It’s easy to get confused when discussing the differences between hemp and marijuana, two types of the cannabis plant. With so many unaware that hemp and marijuana are actually different varietals of cannabis, the two terms are often mistakenly applied interchangeably, despite the very distinct differences that exist between the two related plants.
It’s important to first understand that hemp and marijuana are both members of the same species of plant, Cannabis sativa L. However, the two plants are unique in their chemical makeup, resulting in their being used for very different purposes. Today, we explore the important distinctions between these two members of the cannabis family.
What is Hemp?
Hemp is a cannabis plant that is harvested commercially for its seeds and stalks. Its seeds and stalks are used to produce a number of products: including food, nutritional supplements, medicine, body care products, paper, textiles, building materials, plastic composites, and even biofuels.
Because it thrives under natural conditions, hemp is typically grown outside, with both male and female plants sown closely together to encourage wind pollination and increase seed production. The hemp plant grows sturdy and tall, up to 2 to 4 meters in height, without the need for herbicides or pesticides.
For cannabis to be considered hemp, it must contain no more than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per dry weight. THC is the active compound in marijuana that causes its euphoric effect. The level of THC in hemp is 33 times less than the least potent marijuana strains, so it’s impossible for hemp to get a user “high.”
Unlike marijuana, hemp is naturally higher in cannabidiol (CBD), one of over 85 cannabinoids that have so far been identified in the cannabis plant. CBD is completely non-psychoactive and therefore won’t cause a high, making it safe for use by anyone, regardless of age.
What is Marijuana?
Marijuana is a cannabis plant that is most frequently harvested for its euphoric, psychoactive properties, which are responsible for making users feel high or stoned. The fibers and stalks of marijuana are not used commercially. Instead, the marijuana plant is cultivated specifically for its flowers, which contain the highest levels of THC in the plant.
To maximize THC levels in marijuana, it’s often grown indoors so that conditions like light, temperature, and humidity can be closely monitored. Any male marijuana plants are removed to prevent the female plants from becoming fertilized, which lowers the plant’s concentration of THC. When compared to hemp, which grows tall, marijuana grows shorter and bushier with lots of flowers.
Through selective breeding, varieties or strains of marijuana can contain THC concentrations that range from 10 percent to up to 30 percent. Marijuana is naturally lower in CBD than THC. Since it contains high levels of THC, use and possession of marijuana, whether for recreational or medical reasons, remains federally illegal in the U.S., although states have passed laws that have legalized either medical or recreational marijuana.