016). The Cannabis sativa Versus Cannabis indica Debate: An Interview with Ethan Russo, MD. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, 1(1), 44--46.