Marijuana has in fact been grown for medicinal research in North America by both the Canadian (Fig. 40) and American governments, and this will likely continue. The possibility of marijuana becoming a legal commercial crop in North America is, to say the least, unlikely in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless the private sector is currently producing medicinal marijuana in Europe and Canada, so the following orientation to marijuana as a potential authorized crop is not merely academic.
Cannabis plants can be male, female, or hermaphrodite. The dried marijuana flowers that humans consume, however, come from the female plant. That’s because female plants produce large resin-secreting flowers that are rich in cannabinoids and free of seeds. Hence, female plants are the ones growers prefer, though of course, male marijuana plants are a requirement for pollination.
Over the past two years, 17 states have passed laws legalizing CBD so that patients can obtain the drug without fear of prosecution from local authorities. For intractable childhood epilepsies—the sorts of seizure disorders that for centuries have ruined lives and shattered families, the ones even specialists like Hernandez dread—CBD could be a miracle cure.
Last year, the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) estimated the total retail value of all hemp products sold in the U.S. at $620 million. Sadly, all of the raw hemp materials were imported from other countries. (More on that later.) Hemp is an attractive rotation crop for farmers. As it grows, hemp breathes in CO2, detoxifies the soil, and prevents soil erosion. What’s left after harvest breaks down into the soil, providing valuable nutrients.
Despite advanced analytical techniques, much of the cannabis used recreationally is inaccurately classified. One laboratory at the University of British Columbia found that Jamaican Lamb’s Bread, claimed to be 100% sativa, was in fact almost 100% indica (the opposite strain). Legalization of cannabis in Canada (as of October 17, 2018) may help spur private-sector research, especially in terms of diversification of strains. It should also improve classification accuracy for cannabis used recreationally. Legalization coupled with Canadian government (Health Canada) oversight of production and labelling will likely result in more -- and more accurate -- testing to determine exact strains and content. Furthermore, the rise of craft cannabis growers in Canada should ensure quality, experimentation/research, and diversification of strains among private-sector producers.
From 1982 to 2002 the EU provided the equivalent of about 50 million dollars to develop new flax and hemp harvesting and fiber processing technologies (Karus et al. 2000). Because of the similarities of flax and hemp, the technologies developed for one usually are adaptable to the other. In addition, various European nations and private firms contributed to the development of hemp technologies. Accordingly, Europe is far more advanced in hemp development with respect to all fiber-based applications than other parts of the world. The EU currently dedicates about 30,000 ha to hemp production. France is the leading country in hemp cultivation in the EU, and 95% of the non-seed production is used for “specialty pulp” as described below. Harvesting and processing machinery for fiber hemp is highly advanced in Europe, and some has been imported into Canada. However, there is insufficient fiber processing capacity to handle hemp produced in Canada.
There is great variation in Cannabis sativa, because of disruptive domestication for fiber, oilseed, and narcotic resin, and there are features that tend to distinguish these three cultigens (cultivated phases) from each other. Moreover, density of cultivation is used to accentuate certain architectural features. Figure 5 illustrates the divergent appearances of the basic agronomic categories of Cannabis in typical field configurations.
Marijuana, also called pot, weed, ganja, mary jane, and a host of other nicknames, is made from the Cannabis plant, which has three species: Cannabis sativa; Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis. The flowering plant, which can grow to 16 feet (5 meters) high, likely originated in the Central Asian steppe, near the Altai or Tian Shian Mountains, and was first cultivated in China and India, according to "Cannabis and Cannabinoids: Pharmacology, Toxicology and Therapeutic Potential," (Routledge, 2002).
By the 1930s, marijuana was banned in 24 states. The newly minted Federal Bureau of Narcotics launched a campaign against the drug, and newspapers fueled hysteria with headlines like the 1933 Los Angeles Examiner's "Murder Weed Found Up and Down the Coast — Deadly Marihuana Dope Plant Ready for Harvest That Means Enslavement of California Children." By 1937, Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act, which effectively banned marijuana except for a few medicinal purposes, according to "Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana – Medical, Recreational and Legal" (Scribner, 2012).
There is a general inverse relationship in the resin of Cannabis between the amounts of THC present and the amount of the other principal cannabinoid, CBD. Whereas most drug strains contain primarily THC and little or no CBD, fiber and oilseed strains primarily contain CBD and very little THC. CBD can be converted to THC by acid catalyzed cyclization, and so could serve as a starting material for manufacturing THC. In theory, therefore, low-THC cultivars do not completely solve the problem of drug abuse potential. In practice, however, the illicit drug trade has access to easier methods of synthesizing THC or its analogues than by first extracting CBD from non-drug hemp strains.
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Cannabis has held sacred status in several religions. It has been used in an entheogenic context – a chemical substance used in a religious, shamanic, or spiritual context - in the Indian subcontinent since the Vedic period dating back to approximately 1500 BCE, but perhaps as far back as 2000 BCE. There are several references in Greek mythology to a powerful drug that eliminated anguish and sorrow. Herodotus wrote about early ceremonial practices by the Scythians, thought to have occurred from the 5th to 2nd century BCE. In modern culture the spiritual use of cannabis has been spread by the disciples of the Rastafari movement who use cannabis as a sacrament and as an aid to meditation. The earliest known reports regarding the sacred status of cannabis in the Indian subcontinent come from the Atharva Veda estimated to have been written sometime around 2000–1400 BCE.
Although cannabis as a drug and industrial hemp both derive from the species Cannabis sativa and contain the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), they are distinct strains with unique phytochemical compositions and uses. Hemp has lower concentrations of THC and higher concentrations of cannabidiol (CBD), which decreases or eliminates its psychoactive effects. The legality of industrial hemp varies widely between countries. Some governments regulate the concentration of THC and permit only hemp that is bred with an especially low THC content.