Recent news stories coming from Idaho has left some of our readership wondering. It’s a recent event wherein Idaho State Police seized the contents of semi-truck full of plant material. The plant material in question is being hotly debated by the public.
Is it marijuana or hemp?
The answer to that question has some big implications for residents of not only Idaho but the continental United States. Not only lawmakers but the general public have long misunderstood the significant differences between marijuana and hemp.
Cliff notes: Cannabis, Hemp, and Marijuana are not the same things.
Thus, it’s important that we all educate ourselves on this matter.
Yes! Hemp and Marijuana Are Different.
First, it is important to understand that the two plants, hemp, and marijuana, share a commonality in that they are both a species of plant called Cannabis Sativa L.
Cannabis is a family of plants with two primary classifications — Indica and Sativa. While marijuana can be considered a member of either the Indica or Sativa families, Hemp is a member of the Cannabis Sativa family.
This species of plant is well known for its leaf pattern that is heavily associated with recreational marijuana use. Both hemp and marijuana feature this leaf pattern. Maybe that’s where the confusion lies for the layperson.
Comparing Hemp vs Marijuana:
Looking beyond the species, the common traits between the two varieties begin to thin.
Marijuana and hemp are different in their appearance, growing methods, chemical makeup, and the way they are processed and used. Each of these aspects contributes to the significant overall differences between the two plant varieties.
Currently, there are laws established in the USA and Canada have created a specific classification for hemp-based on its chemical makeup. Today, the legal term industrial hemp is used to describe hemp classified as having less than 0.3% Tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-9 THC) on a dry weight basis.
So visually there could be some difficulty in identifying.
Low THC content hemp is non-psychoactive if smoked or consumed in any facet.
By breeding specific strains over time, low THC varieties are achieved. Just like traditional cannabis is made stronger. High-CBD hemp strains are now commonplace. Thus it’s easy to understand how the opposite is possible.
Marijuana is a variety of cannabis that many are familiar with. At least, in theory, it’s the most popular version of the plant.
This version of the plant has a high concentration of Delta-9 THC, the psychoactive compound that makes for a “high” feeling.
Although there are many strains of marijuana, they all feature slightly different chemical makeups. This equates to varying cannabinoids and terpenoids. Thus, different effects and even smells or mouth feels when smoked.
Due to the fact that marijuana has been bred over and over again to create high THC strains, some can contain up to 20-25% THC on a dry weight basis.
Cannabis contains a variety of different compounds called Cannabinoids, two of rich, and the most dominant are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD).
Both Cannabinoids have shown to provide profound benefits to the human body; however, THC induces psychoactive effects (gets the user “high”), while CBD does not contain any psychoactive properties.
One way to distinguish the two apart is by appearance. This can be tricky for some but it’s easy with a few guidelines:
Hemp is a fibrous plant that doesn't look nearly as “pretty” as strains of marijuana.
Hemp is a fibrous plant thanks to the large stalk which can result in plants up to 20 feet tall. The leaf pattern on this plant makes it appear much thinner. Those that are more familiar with marijuana may see it as a sickly looking plant.
Marijuana is a shorter, stalkier plant than hemp.
These plants feature broader leaves with an abundance of budding flowers growing around the stalks. These flowers are often covered in crystal-dusted hairs, which can come in a variety of color patterns.
Marijuana features broad leaves, dense buds and has a short, bushy appearance. Not to say that it can’t grow very tall under certain growing conditions, it’s just not as common to see.
In stark contrast, with few branches beneath its upper portion, hemp appears as less of a bush.
When compared side by side, the two plants can each clearly be identified.
Where Do They Originate?
Hemp grows in a vast variety of climates with minimal care. It’s practically a weed. Today, it is looked at in many countries as an industrial operation. Often the plant is grown in large greenhouses or in outdoor farming operations.
Marijuana is grown in controlled indoor environments. Tight control of the growing environment equates to a better product for human consumption. This might be one of the single defining features of why they look so different.
Use & Potential Applications
Hemp: Long known for its 25,000+ potential product uses thanks to its fibrous makeup and versatile seeds. More recently high-CBD strains have been used as an extracted source to create salves, isolates, and oils for tinctures.
CBD products are known for their wide variety of potential medical benefits including anxiety, inflammation, and other ailments.
Marijuana: Commonly and historically, the plant is trimmed of its leaves and stalks down to the flowering buds which are then smoked or consumed as recreational and medical cannabis.
Legal Status & Government Intervention
This is where the confusion comes in.
Hemp and marijuana are a part of a long history of confusion for the legislature. This applies widely to the public as well.
In 1970 the Controlled Substances Act classified all forms of Cannabis Sativa L as Illegal Marijuana. This generalized grouping of hemp and marijuana caused the high-potential, non-psychoactive hemp plant to become a schedule 1 controlled substance.
This classification still readily determines the legal status of hemp and its derivatives for the public.
Due to almost a century of misinformation about Cannabis, the distinction between Cannabis and its two primary species — hemp and marijuana — has become unclear to the many and some even consider the three plants to be one in the same.
Because of this, the three terms are often used interchangeably, which has created difficulties when understanding the usage and benefits of Hemp vs Marijuana and Cannabis in general
Because of this, Hemp is grown primarily for industrial purposes, while Marijuana is grown for recreational and medicinal purposes.
With the fast-growing popularity of CBD across the globe, hemp is also used to produce a wide variety of THC-free CBD products. The list is endless. Even building supplies can be made from hemp.
Now that we’re on the same page, it’s blatantly clear that Hemp and Marijuana are indeed very different plants, and confusing one for the other or both as the same thing is a huge mistake. One that still happens on a regular basis.
As people begin to educate themselves, as we just have here, the differences are beginning to become more well known. Now when you hear someone confuse the two, you have the tools to answer them.
Let’s educate them on the difference.