Get Involved
About Us
Our Members

Cannabis: A Complete Guide


Cannabis: A Complete Guide by Ernest Small. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2017. Hardcover, 567 pages. ISBN: 9781498761635. $119.95.

Cannabis (Cannabis spp., Cannabaceae) possesses considerable utility that extends far beyond its notoriety as an intoxicant. As a source of food, fiber, oil, and medicine, cannabis is a truly multipurpose plant. With scientific and clinical research considerably expanding our knowledge of this plant over the last few decades, an accessible survey of cannabis seems a necessity.

This book provides a comprehensive overview of cannabis and covers, in great detail, nearly every aspect of cannabis, including its applications and role in society. The author, Ernest Small, PhD, is a highly respected and widely published plant scientist with decades of experience studying and publishing about cannabis in his role as a senior scientist in the Research Branch of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. His writing in this work is clear, evocative, and witty, and is accompanied by a profusion of photographs and illustrations, with even the occasional cartoon.

The introductory section of this book begins with a discussion of the controversy that has swirled around cannabis for centuries and transitions to the recent “resurrection” of cannabis as a medicine and an increasingly accepted social intoxicant. Subsequent chapters explore cannabis history, ecology, and botany, with excellent visual references to assist the reader. The book then turns towards the wide ranges of uses for the plant’s fiber (e.g., for cloth and paper production) and its oil’s nutritional value. Particular attention is given to the conditions required to produce cannabis crops that yield high-value fiber and oil.

This volume may be among the first books to delve into the uses for cannabis essential oils and terpenes, a topic of recent interest because of their potential to reduce adverse effects associated with the medicinal use and recreational use of cannabis cultivars that contain significant amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This section provides a launch pad for the book’s current overview of cannabis chemistry.

HerbalGram readers will likely find the central 200 pages of this book, which includes an in-depth survey of cannabis as a medicine and intoxicant, to be of considerable interest. With vigor and humor, the author busts many counterculture myths about cannabis, and his insights into cannabis cultivation for medicinal content are valuable and well-informed. The section that covers the theory and practice of  using medical cannabis for conditions ranging from cancer to brain injury reflects an up-to-date scientific understanding, and it is delivered with appropriate rigor and proper skepticism, since some popular claims of efficacy are based  solely on preclinical or observational data. This portion of the book ends with a discussion of the challenges inherent in the production of drug cannabis varieties and is filled with sage and practical guidance that is supported by evidence collected in the field. The author even weighs in on the likely trajectory of legalization/decriminalization efforts and potential future outlets for recreational cannabis products, going as far as to anticipate “pot restaurants.” While some may dismiss such speculation as frivolous, the arguments that support it appear solid.

The final chapters cover topics from the environmental sustainability of cannabis production to the current state of cannabis germplasm resources, before wading into the highly contentious realm of Cannabis botanical classification and nomenclature — the sativa vs. indica debate. For more than half a century, scientists have argued about the taxonomy and nomenclature of Cannabis. Small has been a key figure in this debate, and his arguments are forceful, well-reasoned, and surprisingly entertaining. His conclusions about classification may not convert all his rivals, but will continue to garner their respect.

The greatest challenge in writing a survey of the science and culture of cannabis is the sheer volume of material that must be distilled. The author’s deep appreciation for the topic is evident, and his distillation is expert and passionate. This book will appeal to a professional audience seeking authoritative guidance about Cannabis, and is written from a perspective that can be gained only from an author of Small’s eminence and experience. He also manages to make this tour of his subject fun, which is quite laudable, indeed.

—Michael Backes Author,
Cannabis Pharmacy Principal,
Blackbridge Consulting Group LLC
Los Angeles, California