THC vs CBD: The Differences Between Hemp and Marijuana

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When it comes to describing the differences between hemp and marijuana, it’s a subject that often brings about many assumptions and stereotypes. While research has provided more clarity about the chemical makeup of both plants, it remains a topic that is often left improperly explained and inadequately researched.

As the demand for CBD skyrocketed following the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, the CBD industry transformed into a unique and lucrative market. Though independent, it’s still closely related to the Cannabis industry, which brings with it everchanging legal issues and controversial history.

These shifting legalities and the constant cloud of controversy surrounding the cannabis plant have created issues for CBD users. With studies indicating the multitude of benefits provided by CBD, understanding the difference between hemp and marijuana and how they relate to cannabis has become an issue of increasing importance in recent years.

So What Is the Difference Between Marijuana and Hemp?

Though they are both members of the same cannabis “family,” there are very distinct differences between hemp and marijuana. In scientific terms, cannabis is a genus of flowering plants in the Cannabaceae family. This family consists of three primary species: Cannabis indica, Cannabis sativa, and Cannabis ruderalis.

Both hemp and marijuana are often referred to as different “species” or “strains” as they pertain to cannabis. But truth be told, they actually don’t qualify as either. Marijuana and hemp are actually just broad classifications of cannabis that have been adopted into our culture. Let’s begin to explore what each of these terms actually mean and the differences between hemp and marijuana.

What Is Hemp?

The word “hemp” is a term that is used to classify varieties of the cannabis plant that contain 0.3% or less THC content (as measured by dry weight). It should be noted that this official definition was not legitimized until recently with the passing of the Agricultural Act of 2018. Before then, hemp was often referred to as the non-intoxicating form of cannabis. Hemp was known as the cannabis that was harvested for the industrial use of its primarily derived product – CBD.

There’s evidence to suggest that hemp has been in use for thousands of years. Discoveries of materials made from hemp have been recovered dating back as far as 10,000 years. Many even believe that hemp was the first crop to ever be cultivated by man. Hemp possesses the capabilities to produce many crucial resources, like food, paper, rope, shelter materials, and even clothing.

What Is Marijuana?

The word “marijuana” is a term that’s been used for generations. Marijuana is classified as the variety of cannabis that contains over 0.3% THC and is known to induce mind-altering or euphoric effects on its users. Marijuana has long had a negative connotation, deemed to be a destructive drug. By 1927, 11 states had passed a multitude of anti-marijuana laws.

By the 1930s, a shade of notoriety had been cast on the drug, with anti-marijuana propaganda running rampant and fear-inducing movies like “Reefer Madness” only stoking the flames. Following the passing of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, state and government agencies began imposing large, often unrealistic taxes on individuals who possessed, sold, or transported marijuana. These sanctions effectively banned “marijuana,” in the United States, and was the preemption for what would be nearly a century of cannabis prohibition in America.

4 Key Differences between Hemp and Marijuana

To gain a better understanding of exactly how different hemp and marijuana are from one another, keep these four key differences in mind.

1. Usage

It’s true that both hemp and marijuana each individually offer a wide range of usages and benefits. Each of these effects is unique to their composition. Marijuana is most associated with THC, a powerful psychoactive agent that directly binds to the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the Endocannabinoid System. THC is the compound that produces the mind-altering, euphoric effects to users, most often known as the “high.”

Marijuana is widely recognized – and recently celebrated – for its recreational uses. Extended studies have begun to reveal the potential of the plant in a number of different therapeutic applications.

Hemp, on the other hand, is harvested to produce a wide array of products that includes, but is not limited to industrial products like paper, clothing, building materials, and plastic. Hemp is also most commonly associated with producing CBD oil.

2. Composition

One of the most defining characteristics that differentiate hemp and marijuana is the chemical composition each plant contains. It’s true that both marijuana and hemp have the ability to produce high amounts of CBD, the non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis.

THC, however, is produced at very different levels. While hemp can contain no more than 0.3% THC (as referenced above), marijuana can contain up to 30% THC. That’s enough THC to produce an acute psychoactive effect that many CBD users are constantly looking to avoid.

3. Cultivation

Being that marijuana and hemp are each harvested for different purposes, they each require unique growing conditions to properly reach maturity. As it pertains to marijuana, most varieties are selectively bred in meticulously controlled environments. These landscapes and “grow rooms” are specifically designed to optimize the characteristics of the specific breed.

Whether it be hemp or marijuana, properly cultivating a cannabis plant requires a grower to pay close attention to each and every plant – and closely monitor each stage of its life cycle. A potent, well-cultivated cannabis plant requires the maintenance of precise conditions and an exact environment. This includes keeping the proper temperature, perfect lighting, and ideal humidity.

On the other side of the coin, hemp is usually grown to maximize both its size and total yield. To do this, hemp is often grown outdoors in large areas and it does not require the same level of control over the environment. Crops of large capacity also don’t require the same constant attention that is often necessary to grow quality marijuana. Either way, both plants require a high degree of attention to detail.

4. Legality

As we touched on earlier when discussing the recent passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp and marijuana are regulated very differently under the guidelines of the law. Though CBD products seem to be abundant these days, this is a fairly recent development. Hemp was previously regulated on the federal level as an illegal substance under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970. The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 formally removed hemp as an illegal substance while legalizing hemp and hemp-derived products. As noted, the condition of the legal production of hemp is contingent upon the plant containing no more than 0.3% THC. In comparison, marijuana is still treated as a controlled substance in many states (though it has been legalized for recreational use in some states). But regardless of whether a state allows the recreational use of marijuana or not, it is still federally illegal under the Controlled Substance Act and enforceable as such.

Final Thoughts

It now should be well-known that both CBD and THC are each a cannabinoid found in marijuana and hemp. There are a number of things that differentiate the two. It’s essential that individuals interested in trying either THC or CBD familiarize themselves with their effects, and also educate themselves on local laws before acquiring and using CBD or THC.

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