I don’t know about you, but this year has been a wild ride. So naturally, I have found myself not only enjoying some good local brews, but also some homegrown with all my newfound spare time. Cannabis and alcohol sales have gone through the roof over the last few months during the pandemic, and many are just starting to dive into the world of cannabis – or so they may think.
Ever been on a tour through a brewery and seen the hops that create different beers? Does the smell even seem familiar? Or the way the hops appear uncannily similar to another infamous plant? That’s because the hops used to make your beer are close cousins to cannabis. Turns out the two are best buds! Get it?
Anyways, both hops and cannabis are a part of the same family. About 27.8 million years ago, hops and cannabis diverged from a common ancestor. Then, about 1.5 million years ago, Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica diverged. In 2002 scientists from the UK and the US compared a few different regions of DNA from both plants and determined they are very closely related and belonged in one family, Cannabaceae. While Humulus Lupus (Hops) and Cannabis sativa and indica (cannabis) are separate species, they are quite similar botanically and chemically speaking.
When we talk botany in relation to these plants here, we are talking about their structure. Both plants are palmately lobed, so they look like a hand. They have a central palm and lobes that shoot off that palm with their own veins. Hops and cannabis also have stipules, which are outgrowth that occurs on either side of the base of a leaf. Sometimes you will see them on one side of the base. Cystolithes, which are calcium carbonate crystals housed in specialized surface plant cells are also present.
Both plants are also dioecious, meaning they have male and female organs in individual plants. Another similarity is the achenes, small dry one seeded fruit that do not open in order to release the seed. They also have alternate and opposite leaf arrangement. Cannabis seeds and pollen also look very similar to the seeds and pollen of hops. Those similarities have made it difficult to tell the difference when looking at fossilized pieces of both plants.
Now that we know a little bit of the shared physical history, lets investigate their shared internal chemistry. Terpenes are a large group of unsaturated hydrocarbons found in essential oils in plants. They help to repel herbivores, attract pollinators, and protect against pathogens. Terpenes are found across the kingdom plantae, but some of them are found only in certain families such as Cannabaceae. The flavor and scent in hops and cannabis are produced mainly by terpenes. Those terpenes start with a base molecule called isoprene. If you want to know more about terpenes you can read up on that here, but for now it’s important to know that terpenes are built up on one or more molecules of isoprene. An example of a terpene found in both hops and bud is pinene, which gives off the smell of pine trees. Some other terpenes the two plants have in common include myrcene, alpha-humulene, and beta-pinene.
Its crazy to think that we have been enjoying these plants in different ways, and yet they have always been so similar. Next time you are out touring a brewery, enjoying some of that sweet-smelling double IPA they are making, you may just be able to outsmart your tour guide. Or, you can make a cool piece of trivia for your next smoke sesh. Whether you prefer your beer or bud, we got some cool best buds to enjoy in our happy hours.