There are decades behind negative propaganda and misleading information regarding Cannabis .
Nowadays, things seem to change and the health benefits of this amazing plant are shown by scientific research and appreciated by millions of people.
Yet, the distinction between cannabis, hemp, and marijuana is not clear to consumers. A lot of people, out there, use the terms interchangeably considering them the same plant. It is obvious that the hemp plant vs the marijuana plant distinction should be explained so that the properties of both hemp and marijuana plants are understood completely.
Is there a difference between the terms Hemp and Marijuana? How is the term Cannabis related to them? This article will give you all the information you need to answer these questions.
Are you ready?
The origin of the cannabis confusion
It all started when President Nixon started the “War on Drugs”.
The Controlled Substances Act, signed in 1970s, created the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and established a group of banned “drugs”. The Act grouped marijuana with all types of the cannabis plant and outlawed its cultivation in the US.
Even though hemp was one of the oldest domesticated crops in the world, it was classified as a drug and made illegal too. Its cultivation stopped and the misconceptions regarding it increased over time.
Even today, after so many years, political leaders are still confused. They
What is Cannabis?
Let me start with a question:
If I asked you whether lemons and oranges are the same you would laugh and answer no, wouldn’t you?
What is the similarity between the two? Yes, you are right: they are both fruit.
I consider the term Cannabis an “umbrella term” and I suggest that you do the same. Why an umbrella term? Because hemp and marijuana are to Cannabis exactly what oranges and lemons are to Citrus.
In other terms, Cannabis is nothing else but a generic abstraction used to describe a family of plants :
- Cannabis Indica
- Cannabis Sativa
- Cannabis Ruderalis
The classifications that interest us are the first two.
Marijuana can derive from either Cannabis Indica or Cannabis Sativa. Hemp derives only from Cannabis Sativa.
This is not the only difference between the two.
Hemp and marijuana are different in Cultivars (or Subtypes), Appearance, Chemical Composition, Cultivation Requirements, Cultivation Purposes, and Legal Status.
Hemp vs Marijuana: Cultivars
Over the years, three subtypes or cultivars (cultivar=a plant variety that has been produced in cultivation by selective breeding) of cannabis have been produced in order to meet the following specific needs :
- Industrial usage
- Seed production
- Cannabinoid extraction (for either medicinal or recreational purposes)
I know, you think you understood the difference! Don’t be in a hurry! We can’t say with certainty that the first two are hemp and the third one marijuana. Not yet. Let’s study their looks.
Hemp vs Marijuana: Appearance
Both plants can be slightly similar in appearance and a quick look could deceive any untrained eye. But if you examine the two plants carefully, you will notice the unique characteristics of each of them.
Marijuana is grown to be a short and fat bush. Its leaves are broad and plenty budding flowers can be noticed around the stalks. Crystal-dusted hairs often cover its flowers.
On the other hand, hemp has tall (the plant can arrive up to 20ft), fibrous, strong stalks, thin leaves, and very few flowering buds. There are rarely leaves or branches growing below the top part of the plant.
Now, are you ready to take a brief test? Let’s start!
Look at the following photos. Which is of the two is marijuana? Which is hemp?
You are right. Photo A is a marijuana plant and photo B a hemp plant. Do you feel a bit less confused now?
Marijuana vs Hemp: Chemical Composition
At least 113 chemical compounds (cannabinoids) have been found in the Cannabis plant. The most dominant and studied ones are THC (trans-Δ⁹-tetrahydrocannabinol), and CBD (Cannabidiol). Both of them have been shown to have beneficial effects on human health and wellness. THC is responsible for psychoactive effects (it gives users a “high”) while with CBD it’s practically impossible to “get stoned”.
THC concentration is the major difference between marijuana and hemp plant.
Marijuana is characterized by elevated amounts of THC. Average marijuana cultivars may contain from 5% to 20% THC while some premium subtypes can arrive up to 30% or 40%.
Hemp, on the other hand, has trace amounts of THC but a rich Cannabidiol (CBD) content.
Marijuana vs Hemp: Cultivation Requirements
Another essential difference between the two plants is that they have different cultivation requirements.
