Cannabis Ruderalis: That Weird Third Kind Of Weed

by Kevin

So, this much you probably know: Cannabis comes in two varieties – indica and sativa. Indica strains generally provide calmer, more relaxing highs, and sativa highs are more cerebral and energetic. Indica will lock you to the couch and sativa will annoy your friends as it makes you more chatty. Simple, right?

But then there’s Cannabis Ruderalis. Ruderalis is… kind of a third thing? It’s a separate type of cannabis, which can’t really be compared to the other two. In fact, its very existence sheds doubt onto the reliability of classifying pot at all; botanists disagree on whether these three types of cannabis are indeed distinct and separate species. Indeed, speciation generally is a designation for separating two separate animals or plants (or what-have-you) based on their inability to produce offspring. And if sativa and indica couldn’t produce offspring, how do we get hybrids? It’s an interesting debate with good takes on all sides. 

But the anti-speciation side might bolster their arguments by mentioning where C. Ruderalis gets its name: Ruderal describes plants that occur naturally, outside of a controlled agricultural environment. C. Ruderalis is wild cannabis. Feral cannabis. You know: Ditchweed. 

What is it? So yeah, it’s basically wild weed. Like dandelions that get you high. It’s a variety of cannabis that some argue is genetically separate from normal C. Sativa, a feral version of cannabis that has existed in the wild for so long that it’s become, at the very least, substantially different from typical weed. Also, it looks very different from either sativa or indica strains. You could practically be forgiven by walking right past it and not knowing it was cannabis.

Where does it come from? It’s an old plant. Botanical researchers have suggested it originated thousands of years ago! Geographically, it comes from Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, and Russia. It still grows wild in some of these areas, especially Russia. It’s traditionally used in Russian and Mongolian folk medicine – especially for depression. 

We used to have ditchweed here in the United States as well. In 1914, the US Department of Agriculture said that wild hemp was abundant in the midwest, specifically Iowa, Missouri and southern Minnesota. But most of our ditchweed descended from industrial hemp, which for many years was one of the most important crops in the country. Pot prohibition changed a lot of that. 

Is it, like… any good? Well, it isn’t bad. But it’s not what you’d call high quality product; there’s a reason they call it “ditchweed” and not “magical amazing weed that grows everywhere for free.” Most strains of C. ruderalis are high in CBD, which is great, but low in THC, which is less great if you’re looking to get high. It’s probably the least popular type of weed for recreational use.

What’s more, don’t expect that you can permanently replace your entire stash by harvesting wild weed for free. You’d have to fly to Russia to get it, who knows what kind of trouble you’d have getting it back to the States, and all for… what, exactly? A weak strain whose THC content is negligible and whose CBD content is about the same as something you can buy over the counter at a mall kiosk? Nah. Save your money for a nicer bong. (And don’t bother with the American ditchweed, which is even lower in THC than the stuff you’d find in Russia.)

Why do growers like it? In recent years a lot of growers have begun experimenting with wild strains of pot – possibly inspired by brewers, who for the past decade or so have been fermenting their beers with wild yeasts. But while brewers use wild yeast to impart unique and bold flavors to their beers, pot mavens have adopted C. ruderalis for one of its more utilitarian properties.

Like a lot of the botanical matters surrounding pot cultivation, it’s a bit confusing. But cannabis plants typically flower based on light cycle – meaning the flowers that appear on the plant (and remember the flowers are the smokeable part) appear in sync with the amount of light that’s shed on the plant. This means growers must always be aware of how much light their plants are receiving. It’s not a challenge for experienced growers, but it does add an extra level of work to the growing and harvesting processes. 

Ruderalis, on the other hand, transitions from the nonflowering state to the flowering state with age. Just like your hair turns gray with a certain age, C. ruderalis begins flowering when it reaches a certain age; ruderalis plants generally begin to flower about 3-4 weeks after they sprout. It’s likely this happened because C. ruderalis developed so far north of the equator, where light cycles can be unpredictable. But its auto-flowering property makes it a lot more predictable for growers, and eliminates a lot of the margin of error in the growing process.

This means growers can cross C. ruderalis with sativa or indica strains and theoretically come up with a normal strain of weed that can support multiple harvests in one growing season without the constant need for fiddling with lights and timers. 

As you might suspect, though, cultivators are still in the early stages of managing this transition, so what they’ve wound up with is a bunch of strains that are easy to harvest but barely have any THC. This is fine, though – high-CBD strains are in high demand, and useful for those who want to solve pain or anxiety problems discreetly. It’s actually been crossed with a big pharma strain called Bedrocan, to produce a separate strain called Bediol – this is used primarily for patients with medical prescriptions for cannabis.

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