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There is a common misconception that hemp and marijuana are different terms, referring to the same plant. To be clear – hemp and marijuana are not the same thing. While they are both members of the cannabis family, they vary through their own specific characteristics and effects.
Hemp is completely different from marijuana in its function, cultivation, and application. Negative stigma of the plants caused political leaders to group all cannabis plant species as Schedule 1 Drugs. Ultimately, marijuana faced a ban in 1970 under the Controlled Substances Act. 44 years later in 2014, the U.S. government passed the Farm Bill, which provides a clear definition of the legality of industrial hemp. Although legislation is being made, progress has been quite slow.
Hemp and marijuana serve completely opposite purposes. Marijuana, as it is well and widely known, is used for medicinal and/or recreational purposes. Hemp, on the other hand, is used in a variety of other applications, such as dietary supplements, skin products, clothing and more. Overall, hemp is known to have over 25,000 possible applications. Some of these applications can benefit the environment, as hemp has potential to be a green alternative to fuel and building material.
Here is a simplified breakdown of the different characteristics of hemp and marijuana, their chemical makeup, how they are grown, and their most common uses:
Hemp is low in THC (less than 0.3%), is non-psychoactive, requires minimal care, is adaptable to grow in most climates, and it can be applied to automobiles, skin care, clothing, construction, food, plastic, and many other everyday materials.
Marijuana is high in THC (5-35%), is psychoactive, and is grown carefully in a controlled atmosphere. Usually used for medical and recreational human consumption.
Since both contain beneficial cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), hemp and marijuana have both been found to be effective in improving a wide range of bodily functions. According to a report published in the Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, cannabinoids can help reduce pain, inflammation, anxiety, and supplement help for the symptoms of many diseases, including multiple sclerosis, asthma, cardiovascular disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and many others.
Besides having markedly different appearances, hemp and marijuana also differ in terms of chemical composition, cultivation method, uses, legal status, and health effects. Before getting into the comprehensive comparison between hemp and marijuana, let us first define what cannabis is, as that is the plant in which both hemp and marijuana are derived from.
Differences between Hemp and Marijuana
Hemp looks noticeably different from marijuana. A hemp plant is skinny and tall with narrow, skinnier leaves concentrated at the top of the plant. It can reach a maximum height of 20 feet. There are few leaves or branches below the top portion of the plant, and it overall resembles a ditchweed.
Marijuana, on the other hand, is a short plant with dense, broad leaves, often resembling a tight bud or nugget. Marijuana plants do not grow past five feet, and often look like a short, fat bush from afar.
When comparing hemp from marijuana by appearance alone, there is quite a noticeable difference.
2. Chemical Composition
The main difference between hemp and marijuana is their chemical compositions. More specifically, there are variances in their concentration of THC (the chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects). An average batch of marijuana contains anywhere from 5-20 percent THC content, whereas some premium marijuana strains can have upwards of 35 percent THC.
Hemp has a max THC level of 0.3 percent, making it nearly impossible for users to feel any psychoactive effects. This 0.3 percent threshold is heavily regulated in countries that have legalized hemp. Hemp is also richer in CBD than marijuana. Besides providing many health benefits, a crucial fact about CBD is that it can significantly reduce the mind-altering effects of THC.
3. Cultivation Method
For proper growth of each plant, hemp and marijuana require strikingly different environments. Hemp are hearty plants usually cultivated closely together (as close as four inches apart), and are typically grown in large, multi-acre lots. Perhaps the main distinguishing factor between how hemp and marijuana is cultivated is that hemp can grow in a variety of climates, with a growth cycle of 108-120 days.
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