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The leaves have a peculiar and diagnostic venation pattern that enables persons poorly familiar with the plant to distinguish a cannabis leaf from unrelated species that have confusingly similar leaves (see illustration). Within these two subspecies, Small and Cronquist described C. This taxonomic interpretation was embraced by Cannabis aficionados who commonly distinguish narrow-leafed "sativa" strains from wide-leafed "indica" strains.As is common in serrated leaves, each serration has a central vein extending to its tip. The authors hypothesized that the two subspecies diverged primarily as a result of human selection; C. sativa was presumably selected for traits that enhance fiber or seed production, whereas C. Molecular analytical techniques developed in the late 20th century are being applied to questions of taxonomic classification. de Meijer and coworkers described some of their RAPD studies as showing an "extremely high" degree of genetic polymorphism between and within populations, suggesting a high degree of potential variation for selection, even in heavily selected hemp cultivars. In his doctoral dissertation published the same year, Hillig stated that principal components analysis of phenotypic (morphological) traits failed to differentiate the putative species, but that canonical variates analysis resulted in a high degree of discrimination of the putative species and infraspecific taxa.To satisfy the UN Narcotics Convention, some cannabis strains have been bred to produce minimal levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal psychoactive constituent.Many plants have been selectively bred to produce a maximum of THC (cannabinoids), which is obtained by curing the flowers. as a wild or escaped variety of the high-intoxicant type.

The number of species within the genus is disputed.One widely applied criterion for species recognition is that species are "groups of actually or potentially interbreeding natural populations which are reproductively isolated from other such groups." It remains controversial whether sufficient morphological and genetic divergence occurs within the genus as a result of geographical or ecological isolation to justify recognition of more than one species. However, if a large amount is taken orally the effects may last much longer.Cannabis sativa appears naturally in many tropical and humid parts of the world. After 24 hours to a few days, minuscule psychoactive effects may be felt, depending on dosage, frequency and tolerance to the drug.Lamarck based his description of the newly named species on plant specimens collected in India. In the early 20th century, the single-species concept was still widely accepted, except in the Soviet Union where Cannabis continued to be the subject of active taxonomic study. Janichevsky concluded that ruderal Cannabis in central Russia is either a variety of C. Cannabis for industrial uses is valuable in tens of thousands of commercial products, especially as fibre ranging from paper, cordage, construction material and textiles in general, to clothing. It also is a useful source of foodstuffs (hemp milk, hemp seed, hemp oil) and biofuels.

The name Cannabis indica was listed in various Pharmacopoeias, and was widely used to designate Cannabis suitable for the manufacture of medicinal preparations. Hemp has been used by many civilizations, from China to Europe (and later North America) during the last 12,000 years.) situated in the Turfan district of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China, have revealed the 2700-year-old grave of a shaman.

Cannabis plants produce a unique family of terpeno-phenolic compounds called cannabinoids, some of which produce the "high" which may be experienced from consuming marijuana. Primary psychoactive effects include a state of relaxation, and to a lesser degree, euphoria from its main psychoactive compound, tetrahydrocannabinol.