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Marijuana vs. Hemp: Several Things To Help You Tell The Difference

Marijuana has been around for centuries, and at some point or another, you’ve come in contact with it. Whether someone has offered you funny brownies at a party (guilty!), you’ve driven past a car on the highway that reeked of it, or you’ve passed someone in the street who seemed to be bathed in the scent of cannabis. But there’s the keyword… cannabis. For the past few years, there have been numerous negative connotations with the phrase “cannabis” that make it nearly impossible to see any good stemming from it (pun intended).


However, the Cannabis sativa L. has several subspecies that are derived from it, most famously, marijuana and hemp. While you may think you know all about the infamous Mary Jane, there are several misconceptions about the hemp plant, which we intend to set straight. In order to do that, we consulted a well-written paper called, Hemp And Marijuana: Myths and Realities, written by a gentleman by the name of David P. West, who not only holds a Ph.D from the University of Minnesota in Plant Breeding, but has also been a high ranking consultant in the hemp industry. He presents a pensive question that is extremely relative to this subject: “Has there ever been a plant so fraught with confusion and controversy?” With that in mind, let’s take a look at what makes marijuana and hemp so different from each other, though they come from the same plant.




First up, let’s take a look at marijuana. Weed has come into tremendous popularity since the days of Bob Marley and has become almost a staple recreational drug in some cultures. Marijuana contains a specific psychoactive element known as THC, which gets the user high. While it was originally bred for its medical effects, marijuana has been widely used for recreational purposes and is easily identified by the dense and sticky buds that are rolled and smoked.

Hemp, on the other hand, has a wide range of uses: skincare products (including face creams and lotions), various foods, oils, and clothing. Hemp is an extremely fibrous material, making it a good choice for clothing and various garments. Lastly, hemp contains little to no traceable elements of THC, but still carries the powerful healing properties, just without getting the user high. We use this hemp plant to create a wide variety of CBD products that are intended to grace the user with the cannabis plant’s healing properties, without subjecting the user to the psychoactive elements of THC. Now that we know what makes hemp and marijuana different, let’s take a look at some of the controversy surrounding the two cannabis derivatives.

As mentioned above, the hemp plant is defined as a plant that carries little to no THC, but quite a bit of CBD. Cannabidiols are what helps assist the user with pain management, stress-related issues, and even sleep disorders, all without getting the user high. Hemp also falls into several subcategories, with different parts of the plants being used for different things. For example, hemp raised for the seed won’t actually produce the best plant for fiber. In order for the user to understand what part of the plant he/she is using, While there are many molecular compounds in the cannabis plant, there are two that stand out and are easily identifiable: CBD and THC. As we’ve mentioned before, THC gets you high, while CBD does not. The part of the hemp plant with THC is known as marijuana, while the plant with CBD is known as industrial hemp.




Another thing to notate is that while there isn’t an exact number that differentiates hemp from marijuana, a Canadian research scientist named Ernest Small published a book called The Species Problem in Cannabis. In this book, Small admits that it is impossible to find the natural point where the content of cannabinoids could separate the hemp from the marijuana. Yet since he knew there would need to be some number to reference, he drew the random number of 0.3%, which is why you’ll frequently see this number of THC-free CBD products. While it’s not 100% accurate, it is what’s used to let users know that while the product may contain traces of THC, it’s not enough to get you high.


For some users, this might be frustrating to know that there is no exact point where hemp and marijuana naturally separate, but the 0.3% number is widely recognized as the legal limit for hemp. This number isn’t based on particular strains that contain the highest agricultural benefits or the THC level that produces psychoactivity, but rather the random number that a single cannabis scientist named Ernest Smalls decided upon. Now that we understand what 0.3% means when referring to legal hemp and illegal marijuana, let’s recap and bring all three points together for an overall look at the differences between hemp and marijuana.




First of all, We’ve already established that hemp and marijuana come from the Cannabis sativa L. plant species. Whereas hemp is primarily used for fuel, food, clothing, rope, etc., marijuana had more of a medical use to relieve pain, spiritual and religious rituals, and getting the user high. Both marijuana and hemp are derived from the cannabis plant, but one is used for materials and food, whereas the other is used primarily for medicinal and recreational purposes. Even today, marijuana is becoming more and more widely accepted in the social realm, but its true legality has yet to be determined. Many states are approving marijuana as a medicinal drug, while other states are still pushing back against the recreational use, stating that just like alcohol, there needs to be strict guidelines and restrictions for public use.




Secondly, we recap that marijuana has an element called THC, which has psychoactive properties that get the user high. Hemp contains very little THC (remember that magic number of 0.3%?), making it impossible to get high from ingesting industrial hemp. However, there is another element in the Cannabis sativa L. that is found both in hemp and marijuana, called CBD.


Hemp plants usually contain high amounts of CBD, but it isn’t the type of CBD that can be used for medicinal purposes; specifically grown strains of cannabis are used for their high CBD content, but not what is known as industrial hemp. Therefore, it’s important to note that while there are many strains of the Cannabis sativa L., many are used for different purposes. Just to wrap that up, marijuana has high THC, but little CBD. Industrial hemp has low THC, high CBD, but not the type that you can use for medicinal purposes. And finally, a high-CBD cannabis strain is grown for the sole purpose of gleaning medicinal CBD that aids with pain relief, stress, anxiety, depression, and much more.




Lastly, there is a difference in how hemp and marijuana look versus how they are grown. While both hemp and marijuana come from the Cannabis sativa L., there are key points on what to look for when seeing these plants in nature. Aside from the famous seven leaf image we’ve all come to know, marijuana plants produce a sticky bud that is highly coveted for the high content of THC. These buds are known as the “flower” and are usually female since the female flowers generally contain the potent psychoactive element of THC. These plants are able to be grown both indoors and outdoors, on rooftops or greenhouses. While the “homegrown weed gardens” are highly illegal, many weed lovers can’t resist the temptation to have a natural and overflowing amount of their favorite recreational drug.


Hemp, on the other hand, is often considered boring when compared to the beautiful marijuana plant buds. Hemp doesn’t produce any flowers in their plant cycle and are usually male. Hemp is considered a weed (unintentional pun right there!) that rapidly grows in large fields, and are harvested for fiber and food consumption when they are tall enough.




And that’s it! Just like in the animal kingdom, there are many species of plants that come from the same root. Think of it like animals: wolves, coyotes, foxes, and domesticated canines are all part of the dog family, known as the Canis. Similarly so, Cannabis sativa L. is responsible for the species of marijuana, industrial hemp, and strains of high-CBD hemp.


There are many differences, both in appearance, usage, and science that can help you distinguish which plant is used for which purpose. Keep in mind that both marijuana and hemp have many uses; marijuana is quickly progressing to become a socially acceptable recreational drug that has long been known to possess medical benefits due to the THC, while hemp continues to be used for consumption, fiber, and other materials and certain forms of hemp contain high quantities of CBD. So the next time you hear the term “Cannabis,” take into consideration that there is more than just one derivative and usage of the well-known Cannabis sativa L. plant.

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