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Medical Marijuana

The Famous Marijuana Leaf, Explained

The marijuana leaf has been a pop culture symbol for decades. Today, you can find the pointed leaf on so many things: bumper stickers, posters, t-shirts, socks, mugs – you name it. But did you know that this famous leaf isn’t actually what is used when smoking marijuana or manufacturing marijuana products?

Here, we break down the famous marijuana leaf…

First, the iconic marijuana leaf is not “marijuana.” Let me explain. Appropriately called a “fan leaf,” as its many points can stretch out to over eight inches in diameter, it belongs to the cannabis plant family, and can be found on many different varieties of cannabis plants. The large leaves offer an advantage for the plants by creating more surface area to collect sunlight for the plant energy-making process known as photosynthesis. But while these leaves are the plant’s largest source of energy, they are very low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical compound responsible for a marijuana “high.” Therefore, cannabis fan leaves are rarely smoked or used to produce marijuana products.

The highest THC concentrations in the cannabis plant are found in the flowers, which grow towards the top of the female cannabis plant.

These flowers are more tightly-packed than the sprawling fan leaves, and have a fuzzy appearance due to small resin glands on the flower surface. Flowers are the most commonly used part of the marijuana plant for smoking and production of marijuana products like edibles. Within the flower are cannabis seeds, which are not used for smoking but can be processed to produce THC oil, a popular ingredient in marijuana edibles.

Cannabis plants are not just for marijuana production. Marijuana is actually just a slang term to describe strains of cannabis specifically bred for their psychoactive properties. Other non-psychoactive varieties of cannabis plants can be used to make pretty much any product you can imagine. Shoes, drywall, automobile fuel, beauty products, diapers, and paper are only a few of the over 50,000 known uses for “hemp,” or strains of cannabis plants that have been bred specifically for their fibers.

These plants have little to no THC content, but pack quite the physical and nutritional punch.

Hemp seeds are rich in “good” fats such as omega-3s, and are shown to fight skin diseases, promote healthy hair and nails, and stop the growth of cancerous cells.

Hemp seeds can be sprinkled on a salad, ground into a flour for baking recipes, or processed to make hemp milk, a popular, nut-free alternative to other non-dairy milks such as almond milk.

Hemp fibers can be woven to create a fabric that is stronger than cotton, making hemp an excellent option for durable clothing, textiles, ropes, and shoes. For centuries, hemp was one of the most popular textiles for the creation of ship sails and artists’ canvases.

In fact, it’s likely that Columbus sailed to the Americas using hemp sails and hemp ropes, and that many of the classic paintings of Europe in the 17th century—such as those by Rembrandt—were painted on hemp canvas. Surprisingly enough, hemp used to be a major staple crop of American agriculture.

In the mid 19th century, Kentucky was the leading the U.S. hemp production industry, churning out 40,000 tons of hemp each year.

So, what happened?

In 1938, the U.S. passed a law that made the production of cannabis illegal, as an effort to curtail the use of marijuana. Since marijuana and hemp ultimately come from the same plant, cannabis, and farmers were no longer allowed to cultivate cannabis plants of any kind for any purpose, both hemp and marijuana were made illegal. As such, hemp fell out of popular use.

Because of the variety of uses for the cannabis plant family, some believe that cannabis plants are one of the most sustainable crops available for cultivation, promising climate-friendly solutions to other more toxic modern materials such as rubber and metals. However, the legislation against growing cannabis combined with the public perception of cannabis as a drug has slowed the growth of it as a major industrial crop. With the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana, it is quite possible that the stigmatization of the non-THC cannabis varieties could decrease, and hemp could once again become a viable production crop. Maybe then the truth would be out about the true complexity behind that iconic marijuana leaf.


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