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Difference between Hemp & Marijuana

1. Introduction

Hemp and marijuana are terms that are used a lot– often incorrectly. These two vastly different sounding words rather belong to the same flowering plant (scientifically) in the Canebrake family. But the law brings the difference between “Hemp” and “Marijuana”. They’re both varieties of cannabis plants but with completely different uses, legal statuses, and benefits.  Here’s all you need to know about them!

Legally, the main dissimilarity between them is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content, which is one of the cannabinoids, a chemical found in the cannabis plant. This is exactly responsible for the “feeling” that you get after being associated with it.

2. Cannabis family and cannabis plant

Before exploring hemp and medical marijuana and their medical benefits, let us introduce various forms of the cannabis family. Every kind of cannabis belongs to a family of flowering plants named Cannabacae. This includes approximately 170 species across 11 individual genus types (a taxonomic rank sitting between family & species). Cannabis is a genus of the Cannabacae family, as is Humulus (the hop plant used for beer) and Celtis (a type of tree or shrub native to many parts of the northern hemisphere).

There are three main cannabis derivative and natural compounds, two of which you’ve probably heard of before:

  • Cannabis Sativa Plants– They have narrow leaflets, farther apart branches, and are soring green coloured. They are tall and produce fewer flowers.
  • Cannabis Indica Plants– Have broad leaflets that often overlap, close branches, and are deep olive-green coloured. They are short and bushy, and they produce full dense flower buds.
  • Cannabis Ruderalis Plants – They have varied leaflets (matured leaves). They are short and comparatively small in size. This subspecies is used to produce Indica or Sativa hybrids.

3. What is Hemp?

  • Hemp is one of the cannabis products with less than 0.3% THC by dry weight.
  • This number (0.3%) specifically was used in the definition of hemp legally, as specified in the Agricultural Act of 2018 & other laws in the US.
  • Why 0.3%? This definition was proposed in 1979, in a book called “The species problem in Cannabis: Science & Semantics”.
  • Today, hemp is used not just for industrial purposes but also for CBD products marketed for their therapeutic effects, and other potential health benefits.
  • Hemp won’t get you high because its THC content is comparatively low.

4. What is Marijuana?

  • Marijuana is what they call “weed”. It is also called recreational marijuana.
  • It is a variety of cannabis products with more than 0.3% THC by dry weight.
  • It causes intoxication or, rather, a whopping great high” feeling, often used as a guilty pleasure.
  • Cannabis plants are designated as Cannabis indica, Cannabis sativa, or a hybrid. Both have slightly different chemical compounds, and their own characteristics and psychoactive effects, although science hasn’t yet verified this. It is also said to offer comfort to patients suffering from a social anxiety disorder.
  • Unlike hemp, marijuana products have never been used for many industrial purposes. 

5. Five main differences between Hemp & Marijuana

  • Composition
  • Appearance
  • Physical characteristics
  • Legality
  • Public perception

6. Composition

The chemical structure of hemp is typically around 10-20% CBD (Cannabidiol) and below 0.3 per cent THC, alongside other major & minor cannabinoids such as cannabinol (CBN), cannabigerol (CBG), and cannabichromene (CBC). Whereas marijuana carries 10-25% THC; it has been known to go up to 33-35%. Certain marijuana strains are produced to retain more CBD. When this happens, the scales tilt & the THC content in marijuana decrease

It’s also necessary to differentiate between hemp and CBD and how they are used. As said previously, hemp is simply one of the cannabis products. It’s a highly fibrous and robust plant that houses cannabinoids and other plant compounds for many industrial purposes such as clothing, rope, textiles, etc. The hemp seeds (not the plant) may be used for oil (hemp seed oil), and it is only valid for cooking, skincare, or as a carrier oil for CBD products. 

As an isolated cannabinoid, CBD is just one element of the hemp plant (albeit a reasonably large one). They are used primarily for physiological and therapeutic benefits, such as anti-stress, anti-inflammation, anti-anxiety, and pain relief. CBD is found in marijuana as well. 
The CBD you discover in hemp is the same as you would find in marijuana, and also, there are no “exclusive” plant compounds in either variety. You will find (and experience) most, if not all, plant compounds regardless of whether you consume hemp or marijuana. 

