What is cannabis?

Cannabis sativa L. (Cannabaceae) is one of the earliest known cultivated plants. 

For many years, cannabis was mistakenly divided into three separate groups (sativa, indica and ruderalis) based on morphological (visual) differences and origin as described in Figure 1.

Cannabis Types, Sativa, Indica and Ruderalis

Figure 1. Cannabis formally accepted taxonomy, courtesy of the Harvard University Herbaria and Botany Libraries (McPartland 2018) 

Breeding and hybridization

As it is now almost impossible to obtain an unhybridized “Sativa’’ or ‘‘Indica’’, due to many years of cross breeding, the more accurate terminology refers to chemotypes divided according to the cannabinoid profiles. The well known chemotypes are High THC, High CBD, Balanced THC:CBD and ones with no cannabinoid production. As breeding progresses, new chemotypes, such as high CBG occur.

Cultivation and use

Cultivation and use of marijuana, or cannabis (also known as weed, pot, reefer, ganja, dope, bud), for medicinal use, a source for hemp fiber and as a recreational drug can be traced back 10,000 years.

3 Different Species

Cannabis was originally divided into 3 species—Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica, and Cannabis Ruderalis. They can interbreed leading to hybridization. Each sub-species displays different growth traits and characteristics, as well as varying quantities of cannabinoids.


There are multiple forms by which cannabis is consumed, flower being the most popular.

Forms of Marijuana consumed among adults in US


New Frontier Data, © Statista 2019

More than 700 strains

There are more than 700 strains of cannabis, often with colorful names. Most are crossbred hybrids to create new strains with select desirable characteristics. One of the characteristics frequently chosen is THC content.