There is a lot of confusion surrounding these two plants. One of them will be legal, while the other is outlawed. A law passes, making one legal, but keeping the other out. People get arrested for marijuana possession when they only have hemp. We reference them individually and together all the time.
They’re both Cannabis
Both hemp and marijuana are part of the Cannabis genus. That means that the plants are very closely related. There are three species of cannabis: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis.
The confusion comes in when we ask what species is which. The answer is both. Hemp and marijuana aren’t technically separate species or breeds or strains. They are both plants in the Cannabis family. This is why we clump them together when we are talking about Cannabis products.
THC and CBD
The difference is in the chemicals they contain. Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is the drug that gets everyone riled up. It’s the chemical in marijuana that makes it psychoactive. While they are both cannabis, hemp is legally defined as a cannabis plant that contains less than 0.3% THC by dry weight. Marijuana contains much higher amounts of THC, typically 5-20%. Marijuana growers breed their plants for the highest amounts of THC possible, and modern growers can get up to 30% THC.
Cannabidiol or CBD is the other group of chemicals that comes up a lot with Cannabis. A diverse array of 120 cannabinoids and 110 Terpenes make up what is called CBD. Both hemp and marijuana contain CBD. CBD is believed to provide a lot of the health benefits that cannabis has. It is important to note that these are just claims. THC has been studied for its medical effects, but CBD has almost no research. There is starting to be research done, but for now, any health benefit claims hold no scientific merit.
Hemp is being specifically cultivated right now to have higher amounts of CBD while still keeping the THC in check. The thought behind it is that we can give people all the health benefits of the plant without getting high.
With the selective breeding that humans have been doing with each of the plants, they have ended up with two plants that can look very different. Marijuana has broad leaves and a tight flower bud. The flower is the part of the plant that is preferred for smoking. The flowers only grow on female plants and to get the best marijuana. The plants need to be isolated.
Hemp is taller and skinnier, with thinner leaves. The plants are overwhelmingly male and they are grown for other industrial uses like their seeds and the fibers.
Cultivating Hemp vs. Marijuana
Industrial hemp is grown outside. It can be grown close together on large plots. It’s a hardy plant that can survive well in harsh conditions. Hemp’s growth cycle is 108-120 days. While hemp plants are traditionally male, farmers are working to produce fields of female plants. They are focusing on growing the same female flowers as marijuana for CBD extraction.
Marijuana, by contrast, is a picky plant. It needs a stable environment that is warm and humid. This is the ideal environment to produce as much THC as possible. It needs to stay isolated to keep the flowers unpollinated. The plants are spread out and can be planted up to six feet apart. Marijuana has a shorter growth cycle of just 60-90 days.