Hemp plants can be grown close to
Hemp doesn’t require any particular care. We can say it’s a rather “tough” plant since it can adapt to different climate conditions with no specific demands.
Marijuana is more “delicate” and requires cultivation under precisely controlled conditions. It needs a warm and humid environment (it is cultivated indoors) to develop properly. Its growth cycle is smaller than hemp ’s: 45-90 days. The marijuana plants shouldn’t be grown close to each other; each plant needs at least 1m/6ft of space around it. All these demands make it obvious that marijuana harvests are smaller in scale than hemp harvests.
Apart from being a demanding plant in terms of cultivation, marijuana is delicate for another important reason: if marijuana plants are grown near a hemp plot and are exposed to hemp pollen, the whole marijuana crop will be destroyed. There will be no psychoactive effects in the plants after harvest.
For this reason, it’s impossible to hide marijuana plants planting them among hemp plants.
Marijuana vs Hemp: Cultivation Purposes
Since marijuana’s content is rich in THC it is obvious that this cannabinoid is the reason for its cultivation. No matter if they are used for recreational reasons or medicinal purposes, marijuana products can be smoked, vaped, eaten, or even injected.
On the other hand, hemp is cultivated for the manufacture of a lot of goods such as dietary supplements
We can say that hemp is cultivated for medicinal purposes too! With the great public interest on the benefits of CBD to human and animal health, producers have intensified hemp cultivation to extract the cannabinoid CBD and to produce a great variety of THC-free CBD supplements.
Marijuana vs Hemp: Legal Status
Again, THC is the key factor that determines the legal status of both plants.
In the US and Canada, the term hemp is used for cannabis plants with THC levels under 0.3 %. In the EU, a cannabis plant should have levels of THC below 0.2 % to be called hemp. (It is obvious that these two different rates don’t ensure fair competition between European and American CBD oil producers; for this reason, the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) has asked for the standardization of the rates.)
Hemp, in other words, contains insignificant amounts of THC and for this reason, it is legal in most parts of the world. It is legal to purchase in all 50 states and it is legal to send in the U.S.
Marijuana, on the contrary, is illegal in most parts of the world including the US because of its rich in THC content.
The latest scientific discoveries regarding the medicinal properties of THC have led to the legalization of marijuana in some countries and certain US states.
We hope that more countries and states will follow their lead. But, for the time being, and for “safety” reasons, I’d rather generalize by saying that marijuana is illegal in most countries and states.
Do hemp and marijuana have a future?
The criminalization of marijuana for its “psychoactive” effects was a decision that caused vivid discussions between marijuana advocates and enemies. The debate is still ongoing and each part has more or less well-founded arguments to support their opinions.
But what about hemp?
Historically, hemp was prohibited because it was incorrectly associated with marijuana and its mood and perception-altering effects. Hemp, however, doesn’t have any psychoactive properties, so considering it a drug and criminalizing it was not only illogical; it was stupid.
Why was it banned? Was it just because of narrow-mindedness or stupidity? Was it because the political leaders were simply confused or utterly ignorant? Or was lobbying the real reason? Who knows what the real reasons were…
Fortunately, both forms of the cannabis plant seem to be advancing towards legitimacy.
With the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, hemp is finally decriminalized on a national scale in the US.
Financial experts predict a marijuana boom in the near future since its legalization is sweeping over North America. As a matter of fact, 11 US states have permitted recreational marijuana use while in Canada it was totally legalized in October 2018. It seems that the legalization of medicinal and recreational marijuana is progressing at a rapid pace globally.
Who knows what the future will bring? People living in houses made of hemplime (= bio-composite material, a mixture of hemp hurds and lime used as a material for construction and insulation), driving hempoline (=Biodiesel made from the oils in hemp seeds and stalks) powered cars while wearing hemp clothes?
Hemp can be used to manufacture sustainable, eco-friendly products for everyday use. Furthermore, hemp and marijuana are proven to have amazing pharmaceutical properties. Let us hope, that there will be a day when both plants will be “free” to offer their benefits to the people and the planet.
If you have any questions or you want to share your personal experience, leave a comment below.
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DISCLAIMER: The content of this article is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The information provided is not meant to alleviate or cure any disease or disorder. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider for any medical condition.