Hemp vs. Marijuana, What’s the Difference?

In spite of the fact that hemp and marijuana are both derived from the Cannabis plant, there are definitely some major differences between the two. Typically, people look at Cannabis as a mind-altering psychoactive, used both for positive medical effects and recreational amusement. Hemp on the other hand is more of an industrial product; material which can be used in everything from construction to clothing, extracting CBD and even food.

Another difference lies in their legality. Due to Cannabis possessing the famed “THC” cannabinoid, which provides the high from smoking, there are many laws which surround Cannabis cultivation and use. However, as mentioned earlier, Hemp is NOT the same thing as Cannabis, and by learning the differences we can help understand hemps role as a food and manufacturing product.

The main difference between cannabis lies in their genetics. Cannabis is split into two categories, Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Sativa – Hemp can only be derived from the latter, and again only with strains that do not grow buds. If they were to grow buds, that is when the cannabis plant would legally change from hemp to marijuana.

THC – The Big Difference

Tetrahydrocannabinol, often abbreviated as “THC” – is the high-inducing compound present in marijuana. By interacting with the brain through something called the endocannabinoid system, smoking marijuana affects brain functions, emotions and behavior. Marijuana contains anywhere from 8-30% THC, whereas industrial hemp contains <0.2% THC. The difference is obvious. There is essentially zero potential for “abuse” of hemp for psychoactive purpose, and it is therefore legal to grow in many countries around the world.

There is however, another compound found in hemp which can be of value, outside of its industrial purpose. Cannabidiol, or CBD is a cannabinoid which presents many of the benefits of marijuana with none of the psychoactive effects. Relaxation, reduction of inflammation, and strong evidence it helps relive the symptoms of seizure disorders – to name a few.

The Uses of Hemp

Taller and thinner than plants grown for smoking, hemp can be used a key material for paper, ropes, clothing and food supplements. It is especially favored for its textile properties because of its incredibly strong fibers, making strong rope and tough clothing. In fact, hemp can be used to produce a type of fibreboard which is even stronger than timber, while remaining more environmentally friendly than plastic materials. The main difference is that Cannabis is grown almost entirely as a psychoactive drug for the purposes of getting high, whereas hemp is grown entirely for its useful properties in the production of goods.

By putting it through a process called “retting”, where binding between the fiber and the shiv is weakened by compounds in the soil – hemp fiber is extracted. The fiber is then easily separated from the waste product and used in everything from insulation to plaster boarding, and even some car components.

Even historical monarchs loved hemp for their industrial needs. Queen Elizabeth I was a stanch supporter of the hemp industry, using hemp for the production of Royal Navy ropes. People often grow hemp on wheat farms, using it to prevent weed overgrowth from disrupting the wheat harvest.

Hemp and female cannabis are unable to be grown together. This is because sometimes the plants will cross pollinate each other, rendering the laves infertile.

Hemp as Food

While some ingest Cannabis as a means for getting high, this isn’t possible with hemp. Due to the high content of CBD versus THC, hemp is very commonly used in the creation of supplements and food products. Pasta, milk, seeds and oils are all products which can be made with hemp! With the increasing popularity of vegan and vegetarian diets, along with people who are lactose intolerant, the consumption of hemp products has increased in recent years.

Hemp and Cannabis

Being used in a huge variety of products, from cooking oil to butter, cosmetics, prints, paper, plastics, milk, beer, clothing and rope – hemp throughout history has proven itself to be one of the most versatile industrial products on the market. Its high percentage of CBD has added an entirely new aspect to the production of hemp. Huge hemp farms are being developed for the express purpose of extracting the CBD for its health benefits. With stocks going through the roof, its easy to see that hemp is strong, and it’s here to stay. 

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