What is Cannabis?
Cannabis is a genus of flowering plants within the family Cannabaceae—a family having about 11 genera. Cannabis and Humulus (hops) are the only genera within the family that contain economically significant species.
There are three species in the Cannabis genera: Cannabis sativa (C. sativa), Cannabis indica (C. indica), and Cannabis ruderalis (C. ruderalis), although there is some debate whether C. ruderalis is a distinct species from or a subspecies of C. sativa. Classification of a plant into a species is based on the plant phenotypes and secondary metabolite profiles. [i]
At least 545 distinct compounds have been isolated from cannabis plants. Those compounds encompass 20 different classes of chemical compounds, including cannabinoids, terpenes, terpenoids, amino acids, nitrogenous compounds, simple alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, esters, lactones, acids, fatty acids, steroids, non-cannabinoid phenols, pigments, flavonoids, vitamins, proteins, enzymes, glycoproteins, and hydrocarbons. [ii] A variety of the compounds in found in cannabis are biologically active chemicals, called phytochemicals, which are concentrated in a resin found in the glandular trichomes of the plant. Phytochemicals can affect the human body in various ways and, in some cases, treat diseases. The key classes of phytochemicals in a cannabis plant are cannabinoids and terpenes. [iii]
At least 113 different cannabinoids have been isolated from cannabis. [iv] Some of the most studied cannabinoids are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD (cannabidiol), and CBN (cannabinol). Some others include CBG (cannabigerol), THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid), CBGA (cannabigerolic acid), CBC (cannabichromene), CBDA (cannabidiolic acid), and THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin). Most cannabinoids exist in two forms: as acids and as neutral (decarboxylated) compounds. [v] More specifically, several cannabinoids exist in the acidic form while the plant is alive and growing, and in neutral form after the plant has been dried for human consumption. For example, the primary psychoactive and medicinal component in cannabis, THC, is formed by the decarboxylation of THCA during the drying step after harvest. [vi] Some cannabinoids are formed from the metabolism of other (non-acidic) compounds. For example, CBC and CBD—two of the most important non-psychoactive medicinal compounds in cannabis—result from the metabolism of CBG.
Over 100 different terpenes have been identified from cannabis plants. [vii] The more common terpenes found in cannabis include terpinolene, linalool, β-myrcene, citronellol, α-pinene, limonene, α-humulene, β-caryophyllene, β-pinene, borneol, camphene, sabinene, ocimene, α-terpinene, γ-3-carene, L-fenchone, p-cymene, α-phellandrene, α-terpineol, and fenchol. Most high potency cannabis strains contain high quantities of β-myrcene, β-caryophyllene, and linalool, along with an assortment of other terpenes. [viii]