As you dig in and learn more about medical marijuana, CBD hemp oil, and more, one of the common questions that come up is “what exactly is the difference between hemp and marijuana?”
Beyond cannabis slang, legal interpretation, and practical use of the plant, the fact of the matter is that few genetic differences exist between hemp and marijuana plants, but in practical terms, the differences are quite significant.
Hemp and marijuana are actually both members of the same plant species, Cannabis sativa L. Cannabis sativa L. can contain a wide spectrum of cannabinoid concentrations, including wide ranging compositions of THC and CBD. Still, there are many practical differences between hemp and marijuana, and clear lines drawn between the two.
In practical use, “hemp” is the term used to describe the food and fiber variety of the cannabis plant, and “marijuana” is cannabis that’s grown to enhance the chemicals that make you feel high or stoned.
Cannabis has both male and female plants. When growing marijuana, male plants are removed and only female plants are cultivated. This is because when cannabis is fertilized, it lowers the concentration of THC–the main chemical that gets you high. Thanks to selective breeding over many years, ideal concentrations of THC in marijuana range from 10% to as much as 30%. This will be important to remember in a moment when we compare marijuana to hemp.
Marijuana is usually grown indoors so that conditions can be monitored very closely. Marijuana is encouraged to become short and bushy and grow lots of flowers. That’s because THC is concentrated mostly in the trichomes — little resin-filled glands — on the flowers of the plant. Although you can find THC throughout cannabis, it is the flowers or “buds” that are harvested for recreational marijuana.
Hemp, on the other hand, is as close as you can get to how cannabis grows naturally. Hemp is grown all over the world for food, oil, and fiber — so, the whole plant can be used, not just the flowers. With the hemp type of cannabis, male and female plants are sown very closely together, allowing for easy wind pollination and easily crowding out weeds. This results in very tall, hardy plants with less branching that look very different from the short, bushy marijuana plants.
Another key difference between hemp and marijuana is that hemp naturally has almost no THC. Its flowers must contain just 0.3% THC — which is 33 times less than the least potent marijuana. Meaning, it’s impossible to get high from hemp, although many people have tried!
Hemp also has more CBD than THC naturally, making it an ideal source of CBD from cannabis and one of the reasons why hemp oil is the preferred source of natural CBD for thousands of people.