Origins of Cannabis and CBD

As discussed in previous blog posts, our bodies contain the endocannabinoid system, made up of cell receptors and corresponding molecules in our bodies’ various systems. When certain cannabinoids bind with key cannabinoid receptors, they relay messages and give cells specific instructions.

To understand the origins of CBD, it’s crucial to understand the difference between cannabinoids and phytocannabinoids. As you may already be aware, both bind to cannabinoid receptors within the endocannabinoid system.

However, cannabinoids naturally occur in the body and are not ingested from outside sources. Phytocannabinoids, such as CBD, are cannabinoids found in plants, such as cannabis. When ingested, they bind to endocannabinoid receptors and can also have effects on the body. A perfect example is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the phytocannabinoid in the cannabis plant that makes you high. But let’s put that aside for now and simply focus on the botanical evolution of cannabis and CBD.

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Keeping it in the Family

Let’s start by discussing taxonomy. Taxonomy is the study of the general principles of scientific classifications, namely relating to plants and animals, according to their presumed natural relationships. In our context, cannabis is of the herbaceous flowering plant, that is relating to herbs.

Cannabis is one of eight plant types in the Cannabaceae family (also known as the Dagga family). This family has a total of 149 species.

Within the cannabis family, there are three basic subspecies, or strains:

  • Cannabis Indica
  • Cannabis Sativa
  • Cannabis Ruderalis

As a side note, remember we mentioned taxonomy? Well, taxonomy, and in our context, botanical taxonomy is an ever-evolving field in which species get classified and re-classified based on new data generated by new techniques.

Cannabis is a great example of a plant that has had quite a few re-classifications, which makes pinpointing its exact origin challenging. Without tiring you with too many details and complicated classification names, the cannabis plant has had at least 16 different classifications between 1763 (classified as Castaneaceae Section III) and 2003 (classified as Cannabaceae).

But Where on Earth Did it All Start? (Literally)

Now, let’s talk about the evolution of the cannabis plant. Does the word paleontologist ring a bell? You guessed it – Ross from the TV series Friends! No one really ever understood what Ross’ work was, but paleontologists play a pivotal role in our understanding of our ancestry and the world around us. They examine fossils to learn about extinct organisms and their successions through time.

Ross was all about dinosaurs, but there are many “Rosses” out there who do the same for plants. And they are having quite a hard time assessing the exact period of cannabis evolution, since the cannabis plant lacks a good fossil print. That’s partially because soft organisms don’t leave as good of a print as those that are firm with distinct edges.

However, it’s estimated that Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica emerged 1.05 million years ago.

For years, botanists and agronomists have speculated about the origin of Cannabis Sativa. One of the first known scientists to investigate this was Iraqi botanist, Ibn Wahshīyah, in 904 AD, who suggested its origins might be in India or China.

Later analysts confirmed Wahshiyah’s theory and pointed the plant’s origin to the Níngxià Province, China, and dated it back 19.6 million years. Low and behold, a map of fossil pollen studies constructed with the aid of modern times computer mapping software indeed identified the north-eastern Tibetan Plateau as the origin of the Cannabis Sativa. The plants growing in this harsh geographical region support two hypotheses:

  •  Phytocannabinoids protect plants from ultraviolet light (UVB) at higher altitudes, generated by the Tibetan uplift.
  •  Phytocannabinoids deter vertebrate herbivores (animals that feed on plants).

As you can see, phytocannabinoids are powerful compounds found in plants! What gives them this ability to protect and deter animals away? That would be terpenes, the organic natural compounds within plants. In the case of cannabis, there are 100 known terpenes within the various strains and are what give the plant its various odors.

So, Do Individual Cannabis Strains Still Exist?

cannabis strains

Yes, they do. Over the years, researchers and botanists have tried to categorize the three subspecies based on various characteristics including physical attributes like height, density of branches, shape of leaves and timing of maturation. However, interbreeding and hybridization can make these plants difficult to find and categorize. But it is now known that they can be identified based on the following factors:

  • Sativa plants produce more THC than CBD, and have a sweet, herbal scent. They are native to tropical climates and can grow over 6 meters high.
  • Indica plants produce more CBD than Sativa, with a THC-to-CBD ratio closer to 1:1. Indica also imparts a skunky, unpleasant odor, likely a defense mechanism to keep the predators at bay. They grow shorter than Sativa and have a denser branch structure.
  • Ruderalis plants have the lowest levels of THC and have thick, sturdy stems. Native to Central Asia, they are short plants that have adapted to growing in environments without much sun.

However, as stated above, the abundant hybridization of these plants over the years has made it difficult to actually obtain their “pure” forms. It seems that trying to categorize cannabis has become pointless. A great example of the arbitrariness of these designations is illustrated by “AK-47,” a hybrid that won “Best Sativa” in the 1999 Cannabis Cup, and “Best Indica” four years later.

Fortunately for us, cannabis has been studied over the course of many years, which allows us to understand its usage and structure, from phytocannabinoids to terpenes to fatty-acids that are good for the skin.

Having knowledge of various phytocannabinoids, such as CBD, and utilizing them in modern-day health products allows for more naturally-derived remedies to enter the market. For instance, CBD CLINIC™ has utilized the existing scientific-backed knowledge to create two innovative product lines sold exclusively to healthcare professionals. We use US-grown high-quality hemp oil or extract from the Cannabis Sativa L. plant in our products, which has been engineered to contain negligible trace amounts of THC (less than 0.3% by law).This means your clients have no risk of failing a THC-drug test or intoxication by using our topicals. You and your clients will benefit from all of the wonderful qualities of hemp that make it a great addition to topical products.

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