Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

The cannabis crop

Cannabis is one of humanity's oldest cultivated crops. But despite its long history and many uses, hard facts on its evolution and impact on the human body are in short supply. By Julie Gould.

WHAT IS WEED?

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is responsible for the mental high that can result from using cannabis. But there are many other cannabinoids and chemicals found in the plant, the roles of which are as yet unknown.

THE RESEARCH LANDSCAPE

The legal status of cannabis worldwide is in flux. One country and several US states have made herbal cannabis fully legal. Four countries have formal federal research programmes. Elsewhere, many countries have special exemptions for prescribed medical cannabis; others have decriminalized possession (not shown). Outside Europe and North America, however, severe punishments for even minor offences are common.

PHYSIOLOGICAL PROCESSES

The body’s endocannabinoid system was discovered in 1988 as a result of THC research. So far, only two receptors have been studied in detail, although more have been found. Despite what the name suggests, there is not an exclusive relationship between cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system: phytocannabinoids target a range of receptors.

Credit: Antonio Romero/SPL
Credit: CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: ANTONIO ROMERO/SPL; Creative Commons; Dave Long/Getty Images; D-Kuru/Wikimedia Commons

References

  1. Pertwee, R. G. (ed) The Handbook of Cannabis (Oxford Univ. Press, 2014)

    Book  Google Scholar 

  2. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. World Drug Report 2014 (UN, 2014)

  3. Johnson, R. Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity (Congressional Research Service, 2015)

    Google Scholar 

  4. The Economist

  5. Whiting, P. F. J. Am. Med. Assoc. 313, 2456–2473 (2015)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Brown, T. T. et al. J. Clin. Pharmacol. 42, 90S–96S (2002)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Authors

Related links

Related links

Related links in Nature Research

The cannabis experiment

Release the strains

Cannabis, the mind and society: the hash realities

Early phytocannabinoid chemistry to endocannabinoids and beyond

Smoked Medicinal Cannabis for Neuropathic Pain in HIV: A Randomized, Crossover Clinical Trial

Marijuana researchers reach for pot of gold

Natural High

Marijuana measures among those voted on in the US elections

Prejudice versus evidence on cannabis

Related external links

Could cannabis be legalized in the UK?

Legal status of cannabis in the USA

Cannabis strain confusion

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Gould, J. The cannabis crop. Nature 525, S2–S3 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/525S2a

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/525S2a

Further reading

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing