The Science Behind Cannabis: The Origins

August 12, 2019 | Custom Cannabis

In part one of “The Science Behind Cannabis” series, we examined the plant structure. In part two, we trace the roots of the main cannabis species and discover what makes them unique.

The Origin Story

Cannabis has a rich history dating back hundreds of years. Most of it originates from two species – sativa and indica. In recent years, a third subspecies called ruderalis has gained prominence, especially in the breeding process.


As cannabis gains more acceptance in mainstream society, the names of the species are becoming part of the vernacular. In fact, there were 14 baby girls christened ‘Sativa’ in the U.S. in 2014. We’re not sure how big these kids will get, but their namesake plant is capable of reaching heights of 20 feet. Naturally growing sativa plants are found mostly in warmer climates located near the equator and take advantage of consistent daylight hours for higher yields. Once the plant flowers, it can take between 10 and 16 weeks to fully mature.

The different species are also identifiable by their physical appearance. Sativa plants are recognizable by their long, spindly leaves. The buds are long and wispy and have red or orange colouring. This species tends to contain higher amounts of THC, and relatively low levels of CBD.

With all of the discussion surrounding industrial hemp, many people are unaware that it is actually a strain of sativa. Even though it comes from the same species, hemp serves a very different function. Hemp provides eco-friendly alternatives in the manufacturing sector, including paper, plastic, construction materials, food and fuel, while traditional sativa is normally reserved for medicinal and recreational use.


Even more popular than ‘Sativa’ for baby girl names in 2014 was ‘Indica.’ Twenty-six birth certificates were issued with that unique name – another testament to the public’s growing familiarity with cannabis species. Indica is Latin for ‘of India’ and refers to the Indian peninsula (India, Pakistan and Afghanistan) where it was discovered.

Indica plants are smaller and have broader, dark green leaves that soak in more sunlight during the day. The buds tend to be dense and exhibit a purple colouring. Because of the temperature fluctuations and shorter growing seasons associated with the region, the plants typically don’t grow as high as sativa, often maxing out at six feet. Flowering normally occurs between eight and 12 weeks. Indica’s cannabinoid profile tends to show a more balanced mix, with moderate THC levels and higher levels of CBD when compared to sativa.


In 1930, Russian botanist Dmitrij Janischewsky identified cannabis ruderalis as the third subspecies. He most likely found it growing naturally in the fields outside of his laboratory. Amazingly, this subspecies adapted to the harsh weather conditions of Russia and neighboring China.

What makes ruderalis unique is its fast flowering cycle that starts from birth, making its genetics well suited for northern climates. Growers recently recognized its potential to create new hybrid varieties. It is also a popular choice for indoor home growers who can take advantage of the shorter growth cycle.

Like indica, ruderalis is short and stocky and reaches between one to 2.5 feet at the end of its growth cycle. Its leaves are wide and display a light green colouring, while the buds are small and chunky. Ruderalis tends to have low levels of THC mixed with higher levels of CBD, and is becoming more popular with medical cannabis growers.

Laying down roots

At Custom Cannabis, we’re bringing together the best of all worlds. Sativa plants native to areas like Colombia and Mexico. Indica plants that originated in countries like India and Pakistan. All coming together under one roof for one common goal – to deliver high quality medical cannabis to patients.

Be sure to check out the next chapter in the “The Science Behind Cannabis” series when we take a closer look at the various cannabis strains. Flowering soon.