Hemp vs. Marijuana – What to Know

The question as to the difference between hemp and marijuana often causes confusion because they come from the same plant species, cannabis sativa. The short answer to what the difference is between the two plants is hemp does not cause a psychoactive effect and is primarily used for industrial purposes, while marijuana, on the other hand, is used for recreational or medicinal purposes and can cause a psychoactive “high”.

Hemp is one of the strongest and most durable natural soft fibers on the planet. With a long history of industrial uses going back well over 1,000 years, hemp is also one of the most versatile plants. It can be used for a wide range of products to include paper, fuel, oils, medicine, clothing, housing, plastic, rope, and food.

The psychoactive compound most attributed to marijuana is called tetrahydrocannabinol, popularly known as THC. THC is one of the most well-known compounds, known as cannabinoids, found in the cannabis plant. It is this compound that causes the “high” experienced in recreational marijuana. A distinguishing characteristic between marijuana and hemp is hemp contains very little of this psychoactive chemical, while the marijuana plant contains high levels of THC. It is often this difference that is noted when differentiating between hemp and marijuana.

Some countries such as the United States and Canada have set a maximum THC content for hemp at 0.3%. Though not an official standard globally, it is one that is being adopted more and more, and states are using it to provide guidance on hemp cultivation, which places a firm distinction between what hemp is and what marijuana is. Cannabis with levels of THC higher than this amount is considered to be marijuana. As a comparison, recreational and medicinal marijuana THC content can be anywhere from 5% to over 20% THC.

The two plants also share another well-known cannabinoid called cannabidiol, often referred to as CBD. CBD is thought to contain health benefits but does not cause the psychoactive effect or “high” that THC does. While marijuana contains higher levels of THC, it contains lower levels of CBD. Some strains of hemp, on the other hand, contains higher levels of CBD in the plant, and lower levels of THC. It is also believed that CBD acts to reduce the psychoactive effects of THC, further distinguishing hemp from marijuana.

Though from the same plant species, hemp and marijuana are bred for two distinct reasons, and that breeding extends to how it is grown. While some hemp is grown and bred for its seeds and strong fibers, which are used for its many industrial purposes, marijuana and other strains of hemp (like the ones used to create CBD oil) is grown and bred for the buds and flowers, which users consume.

Typically, industrial hemp plants are grown close together and grow thin and tall, reaching up to 20 feet in height. They tend to have fewer branches or leaves below the top part of the plant. In contrast, marijuana plants or hemp grown for CBD purposes usually have more space between them and are shorter and fuller looking plants with many branches throughout.

According to VoteHemp.Com, “while marijuana is illegal under federal law, the U.S. House has passed the hemp amendment to the Farm Bill. This allows for pilot programs and research to begin on industrial hemp to determine whether hemp farming would add benefits for American farmers and businesses.” They state that “Thirty one (31) states have now defined industrial hemp as distinct and barriers have been removed for its production. The states listed below are able to take immediate advantage of the industrial hemp research and pilot program provision, Section 7606 of the Farm Bill: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.” In an effort to further separate hemp from marijuana legally, many states are enacting policies and legislation surrounding industrial hemp production. For example, in Colorado, as defined in Colorado Revised Statute, Article 61, section 35-61-101(7) Industrial Hemp “means a plant of the genus Cannabis and any part of the plant, whether growing or not, containing a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of no more than three-tenths of one percent (0.3% THC) on a dry weight basis.”

The differences between marijuana and hemp are so distinct that The Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Industrial Hemp Program, which regulates the cultivation of industrial hemp, was created to separate hemp cultivation from that of marijuana cultivation. While there seems to be a way to go to clearly separate hemp from marijuana legally on the federal level, many states are taking the lead and making strides to show the differences between these two plants. By defining, acknowledging, and enacting laws regarding their use, and creating programs to manage everything from production to cultivation, states are not only taking the lead in marijuana and hemp use in the U.S., they are doing so with an eye to the differences between the two plants.

Understanding that hemp is primarily a non-psychoactive plant from which a wide range of industrial products are made is the first step in distinguishing it from its cousin marijuana. Understanding the chemical and physical differences helps to further define the two plants as unique in properties and use. With many states now providing legislation and guidance for the use of marijuana as a recreational and medicinal consumable, and those states providing programs for and a definition of what industrial hemp is, it becomes clearer that the two plants are used for different purposes.

Hemp Depot is a leading distributer of hemp CBD oil products. For more information about Hemp Depot and our hemp CBD oil products, please call us at 844-HEMP-234 (844-436-7234) or email us at info@HempDepotCo.com.

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