Cannabis plants produce a unique family of terpeno-phenolic compounds called cannabinoids, which produce the "high" one experiences from consuming marijuana. There are 483 identifiable chemical constituents known to exist in the cannabis plant, and at least 85 different cannabinoids have been isolated from the plant.

The two cannabinoids usually produced in greatest abundance are cannabidiol (CBD) and/or Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), but only THC is psychoactive. Since the early 1970s, Cannabis plants have been categorized by their chemical phenotype or "chemotype," based on the overall amount of THC produced, and on the ratio of THC to CBD.

Although overall cannabinoid production is influenced by environmental factors, the THC/CBD ratio is genetically determined and remains fixed throughout the life of a plant. Non-drug plants produce relatively low levels of THC and high levels of CBD, while drug plants produce high levels of THC and low levels of CBD.

When plants of these two chemotypes cross-pollinate, the plants in the first filial (F1) generation have an intermediate chemotype and produce similar amounts of CBD and THC. Female plants of this chemotype may produce enough THC to be utilized for drug production.

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