Botanical Empress
cannabis or hemp

Cannabis or Hemp: What’s the Difference?

The words cannabis and hemp are often interchangeable in people’s minds, but they are not the same thing. 

Cannabis and hemp are species of the same plant but are grown and used in different ways. 

Today most people refer to cannabis as marijuana, completely ignoring the cannabis plant and all its useful parts.

Marijuana is a slang term for the cannabis plant and has a racist past. The US government used the term for the anti-cannabis propaganda movement and to stereotype Mexicans. 

What is cannabis, the plant?

Cannabis is a tall plant that is native to central Asia and the Indian subcontinent.  

It encompasses a genus of plants that are used for medicinal, recreational, and fiber production belonging to the family Cannabaceae and contains about 170 plant species. 

The three most popular species of this plant are:

  • Cannabis Sativa 
    • Typically gives an uplifting and energetic high that you feel in the head
    • The plant itself is tall with long thin leaves making it good to grow outdoors
    • Generally produce smaller crops
  • Cannabis Indica
    • Typically gives a sedating and relaxing feeling over the whole body
    • The plant itself is shorter with busier leaves making it good to grow indoors
    • Generally produce bigger crops
  • Cannabis Ruderalis 
    • Normally grown in the wild in Central and Eastern Europe and Russia
    • Typically has much lower concentrations of THC and CBD than sativa and Indica which makes it a terrible option when trying to get high or feel relaxed. 
    • The plant itself is very short with big leaves. 

Though cannabis is a broader classification that contains both hemp and marijuana plants it is often looked at as marijuana today.  

Cannabis can be used in different ways including:

  • Dried and cured flower buds
  • Concentrated extracts that are turned into edibles, topicals, etc.

When people refer to cannabis as marijuana they are really talking about the leaves and flowering portions of the plant that contain THC, the principal psychoactive portion of the plant. 

Cannabis in History 

  • Researchers believe that cannabis dates to 27.8 million years ago. 
  • The oldest written record of cannabis usage is the Greek historian Herodotus’s reference to the central Eurasian Scythians taking cannabis steam baths in 440BC.

What is hemp?

Hemp, also known as Cannabis sativa, is a stout, aromatic version of the cannabis plant that originated in Central Asia but is currently cultivated worldwide. 

Hemp has been used for a wide variety of reasons for more than 10,000 years. It has been used for the following:

  • Fiber – from the stems of the plant
    • Hemp fibers can be used to make items like:
      • Paper
      • Clothing
      • Textiles
      • Rope
      • Building materials
  • Protein – from the seeds of the plant
  • Oils – from the leaves of the plant and from the smokeable flower buds.
  • The leaves can also be used as vegetables and blended up for juice.
  • Fuel 
  • Feedstock

Hemp does contain THC but not enough to create intoxicating effects. 

Hemp can be used to created high concentrations of CBD. Hemp-derived CBD is becoming one of the most popular forms of CBD on the market today. 

You can smoke hemp, but it will not get you high. It will, however, deliver CBD into your system faster then if you consumed it through edibles or tinctures. 

Hemp in History

  • The oldest documented evidence of hemp is a rope that dates to 26,900 BCE found in the Czech Republic. 
  • George Washington grew hemp at his home in Mount Vernon for industrial purposes like fiber for rope, sails, and clothing. 
  • Hemp was a prominent crop in the United States until the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 shut down the American hemp industry. 

What is the difference between cannabis and hemp?

The Cannabis plant and the hemp plant are basically one in the same. They are both classified biologically as cannabis but there are chemical and legal differences between them. 

For instance, most countries differentiate hemp from cannabis by the amount of THC produced by the plant. 

Hemp is usually referred to the species of plant that is cultivated for non-drug use and is classified as Cannabis sativa containing 0.3% or less of THC. 

However, both plants contain CBD and THC. 

  • Cannabis contains more THC and less CBD
  • Hemp contains more CBD and less THC

Another difference between the two plants is that they are cultivated and harvested differently. 

  • Cannabis plants have their female plants producing more with male plants sporadically placed along their crops. The male plants are usually eliminated to ensure maximum production of seedless flowers. Cannabis is usually grown indoors and requires ample spacing to prevent mold or bacteria growing (one plant per 4 sq. ft). 
  • Hemp plants have their males as the faster producer with more flower bud and less fiber production. The female plants need the male plants to release pollen that they then use to produce seeds that are either planted for future crops or sold as food. Hemp plants are usually grown outside and can be planted in a dense crop because it does not run as great a risk of developing mold or bacteria. (40-120 plants per 4 sq. ft). 

Finally, the most important difference between the two plants is that one is legal, and one is not. 

Through the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 the federal government took hemp off of the Schedule 1 drug classification which in turn federally legalized hemp and allowed for its cultivation and distribution as a legal agricultural product. 

Both plants have a lot to offer in a wide variety of applications but at the end of the day they are just broad classifications of the same plant. 

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