Welcome back, friends. I hope the week held some time for productive endeavors, some time for cultivating what you love, and a healthy span of relaxation. This week we’re going to begin to look at what we’re looking at: The generally innocuous plant that grew to become the center of its own little universe.
This medium-sized shrub known to botanists as cannabis, also called marijuana, grass, pot, bud, herb, green, chronic, mota by Spanish speakers, ganja by Jamaicans, dagga in Africa, whacky tobacky, devil weed, and roughly 33 dozen other nicknames (many of them coined by Snoop Dogg), each with its own context and connotation. It has been cultivated for millennia by societies across the globe for a wide range of uses including food, fuel, fiber, medicine, paper and spiritual purposes, and as a recreational intoxicant (though, technically not much of an actual medical “intoxicant” because its toxicity level, according to the D.E.A. – yes, that D.E.A. – is roughly 20,000 to 40,000 times the THC contained in a joint).
Kingdom Plantae, order Rosales, family Cannabacea, even botanists are at odds with each other when it comes to complete taxonomic classification. The plant’s genus is Cannabis; after that, things are understood differently by different groups of experts.
There are three agreed-on subdivisions within the genus: Cannabis. sativa (tall and relatively thin-leafed), Cannabis indica (shorter and bushier with thick “gorilla finger” leaves) and Cannabis ruderalis (a small, wild version from Central Asia that I mention here but will mostly ignore in the future unless new discoveries make it noteworthy). There is a lack of consensus among those who study and work with different incarnations of the cannabis plant as to whether these three comprise separate species or are simply further subcategories of a monotype.
For the purposes of this discussion, C. sativa and C. indica are the varietals of highest current interest. While the rope farmers and cloth producers among us may be particularly excited about cannabis strains with low psychoactive properties, most of the time and effort over the past generation worldwide has been focused on the cultivation of marijuana plants with ever-increasing levels of THC or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical compound with the ability to interact with receptors in the human brain to alter consciousness.
And these plants will get you higher than ever before. THC levels before the 21st century averaged 5 percent or less. That has changed dramatically in the past decade and a half with average THC levels in most Colorado shops more of the order of 20 percent and some award-winning strains approaching and even beginning to surpass the 30 percent threshold.
Sativa strains include the Haze varieties, Diesels, Jack Herrer strains, Lamb’s Bread and Durban Poison; these are known for producing a high that is uplifting and energetic and are good for daytime use. Indicas contain a higher ratio of CDB, or cannabidiol, to THC. CDB is an important chemical for many medical applications, a topic that will be discussed extensively here in the future. Famous Indicas include Kushes, Purple varieties, Afghanis and Blueberry. The high associated with these strains is more sedating and can be used to combat anxiety and sleeplessness.
Most strains available nowadays are, in fact, hybrids. These hybrids are created by crossbreeding Sativas with Indicas to specific proportions in order to create new varieties that accent the most desirable qualities of different strains. Some well-known hybrids include Blue Cheese (the strain that changed my life), Northern Lights, Cinderella 99, AK-47 and Gorilla Glue #4.
I hope this provides a foundation for investigating how we came to this place with this plant. Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at the social, political and legislative history of our relationship with cannabis. Be well ’til then.
Christopher Gallagher lives with his wife and their four dogs and two horses. Life is pretty darn good.