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FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 3 | Cannabaceae

1. Cannabis Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 2: 1027. 1753; Gen. Pl. ed. 5, 453, 1754.

Hemp, Indian hemp, marijuana, marihuana, chanvre, cannabis [Greek kannabis, hemp, said to come from Arabic kinnab or Persian kannab ]

Herbs , annual, erect, taprooted. Stems simple to well branched, without 2-branched hairs. Leaves palmately compound; petiole not twining, without 2-branched hairs. Leaf blade: surfaces abaxially sparsely to densely pubescent. Inflorescences: staminate inflorescences compound cymes or panicles, erect; pistillate pseudospikes, congested, erect to spreading. Flowers: staminate and pistillate on different plants, sometimes on same plants, especially in cultivars. Achenes lenticular, enclosed within enlarged perianth; embryo curved. x = 10.

Species 1 (1 in the flora): widespread in temperate regions, nearly worldwide.

Many populations of Cannabis sativa have been established largely from escapes from former cultivation and, sporadically, from clandestine cultivation.

One of the oldest cultivated plants, hemp was widely used in Neolithic China in the Yang Shao culture (ca. 4000 B.C.). Many legends understandably surround its origins and popularity. Its tough and durable fiber, excellent for rope, cordage, paper, canvas, sailcloth, and fish nets, prompted its initial spread throughout the world. The seeds are very nutritious; they are an important constituent in birdseed mixes, and the seeds, as well as the edible oil from seeds, are marketed as an excellent food source for human consumption. Oil from the seeds was also used in paints and varnishes and as fuel for lamps (B. B. Simpson and M. Conner-Ogorzaly 1986). Hemp was a major economic crop in the American colonies because of the demand for rope in agricultural, maritime, and military pursuits. Probably best known today for its psychoactive chemicals, it is used legally by physicians in the treatment of glaucoma and to relieve nausea in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation (B. B. Simpson and M. Conner-Ogorzaly 1986).

Until 1970 marihuana was legally controlled in the United States by the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which levied a transfer tax for which no stamps or licenses were available to private citizens. Cannabis is now controlled by the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Act of 1970. In Canada marihuana has been controlled since 1938 by an amendment to the Narcotic Control Act (D. E. Mustol 1991).

The vernacular name hemp refers both to the plant and to its commercially extracted bast fibers. Most other terms refer both to the plant and to drug preparations of it.


Schultes, R. E., W. M. Klein, T. Plowman, and T. E. Lockwood. 1974. Cannabis: An example of taxonomic neglect. Bot. Mus. Leafl. 23: 337-367. Simpson, B. B. and M. Conner-Ogorzaly. 1986. Economic Botany: Plants in Our World. New York. Small, E. 1979. The Species Problem in Cannabis: Science & Semantics. 2 vols. Toronto. Small, E. and A. Cronquist. 1976. A practical and natural taxonomy for Cannabis. Taxon 25: 405-435.

Lower Taxon


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