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When you think of the word “cannabis”, you likely have a picture in mind of a green, 7-pronged leaf. However, the cannabis plant goes far beyond its iconic leaf. Before diving into the cannabis industry at large and learning everything there is to know on the subject, it helps to become acquainted with the plant that is fueling this industry.

All cannabis products are derived from plants within the cannabis genus. There are currently three species of cannabis plants that are widely-recognized: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. However, some scientists claim that Cannabis ruderalis should not be classified as a separate species, while yet another group claim that all three species should be categorized as Cannabis sativa.

Whichever side of the debate you fall on, it is important to understand that these species are primarily recognized as having distinct uses. Cannabis sativa is typically cultivated for recreational marijuana use. When you think of the depiction of marijuana in media, you are likely thinking of the sativa species. This species tends to have traits that produce euphoria and cause creativity, which is why it is predominantly used for recreational purposes, rather than medical.

Cannabis indica is often considered a medical species, as its traits tend to favor relaxation. If someone is searching for a product to help them relax, sleep, or get relief from pain, a professional typically recommends an indica variety.

Cannabis ruderalis is a lesser-known species, as it is not often used for recreational or medical purposes. It can be used to make CBD oil or other products, particularly in markets where medical or recreational marijuana are not yet legal. This is because the ruderalis species has a small amount of THC, which is helpful in keeping products under the federal limit. Cannabis ruderalis is also used to make hemp materials, such as cloth or rope.

An important point to add is that the terms “hemp” and “cannabis/marijuana/weed” are many times used to describe species or types of plants. When in fact, “hemp” just refers to plants that produce 0.3% THC or less by dry weight. It’s not a species, or a strain, or anything other than a term that describes the amount of THC produced. Also, it’s important to understand that CBD can be extracted from “hemp” plants as well as from plants that produce over 0.3% THC. At the molecular level, there is no difference in the CBD whether it comes from high THC plants or low THC plants. 

Although the three species of cannabis have their own uses, it is important to remember that each species is further categorized into thousands of strains. Due to cross-breeding, you’ll be hard pressed to find a pure indica or pure sativa. Cross breeding also means that some strains will do the opposite of what you might expect — for indica, a person may get insomnia; for sativa, a person could be knocked out quickly. There is no exact rule of thumb for cannabis, so the best thing to do is research different strains, read reviews, and talk to budtenders who are knowledgeable. Each strain will work differently for different people on different days. It can be helpful, especially for medical patients, to identify which strains are preferred by people with the same condition and do their own experimenting to see what works best for them. 

Cannabis is a complex plant, with thousands of varieties spread across the globe. It is crucial to do your research on the plant itself and learn about its scientific background before purchasing a product or entering the industry as an employee.