Cannabis History & Taxonomic Classification

In the 1700’s, people began to question that the church had all of the answers for the phenomenons of the natural world. This time period is often described as the ‘Age of Enlightenment’. Philosophers and pioneers of this age would go on to create the scientific method and other schools of thought that would eventually lay the foundation for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution proposed in the mid 1800’s. Carl Linnaeus was one of the great minds of the Age of Enlightenment. He is deemed the father of modern taxonomy as he created the taxonomic classification system we use today. He saw the need to group organisms based on shared characteristics so that we could better understand the world around us.

Linnaeus was the man to originally classify hemp with the genus Cannabis and the species sativa. In 1753, he identified a single species of hemp, Cannabis sativa and noted its morphological characteristics - grows tall and skinny, has loose female flowers and has a narrow palmate leaf structure. In his description of the species, Linnaeus never mentioned the plant’s purported effects once consumed.  

In 1785, a man by the name of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck traveled to India where he came across a cannabis plant. This cannabis plant, however, did not look like Linnaeus’ original classification. It instead grew short and squat, had dense, compact female flowers and had a broad palmate leaf structure. Due to the distinct morphological differences, Lamarck saw between this plant and the Cannabis sativa species, Lamarck proposed two separate species of cannabis. Since Lamarck was in India when he came across this plant, he decided to name this new species, Cannabis indica. Lamarck made no mention of the indica species effects when consumed. There are no accounts of either Carl Linnaeus or Jean-Baptiste Lamarck smoking this plant and recording it's medicinal or psychological effects.