Cannabis plant basics

If you’re looking to understand medical cannabis treatment, it wouldn’t hurt to understand more about where it comes from too. 

In this article, we lay out the absolute basics of the cannabis plant.

The species

Although some taxonomists believe that there may be just one species of cannabis plant (due to the plant’s ability to interbreed), cannabis as a plant is generally believed to have three distinct species: Indica, Sativa and Ruderalis.

But there’s still more debate around this. Afghanica (or kafiristanica) is often cited by some taxonomists as a fourth cannabis species. Regardless of the debates surrounding this issue, It’s likely that you won’t hear much about Afghanica and Ruderalis though, as most cannabis medicines label only Sativa or Indica.

So what’s the difference?

Although the differences between the plants might not be immediately discernible, with modern seed cultivation and interbreeding meaning the different species now look relatively similar, there are still some remaining differences between the species that you might be able to notice.

While sativa can grow as high as 15 feet tall, Indica is typically much smaller at around 4 feet. The leaves of these varieties also differ, with Sativa often having long, pointed leaves while the leaves on an Indica plant are shorter and rounder.

When looking at the effects supposedly exhibited by each species, it’s commonly believed that pure Indica strains garner a more sedating and relaxing effect whilst Sativa strains create a more stimulating effect. Again though, modern interbreeding has meant that these once distinct effects of the strains have become blurred with time.

The plant itself

Did you know that a typical cannabis greenhouse only contains female plants? Although cannabis plants can be female, male or even hermaphrodite, it is the female plants that are considered most vital for medicinal use because the female unfertilised flower head, known as the sinsemilla, contains the highest concentration of cannabinoids in the plant. Tiny mushroom shaped glands on the sinsemilla, called trichomes, contain the cannabinoids that cultivators are after. 

The female flower head can be used in a variety of different ways. 

One way the female flower head can be used, is when it’s ground up into ‘kief’, a sticky and powdery crystal-like substance that comes from the plant’s leaves and the resin glands of the flower trichomes. This substance can then be compressed into a block called hashish.

The flower head can also be smoked or vaped in a vaporising unit. However, for medicinal purposes it’s mainly cannabis oils that are prescribed. Indeed, in many jurisdictions, it’s only oil and capsules forms of cannabis than can be prescribed legally.

While the leaves and other parts of the plant often contain cannabinoids too, the amount of cannabinoids present here is negligible. For instance, the leaves contain only 2-3% THC. The stalks, roots and seeds also contain practically no phytocannabinoids, although the roots may be rich in many non-psychoactive compounds like terpenoids and sterols. More research is certainly needed to understand if and how this part of the plant could be of modern clinical use though.

At The Medical Cannabis Clinics, our GMC registered specialists will identify the appropriate cannabis medicine care plan and products for patients following a comprehensive assessment which includes an in-depth evaluation of the main symptoms being targeted, current medications, pattern of symptoms and lifestyle factors such as safety-sensitive occupations. 

They will also monitor and adjust the medication on a regular basis to ensure the best effect with fewest side effects. There is also a carefully designed process in place to monitor patients’ well-being, with follow-up appointments after a week and then every month, for three months after receiving a prescription.

To register for treatment with our specialists click here

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