Cannabis indica plant Photo: Sudhir Ahluwalia

The marijuana herb, also known as hemp or cannabis botanical name, is Cannabis sativa. It is the source of fiber, medicine, and an intoxicant. . Its leaves, flowers, stem, and seed are more in the news for its use as an intoxicating and hallucinating product than its major use as a source of fiber and oil. The species has multiple cultivars and varieties, each with different properties that determine the end use of the plant.

Hemp or marijuana herb is one of the earliest crops known to man (Sagan, 1977). Cannabis seed and oil were probably used as food in China since at least 6000 BC.

There are references to marijuana in the Chinese pharmacopeia that go back to 1500 BC (National Institute of Drug Abuse – Marijuana Research Findings – 1976, 1977). The Chinese were said to use cannabis to treat diarrhea, and dysentery, and stimulate appetite.

The use of cannabis in India probably goes back to the Vedic times (c.1800 BC onwards), as mentioned in the Atharvaveda.

Marijuana was said to have been first brought into the US by the Jamestown settlers in 1611. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are said to have cultivated hemp for medicine and recreational smoking. Marijuana was added to the US Pharmacopeia in 1850, where it is listed as a treatment for neuralgia, tetanus, leprosy, dysentery, uterine bleeding, and many other ailments.

Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica are sources of industrial hemp and medicinal marijuana, respectively. Marijuana-yielding plants are morphologically nearly indistinguishable from industrial hemp cultivars, but marijuana varieties are more branched and bushy, whereas industrial hemp-producing plants are straight with fewer branches.

Cross-pollination affects the content of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the primary psychoactive molecule in the plant. Higher levels of THC will make the crop unsuitable for industrial hemp production.

Hemp is cultivated mainly for its fiber and oilseed. Fiber is used in fabric making. The seed is used in food. The value of the global hemp industry is estimated at $1.5 trillion.

Milk from hemp is a dairy-free alternative to high nutrition value. Several products are made from hemp seed by blending these with milk, milk-based products, oils, grain flour, etc. They are blended into baked products like cakes, made into granola bars, etc. Hemp butter is used as a spread.

And if you want to learn more about this wonderful herb, you can read the section on the plant in the referred book.

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