Hello and welcome to the Definitive Guide to Cannabis. This guide will cover everything you need to know about cannabis, and I will start off by assuming you know nothing about it, as if you never even heard the word “cannabis” before.
What is Cannabis?
Scientifically known as Cannabis sativa, Cannabis is a flowering plant of the Cannabacae family, just like hops (one of the main ingredients in beer). In nature, the plant can grow to be as high (pun intended) as twenty feet! However, when cultivated, it is typically much smaller and bushier.
Skipping over the roots, as they were never really utilized or studied throughout history, let’s start examining the structure of the plant from ground up.
The cannabis stem is a long, slender, typically hollow structure that supports the plant, helping the transportation of water, nutrients, and sugars between the roots and leaves. The stem of the cannabis plant is typically green, but sometimes has a brownish or woody appearance as it matures.
The stem is owed credit for many of the properties that make cannabis excellent for textile production. This is thanks to our three friends cellulose, lignin, and pectin, which all work in the cell wall to make the cannabis stem everything we’ve come to love.
Lignin is a highly crosslinked and highly branched polymer, meaning that it has many branches and links between the polymer chains. The branches and links allow the fibers of the cannabis stem to bend and flex without breaking. In addition, lignin is hydrophobic, where hydro means water, and phobic means afraid, or repel. This allows the cannabis stem to block unwanted water, fungi, microbials and even UV light.
Cellulose is found abundantly in many plant cells, and definitely doesn't shy away from cannabis. The stem of the cannabis plant owes much of its shape and rigidity to cellulose, which is made up of repeating glucose units that are linked together by glycosidic bonds. Unlike lignin, cellulose is hydrophilic, meaning it absorbs water. This is a good thing, though, as it allows the cannabis cell to regulate and dictate when to intake and outtake water.
Pectin acts as a supplement to both lingnin and cellulose. Pectin is hydrophilic, which helps the cells absorb water when needed, allowing the plant to resist drying out, becoming brittle, and retain its ability to flex and bend.
Moving up from the stem bring us upon the leaves. The leaves contain a number of pigments that provide them with color, but additionally, these pigments absorb light that the cannabis plant uses as food, a process called photosynthesis. Just about all plants undergo photosynthesis to survive, so cannabis isn’t special in that regard. However, the shape of the cannabis leaves are unique. Their large surface area allows more room for pigments to absorb light, and they’re coated in little pores and veins that allow carbon dioxide (CO2) and oxygen in and out of the plant, a process that’s essential for photosynthesis.
The most notable and iconic part of the cannabis plant is the flower, due to the abundance of trichomes that can be found within. Trichomes are small, granular structures responsible for secreting the oils, waxes, and resins known as cannabinoids and terpenes. Naturally, cannabinoids are meant to deter predators from being interested in eating the plant. For example, the aromas produced by many terpenes are off putting to herbivores, and the psychoactive effects of the cannabinoid THC is meant to deter animals from coming back for a second helping.
The flower of the cannabis plant is phenotypically very diverse, meaning it often varies in appearance among different plants. Some plants can feature flowers that are bright green, others amber, and others purple. In addition, the color of the flower can be impacted by its environment, such as the temperature, light conditions, and even age of the plant. For example, younger flowers may be lighter in color, while mature flowers may darken as they approach maturity; cannabis plants grown in lower light conditions may produce flowers that are more green, while those grown in higher light conditions may produce flowers that are more vibrant and colorful; and exposing the plant to cool temperatures can cause it to produce anthocyanin pigments, which give the flower a purplish or blue color.