Hemp Vs. Cannabis
Cannabis (also known as marijuana) is widely known for its use as a recreational and medicinal drug. When most people hear the words cannabis, marijuana, pot, weed, or hemp, their minds immediately leap to cancer patients, hippies, or the universally recognizable “joint”.
But what about products like hemp rope, hemp seeds, and hemp-based fabrics, lotions, and soaps? We buy these items at our local health food store or environmentally-friendly clothing boutique. Given that cannabis is illegal in many places around the world, these readily available products must be something different, right?
Well, yes and no.
What Is Cannabis Sativa?
Simply put, hemp and marijuana are two different strains of the plant Cannabis sativa. Much like Haze and Jack Herer were bred to produce cannabis strains with different effects, hemp and cannabis have been bred for different uses.
- The strain of Cannabis sativa we know as “marijuana” is grown for its buds or flowers, and the resin that develops on them, which are harvested, dried, and used for recreational and medicinal purposes from smoking to baked goods.
- On the other hand, hemp is grown for industrial purposes. Its strong, soft fibers are used extensively in oils, construction, paper products, supplements, insulation, plastics, and much more. Hemp, it should be added, has been specifically bred not to produce any buds at all.
Does Hemp Contain THC?
The reason hemp can be grown and harvested in some places where the cultivation and use of cannabis is prohibited has to do with the amount of the psychoactive compound THC it contains. Just as certain strains of cannabis have been developed to have high levels of THC, or high levels of CBD (a non-psychoactive cannabis compound with medicinal properties), hemp is bred to have extremely low levels of THC.
Where Is Hemp Grown?
As long as the cannabis plants in question contain less than 0.3% THC, they are acceptable for industrial growth and harvest in more than two dozen countries across the world. Around 10% THC is considered low where cannabis is concerned, so you can see that hemp’s THC levels are practically negligible. Scientists, politicians, and advocates of cannabis are regularly arguing for and against this accepted level, and much debate and talk of change is underway but until then, the distinction remains between hemp and marijuana remains.
Despite this official difference, it is actually illegal to grow both hemp and cannabis in some countries, regardless of the THC content. The United States is one such country, though laws are changing regularly and today a number of states are permitted to grown industrial hemp. Prior to that, though, the States had import all their hemp products and still need to supplement the plants grown on national soil. And they do supplement it, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Incongruously, importing hemp products is legal throughout the US.
So, the next time you spot hemp seeds on the grocery shelf, don’t peer around nervously as you place them in your cart. Their purchase and use are perfectly legal – and remarkably healthful – and, no, they won’t grow into smokeable marijuana if your teenage son tries to plant them. In fact, if they’re shelled as most health products are, they won’t grow at all.
To Sum Up: Three Major Differences Between Hemp and Marijuana
- Hemp contains very low levels of THC – between 0.3 and 0.5% – compared to the 10-30% found in marijuana.
- All industrial hemp is from the species Cannabis sativa. Marijuana may be Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica, and auto-flowering strains even have some Cannabis ruderalis mixed in.
- When grown outdoor, marijuana plants can reach an imnpressive six feet, but industrial hemp can reach 14 feet!