As the world is beginning to see the benefits that some of the compounds derived from the Cannabis plant have, we are seeing more and more information out there about it. It can, however, be a misty and murky world of language when it comes to Cannabis.

You could easily be forgiven for not knowing the difference between cannabis, marijuana and hemp. In fact, you could easily be forgiven for not even knowing that there is a difference between cannabis, marijuana and hemp. Thanks to years of inaccuracy, mainly in the media, the terms have often been interchanged with many people believing that they are one and the same thing.
Actually, marijuana, cannabis and hemp all mean something different. They are not the same and shouldn’t be interchanged.

What is Cannabis?

Cannabis is the name of a particular family of plants, and both marijuana and hemp belong in this Cannabis family. It is fair to say that marijuana and hemp are both certain types of Cannabis.

Traditionally, there have been two different strains of Cannabis – Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Sativa L.. These have developed over thousands of years as humans have modified the plant according to their needs for it. Whilst people have always talked about the Cannabis Indica strain (coming from India – hence the name) being the strain that chills people out and puts you to sleep, and Cannabis Sativa being the strain that energises and motivates people, scientists have more recently discovered that actually this is not true.

Whilst geographically coming from different places and being different to look at, the two ‘strains’ don’t have particular characteristics of their effect on the human body.

To make it more complicated, there are now hybrid strains available which are a mixture of Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Sativa varieties.

Both hemp and marijuana are derived from the Cannabis Sativa variety of the plant, and although they are similar in a lot of ways, they are also very different.

The difference between Marijuana and Hemp

Marijuana – also known as pot, ganja, weed, grass and herb as well as others – and hemp are very similar, but also have some very significant differences.

Interestingly, the US Government had difficulty differentiating between marijuana and hemp, grouping all of the species of Cannabis together, and ruling them all to be a Schedule 1 drug in their Controlled Substances Act in 1970. Thankfully this now has been rectified in the Farm Bill which came into force in December 2018, meaning that hemp can now be legally produced across the US.

The Cannabis plant naturally contains over 100 chemical compounds called cannabinoids. Two of the most significant cannabinoids are CBD (Cannabidiol) and THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and these are two compounds that can have clear benefits to our health and well-being.

Marijuana, Hemp and THC

One of the main differences between marijuana and hemp, is that hemp has been cultivated especially over time to ensure that the levels of THC are very low. This is because THC is the psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant which makes you high and is often the compound which is illegal in a lot of states and countries. In the United States, hemp is defined to have a THC level of 0.3% or less, and in the European Union, it is stipulated as having a level of 0.2 % or less.
This means that products made from hemp can guarantee to have low levels of THC – or no levels of THC – so you won’t get ‘high’ when it is taken. This means that hemp products are legal almost anywhere in the world. It is important, however, to check wherever you are what the local laws and regulations are.

In contrast, marijuana will usually have high levels of THC – sometimes as high as 20%, making it popular amongst people who use Cannabis for recreational use, and this is why marijuana is illegal in many countries and states. There are some places, however, where THC is legal and therefore you can buy and consume marijuana.

How it is Consumed

Marijuana, which is usually consumed for recreational purposes due to its higher levels of THC, is usually smoked or eaten in edibles. Herbal smoking blends are often used in combination with Marijuana and in some parts of the world tobacco is a popular alternative filler. THC can be extracted from marijuana and used in vaporisers and capsules as well, but this is a more common method of consumption for those who take THC for medicinal purposes.

Hemp, however, is most commonly consumed through CBD products such as CBD oil, CBD rich edibles, vaporisers and topical creams and gels.

Growing Marijuana and Hemp

There is a big difference in the way that marijuana and hemp are cultivated. Hemp can be planted in higher concentrations and can thrive in many different environments globally. Its life cycle is 108 – 120 days long.
Marijuana on the other hand needs to be spaced wider apart than hemp and needs a much more controlled environment – which is warm and humid. The life cycle of a marijuana plant is only 60 – 90 days.

Other Usages

Another difference between hemp and marijuana is in its other uses. They are also physically different to look at, and hemp is a lot hardier and more fibrous.

Hemp has a longer stalk, with fewer, thinner leaves which are gathered near to the top of the plant. Marijuana is usually shorter, bushier and with wider leaves, with a tight bud, and it can often be possible to see hairs on it.

Its physical properties mean that hemp can be used to produce other commodities as well as CBD derived products, including paper, fabric, biofuel and building materials.

Hemp seed oil

It is worth noting that although many consumable hemp products that are available have CBD present in them, hemp seed oil does not. Hemp seeds do not contain any CBD, and although the oil is tasty and delicious, it won’t give you any of the health benefits that come directly from CBD.

It is important to understand the difference between Cannabis, Marijuana and Hemp if you are looking to buy or consume them. Marijuana and Hemp are obviously very different plants, with different chemical properties and having a significantly different effect on the human body.

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