Cannabis. Marijuana. Weed. Mary Jane.
The amount of information and buzzwords surrounding cannabis can feel overwhelming. Most people, especially those just diving into the world of cannabis, know little about what they are buying or how different plants, strains, or consuming habits, affect their experience. To better understand the effects you could receive, or if you are considering buying seeds for growing your own plants, it is important to start at the farm level; learning the basic anatomy of the cannabis plant.
With legalization now 2 years behind us, the popularity and visibility of the cannabis leaf has become widespread. What many don’t realize is that the leaf itself contains very little cannabinoids, the chemical substance responsible for the effects felt from the consumption of cannabis.
The desired effects of cannabis come primarily from the bud.
The plant comes in 2 basic varieties, male and female. While hermaphroditic plants exist, it is primarily from the female plants that cannabis buds are harvested, so, we will leave out hermaphroditic plants for now. While all gender of plants produce pre-flowers, only the female and hermaphroditic plants will blossom with commercially harvestable buds.
The role of the male plants is to pollinate the female plants to produce seeds. When growing crops of cannabis, the males plants are often a nuisance and discarded unless the crop’s purpose is to produce seeds or crossbreeds. While the male plants produce some levels of cannabinoids, the amount is small and would require substantial consumption to be smoked, which would be harmful to your respiratory system. Male plants can be used in the creation of hash and edibles much in the same as the sugar leaves and trim from the female plant can be.
The role of the female plant is twofold. They will biologically produce seeds when their pistils are pollinated from a male plant or, more commercially, used to create buds that can be sold and consumed. When prevented from pollinating, female plants will produce buds. These buds will pack themselves in tight clusters on the plant, called a cola, in which these tightly packed colas will appear as though they are one giant bud.
Other important components to the female plant are trichomes and bracts. Trichomes are microscopic mushroom-shaped and hair-like glands found on the surface of the cannabis plant. They produce large amounts of cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, as well as terpenes. They are colloquially known as “crystals” by most users. Bracts are small, tear-shaped leaves that protect the plant’s ovaries that contain its seeds. Their formation, along with the white trichomes, have popularized them as “sugar leaves” and are a component in producing edibles.
Coming back to where we started, let’s talk leaf.
As mentioned earlier, the fan leaf of the cannabis plant only produces trace amounts of cannabinoids. There are also differences between the various strains, which can be recognized by their fan leaf. There are 3 distinct types of cannabis. Once identified, the flower can be associated with various amounts of THC and CBD.
The sativa leaf has long narrow leaflets, with a brighter green colour. These plants have the highest levels of THC but very low amounts of CBD.
The indica leaf is a short, broad leaf with deep colouration. Indica plants have moderate amounts of THC but also much higher levels of CBD vs its sativa counterpart.
The ruderalis leaf has properties somewhere in between sativa and indica. It has small, thick leaves but only a few branches. It contains low levels of THC but the highest amount of CBD, though it takes more effort to extract.
Lastly, there are what are known as hybrid plants, which are crossbreeds between the three strains, taking different components in order to create new and varied strains.