Study: Marijuana Genetics Often Mislabeled

Strains of cannabis sativa and cannabis indica possess relatively few significant genetic differences and are often mislabeled by breeders, according to an evaluation of marijuana taxonomy published online last week in the journal PLOS ONE.

Investigators from the University of Manitoba, the University of British Columbia, and Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia evaluated the genetic structure of a diverse range of commonly cultivated marijuana and industrial hemp samples.

Researchers reported, “We find a moderate correlation between the genetic structure of marijuana strains and their reported C. sativa and C. indica ancestry and show that marijuana strain names often do not reflect a meaningful genetic identity.” They added, “This observation suggests that C. sativa and C. indica may represent distinguishable pools of genetic diversity, but that breeding has resulted in considerable admixture between the two. … Our results suggest that the reported ancestry of some of the most common marijuana strains only partially captures their true ancestry.”

By contrast, authors determined, “[M]arijuana and hemp are significantly differentiated at a genome-wide level, demonstrating that the distinction between these populations is not limited to genes underlying THC production. … [This] difference between marijuana and hemp plants has considerable legal implications in many countries.”

In the United States, federal law makes no legal distinction between hemp and cannabis.

Authors concluded: “Achieving a practical, accurate and reliable classification system for cannabis, including a variety registration system for marijuana-type plants, will require significant scientific investment and a legal framework that accepts both licit and illicit forms of this plant. Such a system is essential in order to realize the enormous potential of Cannabis as a multi-use crop (hemp) and as a medicinal plant (marijuana).”

Full text of the study, “The genetic structure of marijuana and hemp,” appears online here.

12 thoughts

  1. So we’ve been paying hundreds of dollars for a pack of ten seeds when we might as well just pop some bag seed? I knew it!

  2. Thank you Paul, for this important cannabis education.

    If you youtube “cannabis speciation” you’ll get a few nut jobs that insist against all the rules of taxonomy that sativa and indica are different species.

    The classic taxonomical definition for speciation is;
    “When a population develops enough mutations in its genome, number of chromosomes and genetic make-up either by geographic isolation or selective breeding that it can no longer produce fertile offspring with the parent population.”

    In other words, if a male indica plant can pollenate a female sativa strain and the resulting seedling can grow to pollenate or seed new fertile seeds than they are the same species.

    The comparison in the animal kingdom I frequently use is the difference between a chihuahua and a german shepherd to compare different strains of cannabis.

    To create a true hybrid that cannot produce fertile offspring, a good animal example is the horse and mule that create a mule or jenning. The mule cannot in turn produce more mules. (Incidentally, a mule is produced if the father was a donkey, and a jenning if the father was a horse).

    Most of our recreational and medicinal marijuana comes from a process called cloning, much like grafting, but the cuttings from a single productive mother plant are stuck into special material that holds moisture until a new “clone” plant is developed. This is not hybridization, unless the plant cannot reproduce or if female, the seeds are sterile.

    In nature there are always exceptions to the rule. But this is a fairly clear guideline to define strains, hybrids and speciation.

    Cannabis speciated from the mulberry family at least 2 million years ago through the Himalayan valley. Our ancestors, homo sapiens, speciated from homo erectus while inhabiting the Himalayan valley and abroad, about 1.8 million years ago, leaving cannabis playing a crucial role in the evolution of the human mind, self-awareness and endocannabinoid development. It can be argued from this point that homo sapiens and cannabis developed a symbiotic relationship, judging from the complex similarity and chemical synergy between our two species.

  3. So is this “variety registration system”,the first step eventually leading to Patents and possible Copyright claims? Good luck with that!,because within any variety or Genotype, there are what they call- Phenotypes.It would be like the variation in a family where one child has features that resemble the mother more,while another child has features that resemble the father or the grandparents.And actually those variations are what makes it fun and interesting,and leads to new discoveries.

    Maybe you could patent an individual plant and its clones for a homogenized product,but beyond that,it seems ridiculous.And besides, most of the modern strains from seed banks, are all close incestous- cousins anyways,they usually have Northern Lights or Skunk#1 in their ancestry. And just think,this all started with some hippies playing around and experimenting with their bag seeds from imported landrace strains under clandestine conditions,and in a few decades look what it has turned into.

