Hemp and cannabis or hemp and marijuana have commonly been perceived in the past as almost the same plants. Yet, while from the same family, the two plants are quite different in far more than one respect.
Perhaps now more than ever, people recognize that there is a clear difference between what the world knows as cannabis and what the world knows as hemp. However, some lingering confusion about how the two truly differ still exists. Take a closer look at the difference between hemp and cannabis.
A Closer Look at Cannabis
Cannabis gets called by a lot of names: marijuana, cannabis, pot, reefer, ganja, and the list goes on. Scientifically, however, cannabis is simply Cannabis Sativa. Cannabis is what people seek out for its euphoric effects, thanks primarily to its THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content, but may also be used for medicinal purposes as well.
The type of Cannabis Sativa referred to as cannabis or, more commonly, marijuana is an annual, flowering plant that can reach varying heights. Numerous strains of cannabis exist, each with its own historical genetics and unique genetic makeup, so the variations in appearance can truly be impressive. Cannabis produces dense clusters of flowers or buds near the stalk or at the center of its broad, palmate leaves that develop resinous trichomes that cover the outside of the plant.
The most noteworthy difference between hemp and cannabis is the fact that anything labeled as cannabis is more likely to have a high THC content. For legal purposes, any form of cannabis that contains more than 0.3 percent THC is actually referred to as marijuana or cannabis. Cannabis also contains other cannabinoids, including those like CBD (cannabidiol) and CBG (cannabigerol). However, most modern strains have the most profound levels of THC and minimal levels of other cannabinoids.
THC can have varied effects depending on the individual, the potency, and the full cannabinoid and terpene profile. cannabis is intoxicating, although the specifics of the intoxicating experience can range from very mild to pretty intense.
Cannabis is most often smoked, even though today’s modern extraction methods and relaxed laws have made it possible for people to enjoy cannabis in a litany of ways. For example, you can find cannabis-infused edibles, cannabis vapes, and even extracts and concentrates created from marijuana that is high in THC.
As of 2021, Washington D.C. and 18 states have legalized adult-use marijuana, and 37 others have embraced medical marijuana. However, these programs have various governing rules depending on the state because cannabis has been a controlled substance for so many years. In states without medical or adult-use cannabis laws, simply possessing small amounts of cannabis can land you with fines or even jail time.
A Closer Look at Hemp
Hemp is also scientifically referred to as Cannabis Sativa, because both cannabis and hemp are part of the same Cannabaceae family and belong to the same species of plants. Nevertheless, hemp has some pretty noteworthy differences compared to cannabis.
The appearance of a hemp plant can vary depending on the specific strain genetics. Nevertheless, most hemp plants do take on a different appearance than a cannabis plant. Hemp often grows taller with a thinner footprint and thicker, more woodsy stalk. Hemp also produces flowering buds, which can be smaller and less resinous than those found on high-THC cannabis plants.
Hemp is especially high in cannabidiol content and especially low in THC content. The plants themselves often contain only a fraction of a percentage of THC, but can be heavily concentrated with the CBD cannabinoid and other non-intoxicating cannabinoids.
Hemp is thought to have more therapeutic effects when either smoked, consumed, or applied to the skin. CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid but has been shown to offer a number of useful properties. For example, CBD may offer relaxing effects that help you sleep or a soothing analgesic effect.
Even though today we know hemp as something valuable because of its CBD profile, the plant is valuable for many more reasons. Throughout history, the plant’s fibers have been used to create fabrics, structures, and even paper. The seeds offer a nutritious oil when pressed as well, so the plant can be a dietary staple in some regions.
Thanks to the Farm Bill in 2018, hemp with less than 0.3 percent THC was deemed as fully legal nationwide. While some states have made their own caveats to the newly relaxed restrictions on hemp cultivation, almost everyone has access to hemp-based products no matter where they live.
Cannabis vs Hemp: A Few Final Thoughts
While cannabis and hemp come from the same plant family and do have a lot of similarities, the differences between the two are so profound that even laws dictate how each plant is used. Hemp seems to offer almost strictly therapeutic effects, and cannabis, while it does offer several therapeutic effects on its own, is more commonly sought after for its psychotropic properties.