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Cannabis 101: A Crash Course In Cannabis Botany

by Anna Wilcox

Did you know that cannabis cigarettes were once prescribed as a treatment for asthma? That a cannabis bud can feature hundreds of tiny flowers? Or that the herb produces over 500 unique chemical constituents? 

It’s been over eight decades since cannabis prohibition first began, and it’s safe to say that we’ve forgotten a lot about cannabis. 

It’s time to become reacquainted. 

Get a sneak-peek into Green Flower’s Cannabis Fundamentals Certificate Program with this crash course in cannabis botany. Watch as Dr. David Bearman, Vice President for the American Academy for Cannabinoid Medicine talks long-lost history. 

Then, get up to speed on your cannabis anatomy with Legacy Grower Mel Frank.  

A Brief History Of Cannabis

The relationship between humans and cannabis spans millennia. For thousands of years, the plant provided food, helped us build stronger shelters, offered spiritual guidance, and was a crucial ingredient in our natural medicine cabinet. 

Indeed – the first evidence of medicinal cannabis dates back to over 8,500 years ago in China. 

But, this long history began to change after the first World War. The exact cause of the shift is an arduous and complicated one; fears about opium trade and an influx of immigrants led to crackdowns on the import and production of almost all intoxicating drugs, regardless of their perceived medical benefit. 

Cannabis was officially criminalized in the United States in 1937. 

By the mid-to-late 21st century, the control of narcotics and drug trafficking became pillars of political success. 

In the United States, the criminalization of cannabis possession and the eradication of the plant were major components of the War on Drugs, which spanned seven different presidencies, beginning with President Richard Nixon.

To this day, policy relics of the War on Drugs continue. At the time of writing, cannabis is federally illegal in the US, although many individual states have legalized cannabis for medical or adult use. 

A Crash Course In Cannabis Botany

Humans may have a long history with cannabis, but, after over 80 years of prohibition, we have a lot to relearn.

Not only is cannabis one of the earliest agricultural crops, but the herb was historically used as medicine by a wide variety of cultures. Written and archeological evidence suggests that the plant was used for a wide variety of purposes – from childbirth to nausea to gout.

Even today, cannabis produces some of the most medicinally valuable flowers in the plant kingdom. But, to understand why the herb is so valuable, it’s helpful to know your way around the plant. 

The following video and brief guide offer a crash course in the most perplexing and important part of the cannabis plant: its flowers. 

What Is Cannabis Bud?

In popular terms, “bud”  is the name for the blossoms of the female cannabis plant. But, take note – these buds may look a little different from what you’re used to. The sticky blossoms look more like giant basil flowers than they do daisies or roses.

Nowadays, the word “bud” is often used interchangeably with “flower” in the cannabis industry. 

If you want to get technical, however, a cannabis bud is actually a collection of hundreds of tiny flowers. 

Historically, cannabis buds were harvested and used to make medicines and in spiritual ceremonies.

Today, buds are often sold in whole pieces in cannabis dispensaries. Whole buds are harvested from fresh cannabis plants and then dried and cured before retail sale. 

After purchase, consumers most often smoke, vaporize, or cook with cannabis buds. 

What Are Cannabis Flowers? 

The word flower is quickly replacing the word “bud” to describe the large blossoms produced by the female cannabis plant. 

But, as mentioned above, female cannabis plants actually produce thousands of tiny crystal-coated flowers – all roughly under three millimeters in width. 

These small flowers are the reproductive organs of the cannabis plants. When female flowers are pollinated by male pollen, many of these small flowers will produce seeds.  

All parts of the cannabis plant are usable. But, flowers are thought to be the most important. Why? Cannabis flowers produce more resin than any other part of the cannabis plant. 

Cannabis resin is ripe with hundreds of different chemical compounds, a fact that perhaps explains why cannabis flowers have been coveted throughout history.  

What Are Trichomes?

Ultimately, it’s cannabis resin that makes the herb so valuable. Each tiny cannabis flower is covered in a sticky coat of crystal-like resin glands, called trichomes.  

Have you ever wondered where the strong cannabis aroma comes from? What about its (sometimes) intoxicating nature? 

Thank trichomes.

Trichomes house hundreds of active chemical constituents. Indeed, the herb can produce over 500 different chemical constituents, and the majority can be found in resin. 

Trichomes are the crystal-like structures that keep cannabis resin attached to the surface of the plant. 

Cannabis resin is similar to sticky sap produced by conifer trees. Only, the former isn’t sweet. 

Instead, cannabis resin contains potentially hundreds of aromatic compounds that give different cannabis cultivars their unique tastes, aromas, and possibly experiences.

Trichome resin glands also contain cannabinoids, which are arguably the most therapeutically useful compounds found in the cannabis plant. 

The plant’s main psychoactive constituent, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is a cannabinoid. So is antioxidant cannabidiol (CBD), which is now a popular supplement. 

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