    Maybe when cannabis becomes fully legal …NORML can turn their attention to becoming Copyright and Patent Attorneys for seed and cannabis manufacturing companies.

    Ha,ha, thats a joke,but you never know.

    [Editor’s note: Post cannabis prohibition NORML will be in a good position to fulfill one of the original visions from the organization’s founder Keith Stroup, which is that NORML function as a non-profit organization similar to Consumer Reports (Stroup is an original ‘Nader Raider’ attorney, who helped create ‘public interest law’ in America).

    Like CR, NORML will have many members, take no corporate advertising or support, test and report to its members (and society) honestly on cannabis and cannabis-related paraphernalia and products such that sellers of cannabis will not be able to purposefully, or not, misrepresent to the consumer what type of cannabis they’re purchasing.

    This would seem a prime role for a consumer-oriented non-profit like NORML as government agencies are not going to trumpet this kind of consumer advocacy and industry can’t logically be trusted to do so.]

  4. Clarification; A female horse and male (donkey)create a mule.

    We know while Sativa spread east and then west, Indica spread south of the Himalayas into India, eventually spreading west by land and sea a few thousand years ago through trade routes to the red sea, from present day Mombasa, Africa, up the Nile and finally into Europe through Egyptian hashish and incense. There are many references in the bible about the essential oils in fragrant incense. Around biblical times, B.C. and A.D. Sativa was already common, especially in the form of hemp, as psychoactive varieties at the time would have been very mild compared to what we are cultivating today.

    What I would like to see this study do is help identify and protect heirloom seeds so we don’t see a strain of terminator seed, where by companies like Monsantos can claim a genetically engineered strain they cooked up is somehow patentable. What interests me is Im sure they’ve tried, but the chemical versatility of this single species, cannabis, makes such genetic manipulations virtually unpatentable, and by current successful cultivation standards by cloning, obsolete.

    The beauty of the cannabis plant is that it is too effective in its complex synergy to patent pharmaceutically into single, ineffective molecules (or sometimes harmful when synthesized).
    We could place the U.S. Patent 6630507 on cannabinoids open source, but either way it doesn’t affect the growing market for whole plant cannabis as much as its supply, prohibition or legally regulated tax revenue any more than the money GW Pharmaceuticals has dumped into patenting cannabis extracts. Perhaps to avoid lawsuits in the future, we will have to make the synergy of cannabis open source, as patenting such combinations of chemicals falls on a slippery slope of patenting an entire plant, or an endocannabinoid system, or when we consider the ancient symbiotic relationship between cannabis and humans, we are talking about indirectly patenting human beings.

    For now, despite continued prohibition at the Federal level that fails to distinguish any genetic difference between hemp and marijuana, despite they are the same species, despite their vast chemical difference in utility, it would appear that we have fully entered a Golden Age of Cannabis enlightenment, with innovations in medicine, engineering, fuel and sustainable agriculture still to come. The spirit of the herb is awakening during the information age, and we are all either passengers or participants in perhaps the greatest agricultural revolution the world has ever seen.

  5. And yes, you very well may be paying for ten seeds you could’ve dug out of a bag…all joking aside, the explosion of names is partially due to the fact everyone wants to differentiate themselves, it drives me crazy, if you’re going to sell say “Jack Herer” it should be just that, I smoked real Jack Herer a month ago, have bought plenty of what was called JH in between the last time I actually smoked it (The real thing) about ten years ago. People are just frigging making up names. You have to go to a reputable seed dealer in order to actually have a chance of getting what you ordered, and the reality is you’re probably getting some side pheno of the strain if you’re lucky. But in many cases people in the industry are relying on the “clones they know” vs the seed they don’t. Or even more creative people are just naming stuff anything XXXXXX OG…I could go on and on…where I am visiting right now I would guess California dispensary would accept maybe 5% of the product in the medical market as #pharmagrade, the rest is just plant, pull, dry, sell, and would be considered B grade Cali, but they don’t want to hear that hear, they are more interested in “just cut everything at 8 weeks, dry it and sell it” regardless of strain differentiation…money vs purists (or those of us that believe if you are going to offer something as a medication, it better be the best you can get from each strain) That is not the case in most places pushing “medical”. Unlike California, the state I’m in now allows Butane Extraction, great lets allow adding heavy metals to medicine…on a ramble, forgive me, I’ve got to go find some “Green Monkey Northern Rambler SnowCap Beaver Crack Pre-98 OG”

  6. Very well said Julian. It’s at a stage that at some point, and YES it has already begun, companies are attempting to patent partial genetic strands of strains in order to patent troll them in the future. but the volatility of hybrids that can come from a single strain of genetics is so varied it’s going to be quite an interesting patenting process.

