Hemp and marijuana are two plants with many characteristics in common. For this reason, and due to the lack of information that exists on this subject, many people often confuse them. In this article we explain the differences between them and what each is used for.
It is a very common fact that some users believe that hemp and marijuana are actually the same plant. Due to prohibition, for decades there has not been much information available on the subject. In addition, both plants share similar traits at the morphological level, which makes this issue even more confusing for many.
In reality, hemp and marijuana are included within the Cannabis Sativa L. family. However, they are two different varieties, with different characteristics (both in terms of form and composition). While it is true that hundreds of years ago, these two strains may have been more similar, their domestication by man has increasingly differentiated them.
What do we mean by this? Quite simply, when humans discovered the uses of both hemp and marijuana, they began to cultivate them and select those phenotypes that best suited their needs.
After hundreds of years of selection, some features of marijuana (THC levels, aroma, flavour) were accentuated, very different from those of hemp (seed production, fibre, cellulose…).
There are three main parameters through which hemp can be distinguished from marijuana:
Hemp has a “spiky” shape, these are very tall plants that can reach more than 4 meters in height. In addition, their stems are very long, they are plants with little lateral branching, very wide internodal distance, and small and elongated flowers.
Marijuana, on the other hand, develops large clusters of flowers that are in fact its most appreciated asset. They are plants of smaller stature that normally do not reach more than 3 meters, and their lateral branching is much more extensive.
Since the cannabinoid levels in marijuana have been boosted during the breeding process, they are much higher than those of hemp, especially THC. In addition, the amount of terpenes found in marijuana flowers is much higher than in hemp. In other words, the buds of marijuana produce enough cannabinoid content to create biological affect and subsequently has much more flavour and aroma than that of hemp.
While hemp is used to obtain raw materials such as fibre or seeds (which are used as food, not for producing marijuana seed for cultivation), marijuana is used for the consumption of its flowers either for recreational or medicinal purposes and its seeds are used for further breeding and propagation of cannabinoid rich cannabis.
Hemp plants are commonly referred to as those varieties of Cannabis Sativa L. that contain less than 0.3% THC, and therefore do not produce the psychoactive effect that we associate with marijuana. In addition, this plant is characterized by having the morphology mentioned above, which allows raw materials to be extracted from its stalks, etc.
The hemp plant has been cultivated by man for hundreds of years, in fact, fabrics made from hemp have been found dating back to 8000 BC.
Today, this plant is also known as “industrial hemp” because of its various applications in this field: fibre and cellulose production, oil. The raw material obtained from its cultivation is used to manufacture paper, rope and textiles, among others.
Hemp is a great renewable source of materials that is also a sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative for the planet. Among its most common uses we highlight the following:
As mentioned above, hemp is not only a source of raw materials, but can also be a great ally in our diet. The nutritional contribution of this plant, and its health benefits, have led many to include its seeds and oil in their dishes.
In recent years, the cannabis industry has experienced a new wave of CBD-rich strains that has revolutionized the market. This is one of the main cannabinoids in the plant’s composition that had not received much attention (as all the focus was on THC), but thanks to its medicinal properties it has gained relevance.
CBD or cannabidiol is effective for the treatment of several ailments, especially for Dravet syndrome, a very aggressive type of childhood epilepsy. Due to this discovery, seed banks have been working on breeding processes to create new strains with high levels of this cannabinoid. These strains are not only useful in the medicinal field, but also offer advantages for recreational users, since CBD modulates the side effects of THC (dry mouth, tachycardia, paranoia…), so its psychoactive effect is more moderate and sustainable.
There is a lot of controversy and confusion when it comes to differentiating between hemp and CBD-rich strains. Until a few years ago, the difference in the composition of the two plants was clear: hemp produced hardly any THC and marijuana did.
The emergence of CBD strains has made this more confusing, as some CBD marijuana strains contain levels of less than 1% THC and do not cause any psychoactive effect.
In some countries, such as the United States, CBD-rich strains are commonly referred to as “hemp”, however, this term is not correct. CBD-rich strains are still marijuana strains, the only difference is that they do not produce THC, but their morphology remains the same as other marijuana plants, including the formation of bulky buds with rich terpene profiles.
While it is true that during the early years of the “CBD wave”, the varieties with high levels of cannabidiol that were launched on the market had a very similar aroma (a smell reminiscent of tangerine), today, thanks to breeding and selection processes, there are CBD genetics with different fragrances.
Hemp varieties also produce CBD, hence the confusion. However, the morphology of the two plants is still different, as is the quality of their flowers. Consuming CBD buds from hemp varieties or CBD-rich marijuana is very different, as the flavours and aromas are very poor in the first case. CBD found in hemp varieties is most commonly extracted and isolated in bulk extraction batches, and sold or distributed separately from the products created from the hemp fibre.
Marijuana also belongs to the Cannabis Sativa L. family, although unlike hemp, it is not used to manufacture materials, but for the consumption of its flowers. Its cannabinoid levels have made this plant the most consumed illegal drug in the world. Although it is true that in recent decades its cultivation and consumption has been regularized in many countries and states, it is still considered an illegal substance in the vast majority.
Marijuana has been used since ancient times:
Marijuana has multiple properties that can be beneficial for our organism. Through the interaction of its compounds with the endocannabinoid system of our body, mechanisms are activated that can help us to recover the so-called “homeostasis”, that is, the balance of the body’s functions.
For this reason, marijuana can be useful for the treatment of epilepsy, chronic pain, prolonged stress, and much more. There are even studies that point out that certain cannabinoids such as CBD are promising for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Defining the legal framework for hemp and marijuana at a global level is difficult, as each country has its own regulations in this regard.
As for marijuana, in recent years there has been a regulatory wave at the international level, and many states and countries have passed laws that allow self-cultivation and consumption of the plant. One of those that has led this paradigm shift has been the United States, however, this is a clear example of the complexity involved in this issue, because although the plant is legal in the vast majority of states, it is still illegal at the federal level.
If we talk about hemp, the legal panorama becomes more lax, mainly because this plant produces very little THC, therefore it is difficult to use it as a drug.
Despite this, hemp has been banned in the United States for decades until very recently, with the approval of the so-called 2018 farm bill, which allows the cultivation and use of hemp varieties containing a maximum of 0.3% THC. (ironically, during the birth of the country, the US government required by law that land owners grow hemp.)
This law legalizing hemp at the federal level in the North American country has propelled a growing industry of all kinds of CBD-derived products. However, when we talk about consuming flowers of “Pure CBD” varieties, the issue becomes more complicated, as it is difficult to reduce the THC levels of marijuana to less than 0.6% consistently; and hemp buds do not have the quality in terms of flavour and aroma that users expect.
The legal future of hemp and marijuana is uncertain, but everything seems to indicate that at the international level we are moving towards a regulated market. How and when are the unknowns that have yet to be resolved in a flourishing industry that is becoming more and more established.