Hemp Vs Marijuana: What’s The Difference?

Hemp, marijuana, cannabis; it’s all the same, right? WRONG! You’ve likely seen our hemp-farming video and thought, “hmmm, hemp sure looks like marijuana”. You’d be right. And if you’re in the Milwaukee area and have toured our production facility, you’ve probably thought, “hmmm, hemp sure smells like marijuana”. You’d also be right. Then what’s the difference between hemp vs marijuana?

Although the terms cannabis, hemp, and marijuana are all used interchangeably in pop culture, they mean very different things in reality. This leads to major misconceptions across most of the general public and contributes to the lingering stigma against non-intoxicating products like CBD.

Legality of Hemp vs Marijuana

Cannabis sativa, usually just referred to as cannabis, is the overarching term that comes from the scientific name for the plant (aka binomial nomenclature—the Latin names for plant and animal species). From here, cannabis can be identified as being in one of two distinct groups: hemp vs marijuana. Hemp became legal in all 50 United States with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill. It is often used for its fiber (in ropes or textiles) or for therapeutic supplements. Marijuana, on the other hand, is only legal for recreational use in 11 states. When it comes to medicinal use, 33 states allow medically prescribed marijuana.

Credit: Business Insider

Hemp vs Marijuana: Definitions

As defined by the FDA, hemp is the term for a cannabis plant with very little THC content (less than 0.3% by dry weight). This is important to distinguish because THC is the psychoactive compound that produces intoxicating effects. That’s why CBD doesn’t get users high. Marijuana, on the other hand, is bred through seed genetics to have as much THC as possible. For reference, most marijuana contains between 15-25% THC. Because marijuana contains much more of the compound, it does get users high. The 0.3% threshold which is drawn by the FDA is widely criticized as being arbitrary. In actuality, users could consume much more than 0.3% THC and still feel no intoxicating effects. Nonetheless, a line has to be drawn somewhere to protect consumers.

Hemp & Marijuana in Pop Culture

From The Office, Season 4 Episode 3

Even The Office got in on the hemp vs marijuana confusion. Remember this scene? Apparently, Dwight grows hemp on his farm (along with beets). However, the pizza delivery boy thought it was marijuana. It was probably “really crappy” to the teenager because it had very low THC content and didn’t get him and his buddies high.

Even within the category of hemp (which is under the umbrella of cannabis), there are some distinctions that can be made between plants that are used for industrial and therapeutic purposes. It really comes down to the seeds. For industrial purposes, growers don’t care about the cannabinoid levels; they’re strictly after the fiber. For therapeutic purposes, growers want seeds that will give high yields of CBD and other cannabinoids, but low THC.

Plant Anatomy

The main components of the cannabis plant are similar to most other plants. There are roots, a stem (or stalk), leaves, and flowers. Leaves of the cannabis plant are often referred to as fan-leaves because of their highly recognizable, spread-out pattern. I’m sure you’ve seen cannabis leaves on t-shirts, socks, bumper stickers, and literally everything else imaginable. When people see that hemp plants have the same distinct leaves as marijuana plants, the hemp vs marijuana confusion only thickens. Growers harvest the flower of the cannabis plant for therapeutic properties because it contains large amounts of potent cannabinoids and terpenes. There are negligible amounts of cannabinoids in other parts of the plant, like the stem. If your purpose for growing hemp is making ropes or textiles, you’re really after the fiber found in the stems.

hemp vs marijuana
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Final Thoughts

Many great benefits are known for certain, but some potential benefits of cannabis need additional research before they can be touted. What is known is that THC is a major therapeutic component of cannabis. For this reason, marijuana is better at treating some ailments than hemp (but comes with the associated high). In a similar fashion, hemp with some THC (small trace amounts, aka 0.3%) is better than having no THC at all. This is where terms like full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, and isolate products come into the conversation. For more on these definitions, visit our previous blog: Full-Spectrum vs. Isolate vs. Broad-Spectrum – CBD Extracts Explained.

October 09, 2021 — Griffin Lynch

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