Cannabis 101 // May 14, 2020 // UrbanAroma Staff

Are Cannabis And Hemp The Same Thing?

Are Cannabis And Hemp The Same Thing?
The average person may not know how to tell the difference between cannabis and hemp. Nonetheless, to the trained eye, the differences are easily distinguished. Cannabis and hemp are from the same species of plant, cannabis sativa L, but that’s where the similarities end. For the sake of clarity, envision marijuana as a short and bushy plant bred to contain THC, the cannabinoid that has a psychoactive effect and can get you "high." Hemp is marijuana’s tall and spindly cousin that more closely resembles bamboo. Hemp is primarily grown for the non-intoxicating cannabinoid CBD, and industrial uses like rope, textiles, biodiesel, construction materials, and much more. Importantly, hemp is non-intoxicating, and by law must contain less than 0.3 percent THC. A key thing to keep in mind is plant gender (yes, that’s a thing). Female seeds are key to a cannabis breeder’s success because female plants produce THC. While hemp (male) plants may also produce some THC, it is typically in negligible amounts. Mounds of anecdotal evidence points to the healing and medicinal effects of both marijuana and hemp, while formal research is taking strides to catch up.

What Is Cannabis?

Humans and their relationship with cannabis dates back many thousands of years. In 2019, archaeologists excavating in Central Asia found THC residue in incense burners discovered in an ancient cemetery on the Pamir Plateau that dated back some 2,500 years. Probably used for ritual and ceremony, this discovery intimated that the inhabitants probably smoked the plant. However, researchers can only guess as to whether cannabis with psychoactive properties was found by accident or purposely cultivated. Humans have been using marijuana for reasons outside of ritual or sacrament as supposed from the findings of the excavation. There is evidence that humans have been using non-intoxicating cannabis for food, seed oil, and fiber for millennia, with estimates reaching as far back as 8,000 BCE. The modern cannabis industry, with its diversity of breeds and effects is a mostly modern convention. Current consumers tend to think of marijuana in terms of strains, like Girl Scout Cookies, Death Star, or Afghan Kush, to name but a few. These strains are bred from a subset of cannabis types (think second cousins):
  • Indica: a shorter, broader bush that produces a more full-body effect, promote relaxation ease body aches
  • Sativa: a taller and thinner plant associated with energy and creativity
  • Hybrid: strains that contain aspects of both sativa and indica

What Is Hemp?

Hemp is a close cousin of the intoxicating marijuana plant, but is frequently grown for industrial applications. The list of how hemp can be used is long and varied, but it is often grown for paper, rope, clothing, furnishings, building materials, seed oil, food, and more recently, hemp-derived CBD. In the U.S., hemp has a long and storied history. It is rumored that Betsy Ross sewed one of the first American flags on hemp cloth, that a draft of the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper, that the Founding Fathers grew hemp, and that Henry Ford built a car on a frame made of hemp materials.  Hemp is a phytoremediator, meaning that it takes toxins out of the air, water, and soil and stores them in its hardy stalk. Hemp is so effective in this capacity that it has been planted on the grounds of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster to remediate the site.  The primary difference to consumers is that hemp must contain less than 0.3 percent THC. No matter how much hemp you smoke, it won’t get you high.

What's The Legal Difference?

In the U.S. the primary method of distinguishing marijuana and hemp is the percentage of THC of a dry plant. Industrial hemp, which is now legal to grow, distribute and possess thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, must contain less than 0.3 percent THC. If a hemp crop tests higher than that, in the eyes of the law, it becomes a “hot crop” and can be seized and destroyed by law enforcement. Growers could also face penalties, fines, and even jail time. While hemp can contain no more than 0.3% delta-9 THC by dry weight, cannabis can contain up to 30% THC. Hemp, with its almost nonexistent amount of THC is used for manufacturing goods like fibers, paper, and dietary supplements. Cannabis with high contents of THC is used for medicinal and recreational use, such as for smoking, vaping, or as edibles. Marijuana is currently listed as a Schedule I substance, defined as having no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Other Schedule I drugs are heroin, LSD, MDMA, and peyote. All of these substances are federally prohibited. In the current cannabis landscape, legality varies from state-to-state, and each state has their own laws regarding possession and consumption of cannabis. To be a responsible consumer, be sure you read up on your state and local laws and regulations to make informed choices.