There are crucial differences between hemp and marijuana. There are also plenty of similarities. Today, we’re highlighting what distinguishes hemp from marijuana, including the physical, chemical, legal, and historical differences between hemp and marijuana.
Cannabis, Hemp, And Marijuana
After a century of misinformation, it’s easy to get confused between the terms cannabis, hemp, and marijuana. Some people use the terms interchangeably, leading to even more confusion. In reality, the three terms all refer to different things.
Cannabis is a plant with two primary species: hemp and marijuana:
- Cannabis: is a family of plants with two primary classifications, including Indica and Sativa.
- Hemp: is one species of cannabis-derived from the Cannabis Sativa family.
- Marijuana: is another species of cannabis-derived from the Cannabis Sativa family.
Hemp and marijuana are two species derived from the same family. Because they come from the same Cannabis Sativa family, hemp and marijuana share certain similarities. However, because they are different species, they have crucial and distinct differences in terms of biological structure.
There are physical differences, for example. Hemp tends to be taller and skinnier than marijuana. There are also chemical differences: marijuana contains psychoactive compounds like THC, for example, while most hemp has no THC.
Physical Appearance Of Hemp and Marijuana
Hemp and marijuana have different physical characteristics. To an average person, the two plants look similar. However, a trained eye can easily spot the difference between hemp and marijuana.
- Marijuana: has broad leaves, dense buds, and a short, bushy appearance.
- Hemp: has skinnier leaves more concentrated at the top of the plant, and hemp tends to grow taller and skinnier than marijuana with few branches on the lower portion of the plant.
When compared side by side, it’s easy to spot the differences based on physical characteristics alone. However, both hemp and marijuana also have crucial chemical differences as well.
Chemical Composition Of Hemp And Marijuana
Cannabis plants contain a variety of different compounds called cannabinoids. There are hundreds of different cannabinoids inside both marijuana and hemp. Most people, however, are particularly familiar with two prominent cannabinoids: THC and CBD.
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): This is a psychoactive compound responsible for the “high” attributed with consuming marijuana.
- Cannabidiol (CBD): This is a non-psychoactive compound that does not make you feel “high”. Some believe CBD is associated with health benefits, and a growing pool of research is reinforcing that idea.
Understanding the two cannabinoids listed above is crucial for understanding the difference between hemp and marijuana.
Hemp typically has a very low concentration of THC (0.3% or less), while marijuana is abundant in THC, often having concentrations of 15% to 40%.
Hemp Versus Marijuana: Usage
Because of the lack of psychoactive attributes, hemp is often used for industrial purposes. It’s used to make rope, for example, and other compounds. In more recent years, it has also been used in nutritional supplements, allowing users to enjoy the perceived benefits of CBD without getting the “high” attributed to marijuana. Other industrial uses of hemp include in paper, clothing, building materials, biofuel, food products, oils, and more.
Marijuana, on the other hand, is rich with psychoactive components and is typically grown for recreational and medicinal purposes. Growers often emphasize strains with higher THC content. Marijuana can be smoked, inhaled, ingested, or injected to be consumed. Some manufacturers also extract THC from the marijuana plant to make vaporizers, capsules, edibles, and more.
Hemp Versus Marijuana: Legality
There’s a considerable difference in the legality of hemp and marijuana. As of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is legal across the United States while marijuana is not. The fact that hemp contains limited THC while marijuana contains high levels of THC is one reason for this difference.
Of course, because hemp and marijuana are similar, there’s some confusion over what’s legal and what is not legal. Complicating matters further is that certain states have legalized recreational use of marijuana while other states have not.
Generally, it’s legal to produce, cultivate, use, and sell hemp in most parts of the world, including the United States as of the 2018 Farm Bill. In the United States, hemp must contain less than 0.3% THC to be classified as hemp. In most of the world, hemp must contain less than 0.2% THC.
Throughout most of the world, hemp has been legal for decades. Because hemp lacks psychoactive compounds, it was treated like any other agricultural crop. The United States, however, has been more restrictive towards hemp for nearly a century. With the 2018 Farm Bill, things have changed, and hemp is now being treated more like an ordinary agricultural commodity.
Marijuana, of course, is a different story. Marijuana’s high THC content have traditionally led it to be regulated more like a drug than a plant. In most parts of the world, including the United States, marijuana continues to be illegal in the federal level.
As of 2019, only three countries in the world have legalized recreational use of marijuana nationwide. Uruguay became the first country to do so in 2017, while Canada and South Africa followed suit in 2018.
The political landscape continues to shift. For now, however, hemp remains legal in most of the world while marijuana is illegal.
Hemp Versus Marijuana: History
Humans have been using hemp for millennia. There’s archaeological evidence of humans using hemp 10,000 years ago, for example. Hemp cloth has been found in the archaeological remains of ancient Mesopotamia. In ancient China, hemp was cultivated for use in cloth and paper. Buddhist texts from the 2nd and 3rd centuries were written on hemp paper, for example.
Hemp cultivation began in western Europe during the Medieval period. Hemp was grown en masse to make sales, for example, while also providing food and fiber.
When early explorers landed in North America, they found hemp already growing. Hemp cultivation continued among earlier pioneers in the United States and Canada. Hemp was seen as a major cash crop for centuries.
Hemp production declined in North America over time, replaced by cash crops like cotton. Starting in the 1930s, anti-cannabis propaganda from textile producers caused the industry to take another hit. The industry continued to shrink in the United States and worldwide. In the last decade, however, we’ve seen a resurgence in hemp production after years of decline.
The history of marijuana isn’t quite as clear, as the term marijuana is relatively new. However, there’s evidence of spiritual use of cannabis dating back thousands of years. Cannabis held a sacred status in several religions and ancient civilizations. There are several references in Greek mythology to cannabis, for example, and cannabis use was recorded in the Indian subcontinent during the Vedic period 4,000 years ago. Archaeologists excavating the graves of shamans in China and Siberia have found burnt cannabis seeds, indicating that plants were used for ritual purposes.
Ultimately, cannabis has a long history of use by humans. There’s evidence that some civilizations recognized the psychoactive properties of the cannabis plant. However, THC levels in these plants were relatively low, which is why the cannabis plant was typically used for industrial purposes.
The Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana Conclusion
After a century of misinformation about cannabis, many people continue to misunderstand the difference between hemp and marijuana. The truth is: there’s a considerable difference between hemp and marijuana. Today, the difference is more important than ever, as hemp is legal across the United States while marijuana is not.
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