Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana

The Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana

The difference between hemp and marijuana is a little bit confusing. This is why people tend to lump hemp and marijuana together as being the same substance. Even the US government got caught in that trap back in 1937 when they banned hemp production by way of the Marihuana Tax Act. The Marijuana Tax Act was a response to national propaganda against marijuana, or “weed.” Even though hemp and marijuana have very different functions and applications, the US government banned hemp alongside marijuana almost a century ago.

Hemp was not re-legalized for production until recently with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill. This is finally when the US government officially recognized that hemp and marijuana are not the same. Federally, marijuana is still a Schedule I controlled substance, though many US states have legalized it for either recreational or medical use.

The Biology of Cannabis

The reason people think there is no notable difference between hemp and marijuana is that they are both different types of cannabis plants. At some point, the term “cannabis” became interchangeable with “marijuana,” a substance known for making users feel intoxicated, or “high.” However, marijuana is just one type of cannabis plant. Hemp is another.

Technically, cannabis is a genus, part of the Cannabaceae family. The cannabis genus has been separated by some scientists into three main species: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. However, many modern scientists classify only one species of cannabis, Cannabis sativa, with varieties within that species. They do not consider them to have the necessary differences to be classified as separate species. Those varieties or sub-species include Indica, Ruderalis, and Vulgaris. Ruderalis is wild hemp and Vulgaris is cultivated hemp.

In short, most scientists recognize only one species of cannabis. Both hemp and marijuana are types of the same species: Cannabis sativa. Still, hemp and marijuana have clear genetic distinctions from one another. These distinctions have led to their differences in cultivation and use. Historically and to date, marijuana’s primary use has been as a psychotropic drug in medicine and for recreation. The main use of hemp, on the other hand, has been for a wide array of products, including textiles, industrial goods, building materials, and nutritional products. Regardless, the fact that they are the same species is likely why the law has failed to recognize their differences for so long.

The Most Important Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana

The most important difference between hemp and marijuana is that categorically, hemp contains no more than 0.3 percent THC. Any cannabis plant with more than 0.3 percent THC is automatically considered marijuana. This difference is so important because THC, the most dominant cannabinoid in cannabis, is the part of the plant that makes users feel “high.”

This definition of hemp, that it is a type of cannabis with 0.3 percent or less THC began in the 2014 Farm Bill when it defined “industrial hemp” specifically. The updated 2018 Farm Bill expanded that definition to include “hemp” in general, not just “industrial hemp.” With this updated definition came reduced restrictions. The 2014 Farm Bill permitted hemp cultivation primarily for research, and only in states that allowed hemp production.

The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the controlled substances act, thereby defining it as a separate substance from marijuana. Hemp’s cultivation, processing, marketing, and sale became legal by any authorized grower as long as it complied with federal USDA regulations and state regulations. In other words, in 2018, the difference between hemp and marijuana was officially recognized.

Furthermore, a substance’s amount usage matters because marijuana contains a lot of THC. People who use marijuana recreationally enjoy its intoxicating effects. Hemp is non-intoxicating, so people do not use it recreationally. For these reasons, marijuana remains federally illegal, while hemp has been federally legalized.

Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana
Good hemp growing in a field

Why Defining the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana Matters

Cannabis plants are full of naturally occurring substances called cannabinoids. THC is one of those cannabinoids, though there are at least 143 others. THC is the most prominent cannabinoid in marijuana, and cannabidiol, better known as CBD, is second-most prominent. In hemp, CBD is the most prominent cannabinoid, whereas there is very little THC. CBD is non-intoxicating, an attractive element of the substance that separates it from its cannabinoid cousin THC.

With more and more states legalizing marijuana and with hemp now federally legalized, research into the potential health benefits of cannabinoids has skyrocketed. Mostly, that research has been focused on CBD and THC. Since then, one CBD-based drug called Epidiolex has been approved by the FDA for treating rare forms of epilepsy. In addition, pre-clinical and clinical trials regarding the therapeutic potential of CBD have shown promising results. Some of the conditions CBD could potentially help treat include anxiety, sleep issues, depression, and pain.

Differentiating hemp and marijuana means that people across the entire US have legal access to CBD. Research is still needed to prove that CBD can help with various health conditions, but in the meantime, anecdotal evidence from CBD users has led to its growing popularity. CBD research often focuses on whether it can help people deal with anxiety and sleep issues, likely due to all of the anecdotal evidence coming from CBD users. More research is needed to confirm whether or not it can provide relief to those suffering from anxiety and sleep disorders, but the evidence is mounting in CBD’s favor. Meanwhile, many people have begun taking CBD as a holistic approach to managing their anxiety and sleep problems.

CBD From Hemp Versus CBD From Marijuana

Where CBD comes from determines its legality. Scientifically speaking, this rule doesn’t make a lot of sense. CBD is a molecule. It remains the same regardless of if its origin, either extracted from hemp or marijuana. Still, marijuana-derived CBD is federally illegal because marijuana is federally illegal.

