Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 983 Cannabis sativa

Common Names: hemp, marijuana, ganja, gallow grass Family: Cannabaceae (marijuana Family)
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cannabis, female flower
You can see the small yellowish threadlike female flowers extending from among the leaves of this cannabis stem-tip which contains the highest concentrations of psychoactive compounds.


Hemp, also known as marijuana, is a coarse, rangy annual that grows 6-12 ft (1.8-3.7 m) in height. The leaves are palmately divided into 3-7 narrow, toothed segments, most about 3-6 in (7.6-15.2 cm) long. The stems are rough and scabrous and the inner bark is fibrous. Hemp is normally a dioecious species, with male and female flowers on separate plants, but sometimes bisexual plants occur. The female flowers are in greenish leafy spikes a little less than 1 in (2.5 cm) long, borne on stem tips, and the male flowers are yellowish, tiny, and borne in axillary clusters. The flowers are inconspicuous and without scent; they are pollinated not by insects, but by the wind. The fruit is an achene, which is a hard, one-seeded fruit that remains closed at maturity. The subspecies, indica, has narrower leaves and generally grows taller than the nominate race. There is only one species of Cannabis, but numerous forms have been selected for various purposes. The hemp plant is not particularly attractive and has no ornamental qualities.


Hemp is cultivated in many parts of the world for fiber, oil, bird feed and drugs. It is native to temperate central Asia, but has become established in much of the temperate and tropical world, including parts of the United States. Hemp for fiber is usually cultivated in temperate regions, and hemp for drugs is usually cultivated in tropical or subtropical regions.


It is illegal to grow hemp in the United States and in most of the Western Hemisphere without a government permit. Light: Full sun. Moisture: Hemp is tolerant of dry spells, but requires regular water for best growth. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 - 11. Hemp is an annual that requires about four months from germination until fruiting. Propagation: Hemp is grown from seed (actually the achene, which is technically a fruit, is planted).


In many parts of the world, hemp is an important commercial crop. A strong, durable fiber (called hemp) is produced from the stems. Cloth woven from hemp fiber is used for mats, sail cloths, sacks and clothing. Strong hemp cordage is used throughout most of the world. Hemp seed oil is used in the manufacture of soaps, paints and varnishes. Hemp seed oil is very nutritious and is now sold as a supplement in many health food stores. The (sterilized) seeds are often a constituent of cage bird food.

cannabis, male flowers
The male cannabis flower buds are fig-shaped structures that open to reveal small flowers with tiny yellowish petals.

The dried female flowers and extracts of them, variously processed, are used as medicinal and recreational drugs and known by such names as cannabis, marijuana, hashish, pot, grass, charas, bhang and ganja. The active ingredients in hemp include more than 60 different cannabinoids, including delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or "THC." These compounds have anesthetic, sedative, anti-nausea, anti-inflammatory and hypotensive (lowering blood pressure) properties, and are used to treat many forms of pain, insomnia, nausea, asthma, migraine headaches, glaucoma and depression. As a recreational drug, cannabis induces a feeling of euphoria and intoxication, and may cause hallucinations. Hemp is believed to be the only plant that contains THC, a powerful psychoactive compound.


Hemp has been grown for medicinal and religious purposes in China for at least 5000 years. Infusions of hemp female flowers were used for pain relief throughout most of Asia since at least the first century BC. Hemp was first brought to Europe in the 1500's. By the 19th century, hemp was a commonly prescribed analgesic in Europe, used for everything from menstrual cramps to pain from surgery.

Cannabis is known to be an effective analgesic that relieves pain with minimal side effects (unlike opiates which have unwanted side effects like constipation and addiction). Cannabis is especially useful for AIDS and cancer patients, relieving chronic pain and reducing nausea brought on by chemotherapy and other medications. Cannabis reduces spasms and neurological overactivity in patients suffering from multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy. Its hypotensive activity makes it an effective treatment for high blood pressure and for glaucoma. Cannabis increases the appetite and induces sleep. Although THC is the ingredient most often studied, it is clear that other compounds in marijuana also have medicinal value.


Hemp is classified as an illegal drug in the United States, and possession of hemp plants or drugs made from hemp is illegal. (There are, however, a number of legal sources for hemp textiles and cordage.) Recently, some states have eliminated their restrictions against the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes when taken under a physician's supervision. However, the federal government's anti-drug laws supercede the more lenient policies of the states, and possession of cannabis is still a federal offence.


Attitudes and laws relating to cannabis (and hemp) are changing rapidly. We will be expanding Floridata's Cannabis Profile in the near future.

Steve Christman 12/31/03, 6/6/05, 4/2/18

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Cannabis species profiled on Floridata:

Cannabis sativa

( hemp, marijuana, ganja, gallow grass )

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