7. Appearance and physical characteristics

Hemp and marijuana strains look significantly similar simply because they are both Sativas. Both plants are remarkably tall, taller than any other subspecies or type (up to six meters tall). Thin, long, sparse, and not particularly dense. However, there are some differences between their physical appearances. You may notice marijuana has a higher population of thick & sticky resin during the growth process, visible on the flower buds like a bed of tiny white crystals. This resin accommodates all the valuable plant compounds (THC, CBD, etc.). 

This resin houses all the valuable plant compounds (THC, CBD, etc.). Hemp, on the other hand, doesn’t bear as much resin. Most of the valuable plant compounds are in the plant’s leaves, and the leaves carry an abundance of cannabidiol acid (CBDA) and tetrahydrocannabinol acid (THCA).

8. Legality

Hemp has been granted federally legal status, while marijuana is considered federally illegal. Why? It is all because of their THC content. Both hemp & marijuana types bear THC, listed under Schedule-I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). However, under the Agriculture Improvement Act (2018 Farm Bill), hemp is completely legal provided it bears less than 0.3% THC. Any higher than this percentage is immediately categorized as marijuana, causing it to be federally illegal and it leads to unwanted effects cannabis.

9. Public perception

When comparing weed and hemp, public perception is discussed the least. Hemp and hemp-derived products are far more acceptable now than marijuana despite belonging to the cannabis family. Also, THC is slowly gaining some acceptance, though the issue of being “high” still lives. 

Many still believe THC consumption is just to get “high” without knowing how useful it can be and continue to disregard the various positive studies of cannabis. Marijuana, therefore, remains partially marginalized, mainly among straight-laced individuals stuck considering everything the war on drugs told them. This has led to many myths related to the unwanted effects of cannabis.

10. History and racism

The word “marijuana” is quite controversial due to its racist roots. In the early 20th century, a considerable number of Mexicans immigrated to the US due to the ongoing Mexican Revolution, which led to growing racist and anti-immigrant beliefs in the US. At this time, cannabis used to be a legal cross-border import.

The word “marijuana” wasn’t used a lot before then. Instead, the term “cannabis” was its scientific name and was far more commonly used. However, in the 1910s and 1920s, the word “marijuana” was associated with Mexicans, who were stereotyped as people who constantly used cannabis.

The US government used “marijuana” in anti-cannabis propaganda to cement cannabis and Mexican immigrants. This propaganda, which was later named anti-cannabis, spread plenty of myths regarding the adverse effects of cannabis while eternalizing racist stereotypes. In the 1930s, this propaganda continued and heavily contributed to cannabis becoming illegal and substantially negatively highlighting the effects of marijuana use.

The word “marijuana” isn’t even used often by the industry, and instead, they prefer using “cannabis” because of its anti-cannabis propaganda.

11. Uses

The benefits of cannabis also lie in Cannabinoids that are found in cannabis flowers, leaves, and stalks; in higher concentrations, while cannabis seeds essentially include no cannabinoids. Those looking to undergo cannabis’s practical effects often turn to cannabis flowers, smoked or extracted into tinctures and edibles.

You can get high due to the cannabis strains, which have higher THC content for medical purposes, like pain management, and therapeutic effects but it also has negative effects. Strains lower in THC but higher in other cannabinoids, like cannabidiol (CBD), can also produce practical effects but won’t get you high. Cannabis with less than 0.3% THC can also be grown to create other varieties of products (hemp-derived products), including:

  • Clothing
  • Paper
  • Textiles
  • Plastic
  • Animal feed
  • Food products, such as hemp milk, hemp protein powder, hemp seed, or hemp oil

Because hemp cultivates faster than trees and other crops, it is considered a more sustainable way of creating products like paper and textiles. Hemp seed is reasonably nutritious, as it is a complete protein containing a high amount of fibre.

12. CBD

CBD (Cannabidiol) is a cannabinoid that has become increasingly popular since hemp was legalized. Many individuals use CBD products because CBD is considered to have numerous health benefits. CBD is found in some quantity in all cannabis plants, and that means it can be derived from hemp or marijuana too.

However, CBD products are only federally legal if derived from hemp with less than 0.3% THC. THC content more than that may cause adverse health effects and start causing negative cardiovascular effects.

13. Conclusion

Both marijuana and hemp are the same plant species. Legally, hemp is defined as a type of cannabis that holds 0.3% or less THC, and on the contrary, marijuana is the same type of cannabis that holds more than 0.3% THC. CBD can be derived from both marijuana and hemp plants.

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