Cannabis 101

There are very few plants that are as iconic and recognizable as the cannabis plant.  This is most likely due to the unique shape of its fan leaves. Cannabis is one of oldest medicines used by man.  The first recorded use of cannabis goes back more than 3,000 years ago! A genus of flowering plant from the family Cannabaceae, there are three species of cannabis plants, cannabis sativa, cannabis indica, and cannabis ruderalis.  Most likely originating in Central Asia, some twelve thousand years ago it is the oldest and first crops to be cultivated by agriculturists.  

The cannabis plant grows in a manner very similar to many other flowering species.
Cannabis extends up from the ground on thin green stems, incrementally branching from nodes along the way, unfolding unique serrated leaves along the way. Cannabis begins to show its complexity in its flower, distinctly different from other common flowering plant species.

Cannabis Plant Anatomy

Trichomes  Trichomes are the mushroom structures that form on the outside the cannabis plant. They appear as the glistening, sticky layer found on the flowers. In contrast to the highly sought after cannabis oils and terpenes secreted from these structures, their main role is to provide a form of protection for the plant. Within the bulb-like structure of the trichome, the plant changes its cannabinoid profile to adjust for the amount of UV light it receives, acting as a form of sunscreen for the plant.

Male Cannabis Plants  Male plants do not produce flowering buds, but they do produce pollen sacs that effectively pop open and allow the wind to spread the pollen to female plants.

Female Cannabis Plants Female plants grow large flowers known as buds. If pollinated by a male, the buds will produce seeds and not swell with cannabinoids. The cannabis flower processed into the variety of medical cannabis products sold in medical dispensaries are from female plants that have not been pollinated by a male and are able produce cannabinoids within the flower.  


Terpenes are the aromatic compounds found in the oils of the cannabis plant along with several plants and flowers. Terpenes interact with cannabinoids such as THC and CBD for medical benefit and provide many of their own.  This is known as the “entourage effect”. Created by the cannabis plant to attract pollinators for reproductive purposes as well as detract predators, these unique oils have several medical benefits such as reducing anxiety, decrease pain and inflammation, improve insomnia and/or increase your awareness. Many are identifiable by their intense flavor profile like citrus, pine, herbs and black pepper. Terpenes and cannabinoids work in harmony together to create the entourage effect that enhances the medicinal properties of cannabis. There are more than 100 terpenes, for more education on individual terpenes and their benefits, visit CannabizMD on Instagram: @cannabiz_md

Common Terpenes

Pinene — This common cannabis terpene has a scent similar to pine needles or Christmas trees. It can be found in most culinary herbs as well, like basil, rosemary, and dill. Research has found that it can keep you alert and be used to treat asthma, inflammation, and anxiety.

Caryophyllene — Most spices, like black pepper and chili peppers, commonly contain caryophyllene. Known for its anti-stress properties, it can also be used to treat pain and depression.

Limonene — Often described as a pungent lemon scent, this terpene has stress relieving qualities. Used primarily as an antidepressant, it can also be used to treat anxiety and inflammation. It also has antibacterial and anti-carcinogenic uses. High concentrations of this terpene are found in lemons.  

Linalool — With hints of flowers and freshness, this terpene is known for its calming and anti-anxiety effects. It can also be used as a treatment for depression, pain, and insomnia.

Myrcene — A precursor in the formation of other terpenes, myrcene can also be found in mangoes, ylang-ylang, wild thyme, and parsley. This terpene is known for its calming effects, antioxidant properties, and for reducing inflammation.

Humulene — Also produced also in hops and often reminiscent of beer, this terpene is valued medically for anti-inflammatory properties.

Terpineol — Many oils produced by plants contain this terpene, giving it a citrus or floral scent. Used for its anti-carcinogenic effects and especially for sleep, it is known that in high doses it can have a very sedative effect.

Cannabis Cultivars

Cannabis plants have two main cultivars (strains): indica and sativa. Each affects the body and mind in different ways, allowing a vast diversity in its use. Understanding how these strains interact with the body is important for helping patients and their healthcare providers determine which cultivar best suits their needs.

Sativa — Popular for daytime use, this cultivar is most often described as energetic and invigorating. Growing tall and thin, this strain generally yields less, has long, narrow leaves, takes longer to flower, and requires much more light. Flowers from this strain have a higher THC content than CBD.

Indica —  Known for a more relaxed body sensation, this cultivar is popular for night-time use. Plants tend to grow short and bushy with wide leaves growing more outward instead of upward. This strain also flowers faster and can commonly be found with higher CBD levels than sativa strains.

Hybrid — Contains a mix of genetics from both sativa and indica plant genetics. Depending on the lineage of the plant genetics, hybrid plants can take on the characteristics of both sativa and indica plants.