Marijuana and hemp indeed belong to the same family: Cannabis Sativa. However, there is evidence that shows that these two plants have completely different characteristics and qualities. While both plants are barely differentiable physically, they couldn’t be more different. The main differentiating factor between hemp and marijuana is the level of THC. Hemp has significantly lower levels of the chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects. In essence, marijuana offers ancestral medicine and psychoactive flowers while the hemp plant, as the most versatile variety in the family, can be used to manufacture fiber, oil, cellulose, biofuels, plastic, and even food. We could say that marijuana is used for medicinal purposes, and hemp is used for industrial and medicinal purposes.
Unfortunately, the misinformed and common belief that marijuana and hemp are the same negatively impacts industrial hemp production. Marijuana’s association with hemp carries through with its damaged reputation and legal battles thus making it extremely important to form a clear distinction between the two: Hemp is not marijuana!
There are many varieties of cannabis. This creates confusion and makes it difficult to differentiate their species, hemp and marijuana are some of the cannabis varieties, they can even look quite similar in their physiognomy but their effects, uses, and regulations are completely different. How different, exactly? Cultivation, composition, common uses, and effects are the main differentiating factors.
Hemp vs. Marijuana Cultivation
There are several differences when it comes to growing each of the cannabis species. The cultivation of marijuana needs a warm and humid environment to keep the crop healthy, in addition, its plants require a large space between each of them. That’s not the case with hemp, which adapts to any climate and its plants grow one above the other, with a minimum gap. Additionally, hemp grows between 2 to 5 meters high covered by large leaves and medium or medium-large folios, unlike those that form in the marijuana plant. Hemp’s growth-cycle can last up to 120 days, marijuana takes a maximum of 90.
Differences in composition between Hemp and Marijuana
Every country or state has its own regulations about the usage and cultivation of Cannabis Sativa but most are subject to the percentage of THC within each plant. That’s because the percentage of THC in the cannabis crop is what makes it is possible to differentiate whether it is marijuana or hemp. To consider a species or strain of Cannabis Sativa as hemp, it must not exceed 0.3% in most of the United States but there are some other countries where the allowed percentage is lower and must not exceed 0.2% of THC to accept hemp as legal. Hemp is more abundant in cannabidiol (CBD) but marijuana also contains certain amounts of CBD. On the other hand, if the amount of THC exceeds 0.3 percent, it will be classified as marijuana and will not have industrial use. In some cases, marijuana can contain up to 30% of THC.
Hemp vs. Marijuana Uses
Hemp and marijuana are grown for different purposes and uses. The first variety offers a wide range of branches in which it can be used, which is why we will associate it with industrial cannabis or industrial hemp. Marijuana is used individually for recreational purposes due to the powerful psychoactive agents it offers. Many communities also use it in ceremonial rites and it is known as ancestral medicine in its purest state. However, the use of hemp is much more extensive and benefits industries such as timber, clothing, plastics, construction, medicine and also, the food industry.
THC in hemp: a negligible amount
No doubt this is one of those crucial differences between both varieties. Marijuana makes you feel high giving a euphoric sensation because of the psychoactive agents of THC. Hemp can’t get you high but it does contain a wide range of protein and amino acids because of the CBD. That is the reason why products such as CBD oil and others are made with hemp instead of other plants.
It is important to understand the substantial differences between each of the Cannabis Sativa species. Hemp could be playing a relevant role in the development of most industries but the negative stigma that has been created around cannabis and its psychoactive effects have limited the use of this bio-friendly alternative. The challenge is still to educate the public around this topic, seeking for the hemp plant to become a true ecological and sustainable alternative for our planet in the future.