Let's clear the smoke on the differences between hemp and marijuana. Find out why it matters and the most important things you need to know.
As more US states join in on the reform of cannabis policies, more and more cannabis products are becoming available to the public.
Yet, because the industry is newly legalized, you may struggle to find detailed information on all the new cannabis products and their various uses.
This article is designed to help you understand the differences between hemp and marijuana. You’ll learn about the effects of the cannabis compounds like THC and CBD and their medicinal benefits.
We will also dive into the different uses of hemp and find out if hemp or marijuana is legal where you are. So, let’s go!
You've probably heard many terms for marijuana such as hemp, cannabis, weed, ganja, pot, reefer, and many others.
While there are many slang terms, there are three terms that are defined within the industry: cannabis, marijuana, and hemp.
Cannabis is the overhead term that refers to both hemp and marijuana. Each type of cannabis, also called strains, hold the potential to create unique and diverse combinations of more than 120 unique chemical compounds per plant, called cannabinoids.
Marijuana is the most commonly used term to refer to cannabis or cannabis products that have a psychoactive effect. Strains referred to as marijuana will typically be mainly comprised of THC, while on the other hand, hemp varieties of cannabis are characterized by high concentrations of CBD.
Hemp is generally the term used to identify cannabis plants that contain little to no THC content. As you’ll learn, there are two different types of hemp grown for many different purposes including food, fuel, fiber, medicine, and more.
As research continues to validate the medicinal and therapeutic benefits of cannabis compounds, the demand for hemp is growing exponentially and many farmers are beginning to cultivate the long-forgotten cash crop.
What is Hemp?
Every strain of cannabis has a unique profile, with over 120 different compounds making up the tastes, smells, and sensations that it provides.
While each hemp strain is unique as well, the characteristic that defines any hemp variety is having less than .3% THC.
THC, or Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol, is the component responsible for the psychoactive effects of marijuana. Because hemp plants contain very low THC and are instead dominated by CBD, they don't trigger euphoria, sensorial hallucinations, or feelings of being “high”.
Humans have been selecting varieties of cannabis for millennia for their different properties and effects. Modern day farmers are doing the same to find cannabis strains with unique medicinal potential.
Cannabis breeders searching for strains with cannabinoid profiles correlated to specific therapeutic benefits has given rise to most modern day strains of hemp and marijuana that you may be familiar with such as Blue Dream or AC/DC.
Two kinds of Hemp: CBD-Rich vs. Industrial Hemp
Not all hemp is created equally though. There are two different primary purposes for growing hemp, for its resinous flowers or for its fibrous stalk and nutritious seeds.
Hemp that is grown for medicinal purposes is nearly identical to marijuana. It will have sticky, resinous flowers that are harvested and processed in very similar ways.
The difference between hemp flowers and marijuana flowers is found in the cannabinoid content. As we mentioned earlier, hemp is a CBD-dominant plant, and marijuana is THC-dominant.
CBD-rich hemp is cultivated and grown specifically for the medicinal properties contained within its resins. The flowers from hemp can be smoked like marijuana, but they are generally used to make therapeutic concentrates and extracts.
Hemp that is grown for industrial purposes will look very different from any cannabis plant that is grown for its flowers. Instead, industrial hemp focuses on growing a tall, thick and fibrous stalk that can be used for creating various industrial resources.
Industrial hemp is not a good source for medicinal cannabinoids for several reasons. One is because the focus for growth is on the stalk, where there is little to no cannabinoid content produced. Two, massive amounts of industrial hemp is needed to produce even a small, viable amount of medicinal oil.
Also, cannabis naturally absorbs heavy metals and other toxins from the soil in a process known as bioaccumulation. The large quantities of hemp needed for producing oil means the finished extract could very easily be contaminated with heavy metals or other residual toxins accumulated from the soil.
There are still many uses for industrial hemp that are beneficial to our planet, but it is not an ideal source of CBD or other medicinal cannabis compounds.
It can be used to manufacture over 30,000 different products including everything from fibers for clothing, fuel, paper, biodegradable plastics, construction materials, health food, and more.
Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana Explained
All in all, the identifying characteristic that differentiates hemp and marijuana is CBD and THC content. Legally speaking, it’s the THC limit (.3%) that separates hemp from marijuana.
Other than that, these are simply two types of the same plant species that have different chemical compositions.
Both compounds are known to have a powerful ability to reduce stress, anxiety, pain, nausea, and even asthma. However, THC is associated with higher levels of sedation and relaxation due to its psychotropic effects.
CBD is known for its energizing, uplifting effect, without the mind-altering “stoned” feeling. And medicinally, it’s quite impressive as an anti-convulsive, anti-psychotic, anti-cancer, anti-depressant, and anti-inflammatory.
Also known as an antipsychotic substance, CBD can counteract the adverse effects of consuming too much THC, such as paranoia, anxiety, and sensorial hallucinations.
Cannabis offers us somewhat of a paradox with THC and CBD. Medical marijuana growers continue to work on breeding new strains of hemp and marijuana with various ratios and combinations of cannabinoids.
Cultivators and breeders now are largely focused on producing new strains with consistent chemical profiles targeting specific symptoms in order to produce the most optimal and effective cannabis medicines.
Is CBD legal?
The continuous changes in laws on hemp versus marijuana can be a bit confusing. Federal laws and state laws often contradict each other and the laws are constantly evolving.
In 2014 a Farm Bill passed which allowed for industrial hemp production to be used for the purposes of research only.
This bill opened a doorway of hemp production and research in the US that has allowed us to recognize the benefits of CBD and see clearly the major differences between hemp and marijuana.
The 2018 Farm Bill plans to cement total legalization of hemp and all products made from hemp by removing it from the DEA's list of controlled substances.
Until the 2018 Farm Bill is fully approved and passed, it is important to be clear on CBD legality and use in the US.
CBD is legal in all 50 states if and only if it is derived from hemp and contains less than .3% THC, according to current federal statutes.
From state to state, laws on marijuana with THC change.
In some areas it may be decriminalized, but not legal. In other places, it might only be permitted for medical purposes. In at least 10 states it is legal for both medicinal use and adult-use, such as in Maine, Oregon, and Colorado.
Learn More About Cannabis
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You can learn more about different strains, cannabis health effects, and cannabis products in our other articles linked below.
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