This is because the 2018 Farm Bill states that hemp and hemp-derived products are federally legal. It does not explicitly state CBD is legal. So, CBD is only legal at the national level in the US if it comes from hemp (and has less the 0.3 percent THC). Marijuana-derived CBD is illegal federally even if it has no THC in it.

CBD customers must be aware of this rule to remain within the law if they buy CBD in a state where marijuana has not been recreationally legalized.

More Practical Uses of Hemp

Recognizing hemp as separate from marijuana means that more people and businesses will begin to understand its variety of uses. While CBD strains may have therapeutic potential for humans and animals, hemp has other elements that are useful as well.

Hemp’s uses include as a building material, to make paper, rope, clothing, food, bioplastics, biofuel, and insulation. As such, hemp’s potential to help the planet with grave issues like climate change and hunger is vast. Investing in hemp might be an important way for the world to move forward, so that society relies less on substances that harm the planet, like traditional oil and plastic.

Historically, hemp has been cultivated for many uses, but most of that came to a halt globally when the US made it a controlled substance. The changing attitude toward hemp amongst international governments has meant that hemp production is now experiencing a renaissance. Over thirty countries around the world cultivate hemp, with China as the leader in production and exportation.

Cultivating Hemp Versus Marijuana

Because of the different uses for hemp and marijuana, their method of cultivation is also very different. Marijuana requires careful cultivation. Growers breed marijuana to optimize certain characteristics in the budding flowers of the female plants. This requires that growers put a lot of time and energy into cultivating exactly what they want. Correct growing conditions, which include things like light, humidity, and temperature, are necessary to yield the results they are looking for when growing marijuana. The atmosphere must be highly controlled.

By contrast, industrial hemp does not require much care or attention. The idea is to maximize the size and yield and that’s it. Therefore, growers cultivate hemp outdoors giving it lots of space to flourish. There is no need for lighting, temperature, or humidity control. Hemp can thrive in versatile growing conditions and restore contaminated soil, which means the soil can be used repeatedly. This makes it an ideal crop for how easy it is to grow and its environmental benefits overall.

Hemp cultivation to produce CBD does require a bit more attention. CBD comes from the flowering buds of the plant, which only female plants produce. Therefore, hemp growers who want to make CBD have no use for male hemp plants. They might consider using feminized hemp seeds, or those that have been technologically developed to produce female plants. This will help growers to yield more hemp flowers, leading to a higher harvest and more CBD from their plants.

Differentiating Between Hemp and Marijuana Plants

Hemp and marijuana plants look identical, and they smell identical too. This often leads to confusion from law enforcement. Cops across the US have mistaken industrial hemp for marijuana and thus confiscated it unlawfully. Then they have to send it in for analysis, which can take time. Some hemp growers have even taken legal action and sued law enforcement for damages to their hemp business from unlawful confiscation.

To make it easier for law enforcement to differentiate between legal hemp and illegal marijuana, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) began looking for companies that can make test kits to determine if a plant is hemp or marijuana quickly. As of August 2020, a field kit called TRU has been developed. It can distinguish hemp from marijuana in roughly five minutes. TRU’s developers include a team of researchers from Purdue University in their Crime, Forensics, and Security Analysis department who joined up with Hemp Synergistics, LLC.

Federal Marijuana Legalization May Be Coming

Despite its costly development, TRU may not have much use for too much longer, as federal marijuana legalization seems to be looming in the US. In December 2020, the US House of Representatives voted to federally decriminalize marijuana and expunge related crimes in a landmark bill. The bill may not pass through the Senate, but the fact that marijuana talks are on the table federally is significant in and of itself.

Canada legalized marijuana federally in 2018, and more and more US states legalize it every year. Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I drug, which means it has no accepted medical use as well as a large potential for abuse. Ongoing cannabis studies continue to reveal that neither seems to be the case for marijuana, so it is likely only a matter of time before the US government catches up with the science.

Buying Hemp Seeds

Since hemp legalization, the industry has been booming. Hemp growers who cultivate in order to make CBD, whether for personal use or their business, might consider feminized seeds a wise investment.

Feminized hemp seeds are more expensive than regular hemp seeds, but for a good reason. Male plants do not flower. When buying regular hemp seeds, most crops end up around half male and half female. This means half of the crop will be useless to those looking to extract CBD from hemp flowers. Buying feminized seeds ensures the whole crop will be female, thus roughly doubling the yield.

Additionally, growing male and female hemp plants together means that the male plants will pollinate the female plants, further spoiling yields. Female plants bud to their full potential when they are not pollinated. Buying feminized hemp allows for each female plant to yield its full potential.

Fortuna Seeds is a Florida-based, family-owned hemp seed bank that offers feminized seeds only. They carefully select distributors to only offer the highest quality feminized seeds to individual and commercial hemp growers. Their seeds are always reliable so that growers don’t have to worry about male hemp plants sneaking in and spoiling their yields. Aside from simply feminized hemp seeds, Fortuna Seeds offers top-notch hemp seed starts as well as education and resources to help growers make the most out of their seeds and produce large harvests. Contact us for more details.