C. Sativa

What is C. Sativa?

C. Sativa is the term that refers to a singular species of flowering plants belonging to the cannabaceae genus that we commonly refer to as “marijuana”.

Where does C. Sativa come from?

It is generally accepted that C. Sativa originates from, and is indigenous to, Central Asia.

Are there other types, varieties, strains, cultivars, species, or sub-species of cannabis?

This is where things can get a little confusing. When we speak about cannabis in this context (proper naming or nomenclature) we must determine how the language being used to describe or name cannabis is derived.

Before science had progressed to the point where plants such as cannabis could be classified, described, or named according to their chemical structure (cannabinoid, terpenoid or flavonoid profiles), we based those decisions upon physical descriptions of the plant as it existed in nature.

Not surprisingly, this resulted in a number of divergent descriptions of cannabis. These different descriptions of its physical characteristics had a long-lasting impact on how cannabis was subsequently classified and understood.

The goal of taxonomy is to name things, but implicit in their naming is a denotation of a taxonomic hierarchy for that which is being named.

In other words, the proper name of cannabis is important for its own sake, but more importantly, its official name alludes to its position in a classification hierarchy that allows us to track its lineage.

Why is it important to refer to cannabis by its proper name?

It is important to refer to cannabis by its proper name because in doing so we ensure that everyone is speaking about the same thing. It enables us to communicate much more effectively both in industry and research circles, but also in the public discourse. This serves to limit and reduce the amount of innacurate information pertaining to cannabis as well as inhibit individuals perpetuating misinformation either out of ignorance or self-interest.

a better way to speak about cannabis

Carl Linnaeus and Jean Baptiste de Lamarck were the individuals responsible for coining the terms “sativa” and “indica” respectively.

In 1753 Linnaeus first classified the cannabaceae genus as monotypic, meaning it had only one species which he called Cannabis Sativa Linnaeus.

In 1785 Lamarck classified a second species of cannabaceae genus which he called Cannabis Indica Lamarck.

Throughout the 20th century this process of naming and hierarchal classification of cannabis continued, with several taxonomists proposing alternative systems.

In 1976 a taxonomic revision was published whereby cannabis was recognized as a single species with two sub-species. They are:

C. sativa Linnaeus. subspecies. sativa  and C. sativa Linnaeus. subspecies. indica Lamarck.

It was postulated that the subspecies sativa diverged from the subspecies indica as a result of human selection. The former was primarily used for fibre and seed production while the latter was used for drug preparations.

Within those subspecies, varieties of “wild” or “escaped” cannabis are identified. The subspecies sativa has a spontanea variety and the subspecies indica has a kafiristanica variety. The first being non-psychoactive and the second being psychoactive.

Thus it can clearly be seen how the terms “indica” and “sativa” have had their meanings misconstrued over time.

To simplify the problem, cannabis can be sorted into three broad functional categories. They are as follows:

  • plants cultivated for fiber and seed production, described as low-intoxicant, non-drug, or fiber types.
  • plants cultivated for drug production, described as high-intoxicant or drug types.
  • escaped, hybridised, or wild forms of either of the above types.
What are “indica strains” and “sativa strains”?

A “strain” is a term that has been wrongly perpetuated to share synonymity with the term “cultivar”.

A cultivar is an official plant variety produced in cultivation, the notion of “variety” being similar to the wild or escaped cannabis varieties of spontanea or kafiristanica.

In this sense, the term “strain” is conceptually borrowed from the term “cultivar”, but fails to satisfy much of the inclusion criterion required to be considered a true cultivated variety of cannabis.

The question is, if the term “strain” doesn’t denote a particular variety of cannabis what does it mean?

Well, the term “strain” cannot be used to describe a variety of cannabis in the taxonomic sense, it can however communicate differences that may be relevant to a consumer.

For example, a particular strain (example: crazy dope 9) may not be a taxonomic variety of cannabis, but may have unique physical characteristics such as colour, smell and texture. In this way differentiating between consumer products using strain names as a qualifier is a completely different use of the word. It is very similar to other trade product qualifiers such as those used to differentiate between canned soups at the grocery store like garden flavour, thick and chunky, spicy, etc.

The issue is that the term “strain” has not been constrained to a particular set of differentiating characteristics like smell, taste and texture. Its use is over-broad and can also reference the therapeutic potential of a particular trade product or, as stated previously, make reference to the taxonomic terms “sativa” and “indica” which is problematic.

Why do people continue to refer to “indica strains” and “sativa strains” in the context of narcotic potential?

We return to taxonomic debate. One of the major revisions of the taxonomic classification of cannabis vying for primacy in the 1970’s was based on the idea that enough morphological differences existed to recognize three distinct species.  These species were C. Ruderalis, C. Sativa, and C. Indica.

This competed with the monotypic understanding of cannabis postulated by Linnaeus in 1753, and as a result people began to distinguish between “sativa strains” and “indica strains” (both considered to be narcotic) on the basis that their leaves were “narrow” and “wide” respectively. While C. Ruderalis (HEMP) was described as “short, branchless, and wild”.

Over time the nuances of the psychoactive experience elicited by cannabis was overlaid onto this understanding of “sativa strains” and “indica strains”. As a result the terms have come to communicate a secondary meaning which is the type of “high” that they produce.

This is completely wrong although it is widely accepted and used in the industry and marketplace.

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