What is the Difference Between Marijuana and Hemp?
When you first learn that CBD oil is derived from cannabis, you may assume that it must be a marijuana product. The truth, however, is more complicated. CBD products are generally made from industrial hemp, a very close relative of marijuana. Just as twins may have similar physical traits but different personalities, the two cannabis plants may appear nearly identical, but they each have their own unique qualities.
Technically, both plants belong to the same species, Cannabis Sativa. At first glance, hemp and marijuana seem nearly identical, but upon closer inspection, the leaves will reveal slight variations. Marijuana plants sport wider, shorter leaves, while hemp’s leaves are long and narrow.
While cannabis’ medicinal and recreational uses earn much of its notoriety today, hemp has a long and diverse history of other applications., It’s believed that hemp oil and seeds were used for food and pottery in China as early as 8,000 BCE. The sturdy fibers of the hemp plant make it ideal for fabrics and rope, and in 1938, Popular Mechanics documented its use in 25,000 unique products.
Perhaps the most practical way to differentiate the two plants is to consider their chemical compositions and the corresponding legal distinctions. Both plants are rich in cannabinoids, naturally-occurring compounds that interact with our own bodies. Specifically, cannabinoids bond with receptors in the endocannabinoid system, a complex internal network that supports the nervous system in regulating numerous vital functions.
The most significant of these compounds would be cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The ratios of THC to CBD vary widely between each plant and indicate one of the major differences between the two varieties. Marijuana may contain up to 40 percent THC, and the abundance of the intoxicating compound makes it the go-to recreational option. Hemp, on the other hand, may only contain up to .3 percent THC by definition. However, hemp does offer far more CBD than marijuana, making it ideal for a variety of wellness applications without hazarding intoxicating side effects.
The presence and quantity of THC within the plant directly determines its legality, and the high concentration of THC in marijuana earns it illicit status in the U.S. Hemp’s categorically-low amounts of THC clear it of any legal concerns at the federal level, although some state and city authorities may have their own laws governing its production and use. In January 2019, a truck driver was arrested in Idaho for transporting hemp products, as the state made no distinction between the federally-legal agricultural product and marijuana.
Several states have already legalized marijuana for general use, and there may someday be legal parity between the two plants across the U.S. Until that time, though, it’s wise to educate yourself on your local government’s policies regarding either form of cannabis.
Essentially, hemp is not a drug. It has a vast repertoire of broad utility across the globe, from royal clothing in European palaces to body frames in Henry Ford’s factory. Recent studies also suggest some promising health applications, as its abundant CBD may provide relief for a multitude of issues. As the 2018 Farm Bill classifies hemp as a legal commodity, research into the full potential of this plant may hopefully continue unencumbered.
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