  7. “In other words, if a male indica plant can pollenate a female sativa strain and the resulting seedling can grow to pollenate or seed new fertile seeds than they are the same species.”

    This assumption is flat out wrong. Man, education in this country is hurting! Species which can interbreed create what are called hybrids. When species don’t quite mesh 100%, the hybrids are not fertile, but when they are near 100% inter-fertile the hybrids are perfectly capable of making seeds in continuous generations.

    Horse and mule hybrids are literally just one example of hybrids and no “rules” about hybrids should be thought to exist because it is true for that one example. This is literally the same kind of logical mistake that people do which links rapes to marijuana usage when no such link exists. Too many logical dis-connections along the way then being used as a rule or yard stick (on which the numbers don’t go in the right order) for interpreting a different situation.

    There are barriers between different species of plants including the timing of flowering. Some flowers only open for a short time during the day. One species’ flowers might open in the morning close by noon and a different species open in the afternoon–the same bees visit both species, but since the flowers open at different times, they same separate for the most part. This kind of barrier is porous and it sometimes fails, resulting in hybrids that flower at noon, however, the fitness of the hybrids is lower, they make too large leaves and too small roots and don’t make much in the way of flowers–the local ecology supports the species and their behavior, but often times the hybrids are less fit than the parents even when the genetic match 100%. This is a rather complicated subject with many different kinds of hybrids currently extant.

    It would be nice to know the real history of Marijuana Genetics. Right now, I believe hemp is pretty much just C. sativa, while marijuana is generally all hybrids between to the two species or subspecies In plants there isn’t much of a difference between species and subspecies, so stop assuming that there is! Animals tend to be more black and white with regards to their genetic relationships. Everything about plant genetics is on a grey scale, nothing is in black and white.

  8. @Rare420_rx
    I agree the strain names are better left to purists… perhaps a role for NORML?
    (Although… you had me at “Green Monkey…”)

    I just want the science to be right. We need a marijuana vocabulary concerning hybridization, speciation and cloning, so we can place value on our precious heirloom seeds and make sure they are open source protected for future generations.

    Marijuana consumers need to understand that when they get some legally purchased seedless marijuana, this is probably not some seedless watermelon genetically engineered variety; some one WORKED to remove those seeds for market and replanting. And as you well point out with the changing chemical entourage of Jack Herrer,(something I myself have experienced recently, as I enjoyed the real strain while it was still around…) cultivators and vendors are not respecting the heritage of the label.

    It’s like when I went to the grocery store to purchase “American Kobe” steak. My local grocery store didn’t even bother to look up that “Kobe” is a region in Japan, and the cow from which they claim the beef comes from is a Wagyu, (“which literally means “Japanese cow.”) All they know is the name “Kobe” sells. They may claim they have an “American Wagyu,” but “American Kobe”? That’s a stretch.
    I suspect we are going to have to get back to our regional geographic roots with strains of cannabis, as the cross-cultivation of strains happen faster than scientists or purists can taxonomically label them. NORML, do we need to put a professional Cannabis-taxonomist on the payroll? I’ll donate to the cause…

  9. @Dave Evans,

    The word “hybrid” is used and abused by breeders and cultivators far from its original scientific meaning. And thanks to our need to communicate without sounding like were speaking latin, this abuse is perfectly acceptable… (Until you wish to get scientific).
    In my opinion, Indica and Sativa are subspecies of the same species of cannabis, but plants have such a greater ability than animals in producing fertile hybrids, and such a broad chemical genetic make up (they have to in order to get us to be their “feet” and reproduce for them) that we classify .cannabis as a “genus” while sativa, ruderalis and indica are indeed classified as separate species. Although clearly, they can produce fertile seedlings.

