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In the plant world, the genus Cannabis grows domestically and wild all around the globe.  Records indicate the plant has been a part of the human experience dating back farther than 5,000 years.  It was found to be extremely versatile early on and domestication began to breed certain traits, which later classified the plant into at least 2 sub-species of the genus cannabis that we know of today, Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica.

Cannabis sativa, was inherently prone to producing fiber and seed products with very little to zero intoxicating properties. The other species Cannabis indica, was known to produce medicinal and narcotic properties when consumed. Together, these two species of Cannabis have been traveling with humans and selectively bred for their specific qualities for thousands of years, culminating in present day nomenclature as “Hemp” (Cannabis sativa) and “Marijuana” (Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica).

Because Cannabis sativa was best grown for producing fiber and seed production, any intoxicating properties were bred out as the directive moved towards a field production crop capable of producing textiles, oils, food, etc. (the first drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper and some of the Founding Fathers cultivated it). As opposed to Cannabis indica which was recognized early on to produce medicinal and narcotic qualities and thus breeding lines were pursued to preserve and enhance these qualities.

Scientific classifications aside, almost all species of the Cannabis plant are capable of and do produce “Cannabinoids” the bioactive medicinal molecules that mimic our own endocannabinoids produced within us. As Cannabis sativa (also known as hemp) was cultivated and directed toward materials production, the psychoactive molecule THC was bred out. Therefore, in the early 1900’s a legal definition of hemp was created to define any Cannabis variety producing less than 0.3% THC by dry weight as Hemp. Anything containing more than 0.3% THC by dry weight was classified as Marijuana.

Since Hemp fell out of the spotlight as a psychoactive plant, the counter culture of people who kept Cannabis genetics alive and continued breeding programs throughout the prohibition of marijuana paid little attention to it. But in the last 30 years, some of those breeders stumbled across something important.  Found in certain chemotypes of the hemp plant, were high concentrations of the molecule CBD. The breeders began to recognize that high CBD varietals promoted wellness and produced their own unique medicinal traits independent of any psychoactivity.

Very limited breeding programs ensued until coming full circle into 2019, where the species Cannabis sativa, with chemotypes producing less than 0.3% THC and upwards of 25% CBD are defined as hemp and are being selectively bred and grown legally around the world for a new purpose:  The production of phyto-cannabinoid rich oil containing CBD.


  1.  Original article written by cannabis expert Matt Kleman of Natrapeutics in Bozeman, MT.

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