Plants & Human Affairs
Cherries.wmf (7140 bytes) Plants & Human Affairs (BIOL106)  -  Stephen G. Saupe, Ph.D.; Biology Department, College of St. Benedict/St. John's University, Collegeville, MN 56321;;

Botany of Desire:  Hemp

 Natural History

  1. What is the difference between marijuana and hemp?
  2. What is sensimilla?
  3. What is the active ingredient in marijuana?  Where is it produced on the plant?  What is its presumed function in the plant?
  4. Are marijuana flowers bisexual or unisexual?  Are marijuana plants hermaphroditic, monoecious or dioecious?
  5. Write the scientific name for the two species of Cannabis.
  6. Compare and contrast the two species in terms of: frost tolerance, flowering ability, appearance, drug content.
  7. These two species presumably evolved from a common ancestor?  To what conditions did they adapt?
  8. What is photoperiodism? 
  9. It has been suggested that the first plants domesticated by humans were multi-purpose crops.  Not surprisingly, Cannabis may have been domesticated early.  Identify at least three products from cannabis. What is the active ingredient in marijuana?  When was it identified?

Marijuana as a Drug

  1. Breeders have prepared hybrids of marijuana in hopes of combing the best traits of both species.  Which and were they successful?
  2. Has smoking always been the main way to ingest marijuana?
  3. Marijuana has experienced artificial selection for drug content.  How was this done?
  4. What is paraquat?  In what way did it foster indoor marijuana culture?
  5. Why are male plants discouraged?
  6. What is the advantage of starting marijuana plants from cuttings?
  7. A receptor for marijuana was discovered in the nervous system in 1988.  What is the normal chemical that activates this receptor? 
  8. What is the presumed function of our natural cannabinoid?

Desire for Intoxication

  1. Sweet is good, bitter is bad.  Why is this generally true?  What is the scientific basis for this statement?
  2. Pollan argues that plants that produce strong toxins that kill are evolutionary less successful than those that are less toxic.  Explain.
  3. Animals have presumably helped humans identify psychoactive plants.  Match the plant with the animal that may have alerted humans to its activity:  Plants:  coffee, marijuana, quinine (Cinchona).  Animals:  goat; pigeons; puma.
  4. What is a pheromone?
  5. Why does catnip cause cats to �go wild?�
  6. What are the four human �desires� to which Pollan�s book is addressed?  Identify the plants associated with each.
  7. Do you agree with Pollan�s conclusion that �the desire to alter one�s experience of consciousness may be universal?�  What is his evidence?
  8. Why might humans have this desire?  Is it an evolutionary adaptation or simply an evolutionary �accident?� (remember the article, Freudian Slip?)
  9. What are potential advantages of �fiddling with one�s brain chemistry?�
  10. What does it means to �be high?�  What does Andrew Weil means that marijuana is an �active placebo?�
  11. Why is forgetting �one of the more important things healthy brains do?�

Religion & Taboo�s

  1. In what way do �the Old Testament and the criminal code both make a connection between forbidden plants and knowledge?�
  2. For each of the following plants, identify the culture in which they have been used as a ritualistic hallucinogen:  grape, peyote cactus, ergot fungus, fly mushroom (Amanita muscaria), marijuana/hashish
  3. What is an entheogen?
  4. What are the Eleusinian mysteries?
  5. What does Pollan mean that plant toxins are a �kind of cultural mutagen?�
  6. Pollan argues that marijuana has resulted in �a substantial increase in the power of government at the expense of the Bill of Rights��and that �Americans are demonstrably less free today.�  What is his evidence for this claim?  What does he suggest caused this change?
  7. Pollan suggests that historically there are two reasons that marijuana is �taboo.�  What are they?
  8. Describe the origin of the word, �Assassin.�


  1. Pollan argues that the purpose of gardens has changed over time, and that gardens have become bowdlerized in recent years.  How have gardens changed and what does he mean?  Why might these changes have occurred?
  2. Do you agree that gardeners are motivated by a desire to be a �small-time alchemist� and for �independence.�



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Last updated:  04/29/2005 � Copyright  by SG Saupe