    As a result of being from the same genus, Crossing Indica, Ruderalis and Sativas creates “INTER-specific” hybrids, even though they can produce fertile offspring. Not to be confused with INTRA-soecific hybrids from the same species, or other INTER-specific hybrids, such as mules or hinnies, which are sterile and cannot produce fertile offspring (because they contain 63 chromosomes while horses have 64 and donkeys 62). But since that takes too long to say, people just call them “hybrids.” I know, it’s ambiguous and confusing. Tell it to a taxonomist. Essentially, the word “hybrid” by itself could mean a cross between anything, as the latin etymology of the word referred to crossing domestic pigs with boars to create feral hogs just as easily as the Romans used the word to mean a cross between a free citizen and a slave. So go figure.

    Where I could have been more specific when describing hybrids that “can no longer breed fertile offspring with the parent population,” is by defining it as “autoployploid” or “allopolyploid” hybrids. You are most correct that there are plenty of fertile “hybrid” plants, but I think you can see how the definitions of various forms of hybridization get… well… Hybridized.

    Here are some links to help explain the basic science around hybridization and speciation;

    “Parapatric speciation may be associated with differential landscape-dependent selection. Even if there is a gene flow between two populations, strong differential selection may impede assimilation and different species may eventually develop.[10] Habitat differences may be more important in the development of REPRODUCTIVE ISOLATION than the isolation time. Caucasian rock lizards Darevskia rudis, D. valentini and D. portschinskii all hybridize with each other in their hybrid zone; however, hybridization is stronger between D. portschinskii and D. rudis, which separated earlier but live in similar habitats than between D. valentini and two other species, which separated later but live in climatically different habitats.”

    As for the scientific definition of “hybrid” we may be speaking two different languages between general layman’s terms of the word hybrid and what is considered a true genetic hybrid.

    In general, people use the word hybrid to describe any crossbreed between “two genetically distinct species,” whereas a “genetic hybrid” by definition, ” carries two different alleles of the same gene,”

    HYBRID: “…a species of organism must possess
    Offspring resulting from the interbreeding between two animal species or plant species.[3] See also hybrid speciation.
    Hybrids between different subspecies within a species (such as between the Bengal tiger and Siberian tiger) are known as intra-specific hybrids. Hybrids between different species within the same genus (such as between lions and tigers or indica and sativa) are sometimes known as interspecific hybrids or crosses. Hybrids between different genera (such as between sheep and goats) are known as intergeneric hybrids. Extremely rare interfamilial hybrids have been known to occur (such as the guineafowl hybrids).[4] No interordinal (between different orders) animal hybrids are known.
    The third type of hybrid consists of crosses between populations, breeds or cultivars within a single species. This meaning is often used in plant and animal breeding, where hybrids are commonly produced and selected, because they have desirable characteristics not found or inconsistently present in the parent individuals or populations.”

    Just as a sidenote for all you growers…

    Hybrid vigor
    “When crossing two strains of cannabis (or two of any plant), the resultant hybrid may possess what is called hybrid vigor. In general, this produces a plant that is healthier, stronger, or quicker growing than its predecessors. Sometimes, in the case of a plant that has been brought back from fruiting (fruition, as mentioned above), it may be beneficial to cross it back with another (close) relative, in the hopes that it becomes invigorated.”

    Caution should be exercised, as one does not always attain a beneficial cross with hybridizing.”

  10. Julian, it was nature which divided Cannabis into different species. It is people who have hybridized it into something different. Hybrids are placed, taxonomically, at the same level as species. In fact, C. sativa x C. indica is itself a different species which can be given a separate name, like “Cannabis x newspeciesname” you include the x so people know its a hybrid or nothotaxa.

    Since naming the hybrid requires a sample of it, naming it is “considered” a crime by witch hunting retards that don’t care about knowledge. No one learns anything and nothing moves forward, just like how it is in the Middle East. American Taliban really suck, can we get them an island?

    Did you read about the five year old given a gun as a birthday present who then shot and killed his two year old sister? The Idiot Police don’t even consider it child endangerment–I guess they didn’t find any marijuana in the house. You know, by the actions taken it appears guns aren’t dangerous it is marijuana that is though!

    Just ponder how utterly fucking stupid we are as a people. “I just want to teach my kids responsibility by” ‘showing them how to be irresponsible with a gun’. Exactly the same amount of logic it takes to arrest people for a “dangerous substance” that is nontoxic and has never killed anyone. Fucking Brain Dead.

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