So, one of the issues that crops (no pun intended!) up when people talk about hemp (and its extract cannabidiol) is the misunderstanding of the difference between hemp and marijuana. This is even more relevant given the recent press articles in Malta referring to the planned establishment of a cannabis laboratory on the Island.
The challenge to understanding the difference is both, hemp and marijuana, come from the Cannabaceae plant family. Unfortunately the general perception of the term cannabis often brings to mind images of a burning joint, bongs quietly smoking away and so on. Most of the time, the term cannabis and specifically hemp wouldn’t be equated with plant-based plastics, durable paper, skin products or military grade fabric. In fact, hemp has over 25,000 known uses, making it one of the most versatile plants on planet earth.
Hemp also has known environmental benefits. Its cultivation does not need any particular climate or soil and can be found throughout many parts of the world. It provides an alternative, more sustainable and efficient energy source in three main sectors; fuel, paper and construction. It is nitrogen fixing so makes a great rotational crop to repair the soil, it is naturally resistant to pests and needs no herbicides and pesticides. But more on this topic in a later post.
Perhaps it’s easier to ask the question upfront; are hemp and marijuana the same? The answer is quite simple – NO, they are both just part of the cannabis family. It’s a bit like apples and oranges are citrus or a Poodle and a Rottweiler are both dogs but they are very different in nature. If we can get over this basic fact perhaps the realization that hemp and its extract cannabidiol (or CBD as more commonly known) can provide something positive and is not some backstreet narcotic.
As hemp and marijuana are both from the same plant genus it’s not surprising there is confusion, since these terms are sometimes used interchangeably when, in fact, there are important distinctions among them. The two plants are genetically distinct and unique in their chemical makeup, resulting in their being used for very different purposes.
One major distinction between hemp and medical cannabis (marijuana) is how the plants are grown.
Hemp is harvested commercially for its seeds and stalks used to produce a number of products, including food, nutritional supplements, medicine, body care products, paper, textiles, building materials, plastic composites, and even biofuels. It’s the hemp seed that contain a complete protein profile, vitamins, minerals and polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Marijuana, on the other hand, is cultivated specifically for its flowers, which contain the highest levels of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) in the plant, the fibres and stalks are not used commercially. THC is concentrated mostly in the trichomes, little resin-filled glands on the flowers of the plant. This can be for medical and recreational use. Marijuana is most frequently harvested for its euphoric, psychoactive properties, which are responsible for making users feel high or stoned as a result of the high THC content.
Hemp contains little to no THC. Hemp flowers must contain just 0.3% THC or less, which is 33 times less than the least potent marijuana. Meaning, it’s impossible to get high from hemp, although many people have tried! New strains or cultivars of hemp are now THC free. Agricultural hemp grown for food also contains no or very low levels of THC, and gives the best seed yield. Hence the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from its prohibited substance list towards the end of 2017.
Here’s a simple summary table of the basic differences between hemp and marijuana. It’s not exhaustive but it’s a starting point. There is plenty of information freely available that you can refer to for additional research on this topic.
Cannabis sativa L.
|Is it Cannabis?||Yes||Yes|
|Applications||Medical and recreational use||Automobiles, body care, clothing, construction, food, plastic, healthy dietary supplements, skin products, etc. There are over 25,000 known uses for hemp.|
|Cultivation||Requires a carefully controlled, warm, and humid atmosphere for proper growth. Its growth cycle is only 60-90 days. Achieving maximum THC levels in marijuana is tricky and requires close attention to grow-room conditions. Marijuana growers usually aim to maintain stable light, temperature, humidity, CO2 and oxygen levels, among other things.
|Hemp is usually grown outdoors to maximize its size and yield and less attention is paid to individual plants. Hemp is grown closely together (as close as 4 inches apart) and are typically grown in large multi-acre plots.|
|Appearance||Marijuana’s shape tends to either be broad leafed, a tight bud, or look like a nugget with orange hairs looks like a short fat bush (Cannabis Indica L.)||Skinnier leaves than marijuana that’s concentrated at the top. Few branches or leaves exist below the top part of the plant. Hemp is typically thinner and taller (up to 4m). At times, it almost looks like long Ditchweed|
|Chemical makeup||High THC
An average batch of marijuana contains anywhere from 5-+20% THC content
Hemp has a max THC level of 0.3%, essentially making it impossible to feel any psychoactive effect or get a “high”. This threshold is heavily regulated in countries that have legalized hemp
|Plant part used||Flowers||All|
In this post we are not including Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis
This post is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Namaste Superfoods or its staff. There is a wealth of data and information freely available on this topic and links to more scientific research and we suggest you undertake some of your own research.