There are two common forms of the cannabis plant: hemp and marijuana. The difference between hemp and marijuana really comes down to science, politics and use. Hemp has many different uses, none of which involve smoking it for THC effects or medicinal benefits. Hemp is grown differently than medical marijuana and the politics behind its legal status are different as well.
Hemp is a versatile product that can be made into many products, including wax, resin, rope, clothes, fuel, flour, paint, paper and much more. See the picture below to see all the ways hemp may be used.
Here are the five main differences between weed and hemp:
– Genetics – The cannabis plant is one of the oldest domesticated plants used throughout history. For centuries, humans have been growing different forms of the cannabis plant for industrial and medical uses. Taller, sturdier plants are grown to make food, oil and textiles. Other cannabis plants, known as medical marijuana, were recognized for containing psychoactive effects and were bred for selective medical purposes. Today, scientists believe that early separation of the cannabis plant led to two distinct cannabis plants, known as cannabis indica and cannabis sativa. Cannabis sativa is used for both medical marijuana and hemp. In hemp, Cannabis sativa is bred specifically for fiber used in clothes, construction, oils and nutritional benefits.
– THC Content – Cannabis plants are known for containing certain cannabinoids. The most popular is called THC, which causes the well-known marijuana effects and “high” feeling. The cannabis plant that is used for medical marijuana contains more THC compared to hemp, which contains little to none. Both hemp and marijuana contain CBD, the cannabinoid known to have beneficial medical effects. Hemp contains more CBD than THC.
– Cultivation – Since hemp and marijuana have different uses, they are both grown in different conditions. Medical marijuana is selectively bred over generations to produce female flowering plants that yield different bud flowers. These marijuana plants require close attention in order to create maximum THC levels and ensure quality. They are usually grown indoors to maximize control. Hemp, on the other hand, consists of mostly male cannabis plants that grow fast and tall and are optimized for high stark harvests.
– Legal Status – The cannabis plant in both hemp and marijuana forms is federally illegal to grow in the United States. Both hemp and marijuana are currently classified as Schedule I drugs. However, outside of the U.S. hemp is grown by more than 30 countries and is commonly used to produce textile, oil and other industrial products. Although it is illegal to grow hemp in the United States, it is legal to import hemp products with little to no THC. On the other side, medical marijuana and recreational marijuana remain illegal in most countries. Some countries, such as Israel and Canada, legalized the medical use of marijuana, and many others are actively considering the benefits of legalizing recreational marijuana.
– Research – Strict laws about the cannabis plant make research for both hemp and marijuana difficult. Despite barriers, research related to medical marijuana continues to be promising. Hemp is currently being researched for new forms of renewable plastic. As marijuana and cannabis laws loosen up, more research will be utilized for both marijuana and hemp in the near future.
With all this political and legal talk about the cannabis plant, the result has led to confusing state-by-state legislation. Some states, such as Colorado and Alaska, have legalized recreational marijuana use, despite it being federally illegal. Some states, like Nevada, have legalized medical marijuana use through regulated medical marijuana dispensaries. Many other states have had to redefine hemp in attempts to grow or import the incredibly versatile plant.
All this legal action against cannabis in our recent history has given hemp a bad rap. One member of the North American Industrial Hemp Council stated that “Surely no member of the vegetable kingdom has ever been more misunderstood than hemp.” This point was made clear when the Drug Enforcement Administration attempted to ban all hemp sourced products in the U.S. They lost this battle in court when it was clarified that a product containing THC is illegal (not a product containing the absence of THC, like hemp).
As we continue to move towards legalization of recreational and medical marijuana in the U.S., semantics, legal distinctions and associated laws will have to be clearly defined to avoid confusion over the legality of all cannabis forms. Because of its extensive list of uses, hemp should naturally be utilized and fostered rather than demonized and misunderstood.
With cannabis finally becoming less taboo, the difference between hemp and marijuana needs further recognition and the reality of the positive economic effects legal hemp could provide for the U.S. also deserves national notation.
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