Cannabis sativa

Cannabis sativa is an annual herbaceous plant in the Cannabaceae family. People have cultivated cannabis sativa throughout recorded history as a source of industrial fibre, seed oil, food, recreation, religious and spiritual enlightenment, and medicine. Each part of the plant is harvested differently, depending on the purpose of its use. Cannabis was originally classified in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus.

Cannabis Sativa is a short day flowering plant with staminat (male) plants that are generally taller than the pistillate (female) plants. The flowers of the female plant are the most sought after for their higher concentration of the active ingredient THC, however, cannabinoids can be found in varying concentrations throught the plant. Sativa strains tend to have more CBD in relation to their THC content when compared to their indica cousins.There are more than 500 known compounds in the plant with 113 of them being identified as cannabinoids. Besides the cannabinoids there are terpenes and sesquiterpenes. Some of which are identified as follows:

  • α-Pinene[9]A monoterpene that is produced in various plants and many conifers. Pinene is the most abundant terpene in plants. There is Beta Pinene and Alpha Pinene, Cannabis has Alpha Pinene.
  • Myrcene[9]  the most abundant monoterpene in plants and makes up to 50% of the terpene volume in Cannabis. It offers herbal, earthy, musky or a fruity aroma. Isolated Myrcene has sedative and analgesic benefits, while the synergistic benefits of Cannabinoids and Myrcene offer blood glucose regulating, anti-inflammatory benefits, pain relief, and are anti-prolific.
  • Linalool[9]
  • Limonene[9]    offers a citrus aroma most often like orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit. Isolated limonene benefits are anti-depressant, anti-prolific, and anti-inflammatory. Cannabinoid and Limonene synergistic benefits are anti-prolific, anti-inflammatory, anticonvulsant, and anti-oxidant.
  • Trans-β-ocimene[9]
  • α-Terpinolene[9]
  • Trans-caryophyllene[9] Usually found as Caryophyllene Oxide, it offers an aroma of spice or wood. Its isolated benefits are anticoagulant and anti-inflammatory. Cannabinoids and Caryophyllene Oxide synergistic effects are anticoagulant, anti-inflammatory and analgesic.
  • α-Humulene,[9] is a sesquiterpene that is an isomer of alpha-caryophyllene found in various plants, herbs and spices. It offers a woody or hoppy aroma. Its isolated benefits are antibacterial, anti-prolific, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic. Cannabinoid and Humulene synergistic benefits are Antibacterial, anti-prolific, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and anticonvulsant.
  • Caryophyllene,[9] with which some hashish detection dogs are trained[10]Beta Caryophyllene (C15H24) is a sesquiterpene that is produced in plants, conifers, herbs, cloves, and in Cannabis. It offers an earthy, woody, cinnamon, clove or peppery aroma. Its isolated benefits are anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antidepressant, and acts as an alcohol withdrawal mechanism. Cannabinoid and Beta Caryophyllene synergistic benefits are anti-prolific, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antibacterial, antioxidant, and anticonvulsant and helps with alcohol withdrawal.
  • Cineole, or Eucalyptol (C10H18O) is a monoterpene that is produced in plants. It offers an aroma of spice, camphor or mint. Its isolated benefits are memory retention, anti-asthma, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-prolific, and and insect repellent. Cannabinoids and Eucalyptol synergistic benefits are antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-prolific, and analgesic.
  • Nerolidol ( C15H26O) is a sesquiterpene that is produced in trees, flowers, fruit and herbs. It offers a floral, woody or fruity aroma. Its isolated benefits are anti-protozoan, analgesic, and sedative. Cannabinoid and Nerolidol synergistic benefits are anti-protozoan, analgesic, sedative, and anti-inflammatory.
  • Bisabolol ( C15H26O) is a rare sesquiterpene that is produced in various plants and flowers. It offers a light floral, citrus, tropical or woody aroma. Its isolated benefits are antiviral, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory. Cannabinoid and Bisabolol synergistic benefits are antiviral, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anti-prolific.

Terpenes and their synergistic effects when combined with cannabinoids are currently an exciting area of research.


Typical Appearance of Cannabis Sativa Strains

CAnnabis Sativa Male Flowering Plant

A male flowering Cannabis Sativa Plant

Sativa strains are typically taller and “lankier” than their cannabis indica counterparts. They tend to have larger and longer leaves that appear more “spiky” and are usually a lighter green than those of indica varieties. The space between nodes tends to be longer and the flowers tend to be less dense. This is likely to prevent mold and fungus in the hot and humid tropical areas where they originate. Sativa strains tend to grow throughout their lifecycle, gaing height during the vegetative as well as flowering phases. So called”pure” sativas found in the equatorial regions often require up to six months to fully ripen and are therefore rarely used as commercial strains but are cross bred with indica strains to shorten the flowering cycle while still retaining the flavourful characteristics and “cerebral” psychoactive effects often attributed to sativa strains.

Due to the incredible diversity there is a growing discussion of the current ideas regarding the differentiation of the cannabis genus into sativa, indica and sometimes ruderalis adequately reflects the incredicble diversity of characteristics within the species. There has been a sometimes fierce debate about whether ruderalis can be considered separate from sativa at all.

Many classical botanists would argue for Cannabis as one polymorphic species based on the ability of all its types to interbreed. However, if this were true, hundreds of neotropical gesneriads (Gesneriaceae, members of the African violet family) would all be one species since they readily hybridize and produce fertile offspring. It is clear that there are many chemotypes of Cannabis: THC predominant, CBD predominant, and mixed types. This is a good basic classification, but it has also been possible to selectively breed for other chemotypes expressing high titers of THCV, cannabidivarin, cannabichromene, and even ones producing 100% of its cannabinoids as cannabigerol, or others with no cannabinoids at all. The debate continues. Some espouse Cannabis as a single species, while others describe up to four: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, Cannabis ruderalis, and Cannabis afghanica (or kafiristanica).6,7The Cannabis sativa Versus Cannabis indica Debate: An Interview with Ethan Russo, MD


There are three main cultivar groups of cannabis that are currently in cultivation:

  • Fibre plants that are characterized by their tall stems and sparse leaves. These are the so-called “industrial hemp” varieties.
  • Seed crops. These can be grown from any variety but there are special cultivars przed for their prolific seed production and oil content of the seeds that are used to make hemp oil.
  • Cultivars grown for medicinal or recreational purposes. This is really an arbitrary distinction. Although there are now varieties being bred for higher CBD content that have less psycho-active properties and can be considered useful in a purely therapeutic context.
    Blue Dream

    Cannabis Sativa Variety “Blue Dream”


Colobian Gold Sativa

Colombian Gold – a landrace sativa strain from Colombia.

Examples of currently available recreational and medicinal cannabis sativa strains.


North American Distribution

Cannabis sativa is cultivated throughout North America to varying degrees. The data on this is perhaps not as accurate as it could be due to the illegal status of the past and the current uncertainty surrounding the legal status of cannabis. Some US states such as Illinois actually go so far as to classify cannabis sativa as a noxious weed, and the USDA shows cannabis as not being found in British Columbia.

About the Author Chron Valdez

Chron Valdez is a BC cannabis grower turned webslinger.