New Finding Three Species of Cannabis

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"Spp." is the conventional abbreviation for species in the plural. It may come as something of a surprise that contrary to conventional wisdom Cannabis should be treated as a multispecies genus rather than as a single species, Cannabis sativa L., with several geographical or ecological varieties (e.g. C. mexicana, C. americana [gigantea}, and C. indica) but not separate species. In this I follow a new determination by Schultes and his colleagues (1974: 337-360), who have now accepted as correct the findings of Russian plant geneticists in the 1920's and 1930's that Cannabis sativa is not alone but is only one of three separate species, the others being C. indica and C. ruderalis. This differentiation is by no means an idle taxonomical exercise, of significance only to a handful of botanists and plant taxonomists. As Schultes and his coworkers point out, considering the great economic and therapeutic importance of this multipurpose plant to man since he first cultivated it perhaps as much as 10,000 years ago, and the fact that the drug it yields continues to be the focus of considerable controversy as well as medical experimentation, the time "is long overdue when a full study of Cannabis taxonomy must be initiated" (p. 357). Moreover, there is an intriguing legal aspect: much marihuana legislation, not only in the United States but, largely because of American pressure, in other countries as well, is based precisely on the single-species theory which Schultes and his colleagues now reject as scientifically untenable.

That there is considerable variability in the strength of marihuana and other preparations of Cannabis has long been generally known, to scientists as well as social users. A variety of factors, particularly environmental ones, are usually cited to account for the phenomenon. But Schultes eta/, have become convinced that there are, in fact, significant chemical differences between different species,

... not only in the cannabinolic content but in other constituents, such as the essential oils, flavonoids and possibly several other classes of secondary compounds. Lamarck suggested as early as 1783 that the content of the intoxicating principle was higher in Cannabis indica than in C. sativa. In the intervening 200 years, during which the epithet indica has been used, there has usually been the inference that it is a more strongly intoxicating form of Cannabis. Unfortunately, however, almost no chemical studies have been made in association with taxonomic studies nor on the basis of voucher specimens. Throughout the modern Russian literature there exists the inference, if not outright claim, that the cannabinolic content of Cannabis indica is higher than that of C. saliva and C. ruderalis. Pertinent to species differentiation on a chemical basis may be the unexpected, recent discovery, made independently by several workers, that chemical differences in Cannabis appear to be based more on a genetic basis than on environmental or edaphic factors. If this be so, then it may add still another argument for specific differentiation in the genus. (Schultes et at., 1974:354-355)

Whatever the final taxonomic and phytochemical determinations, Cannabis, whose original home is somewhere in central Asia, where its only truly wild representatives can now be found and from where it diffused in early times to other parts of the Old World—and after the Conquest, to the New World as well—is today adapted to almost all inhabited parts of the globe, and virtually all climates, either as cultivated plants or as weeds that escaped from cultivation. The literary, folkloric, historical, and archaeological evidence for its use in ancient medicine and as a ritual intoxicant is extensive, beginning with what is generally believed to be the earliest reference to the therapeutic value of Cannabis in a Chinese treatise on pharmacology attributed to the legendary emperor Shen Nung and said to date from 2737 BC (cf. Brecher eta/., 1972; Emboden, 1972a). Cannabis actually had a wide variety of medical uses in the United States between 1850 and 1937; it was listed as a recognized medicinal drug in the United States Pharmacopoeia until 1942 and is still so included in its British counterpart. Largely because of public or official hysteria over recreational marihuana use, medical demand for Cannabis extracts was until recently very low, but beginning in 1971 there has been a sharp upturn in experimental use of Cannabis as medication for a variety of disorders, including alcoholism, heroin and amphetamine dependence, emotional disturbance, and even glaucoma. (See Brecher eta/., 1972.)

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