Differences Between Hemp and Marijuana
Hemp Vs. Marijuana: Knowing The Difference Between Cannabis Types
The cannabis industry has exploded in popularity since many states have moved towards legalization for both medicinal and recreational use. Despite this increase in popularity, there are still a lot of misconceptions about the nature of marijuana and hemp. Many people believe that these two products are the same, and while they both originate from the cannabis family of plants, they are in fact entirely separate products.
With the rise in market demand for recreational marijuana and therapeutic cannabidiol (CBD) products, we’ve seen two distinct industries develop. With marijuana remaining illegal on a federal level, there still remains some confusion about the nature of these two products. In this article, we will explore both hemp and marijuana and how they relate to—and differ from—each other.
What Is Hemp?
It is entirely correct that both marijuana and hemp stem from the same family of plants: Cannabis. The term “hemp” is actually an umbrella term that covers many varieties of cannabis that share the same characteristic: a less than 0.3% concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC.
THC is the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana. This chemical is what is responsible for the marijuana “high” that users seek. It is also the chemical that led to the prohibition of marijuana in the United States.
Hemp occupies a completely different industry than that of marijuana. It has been traditionally used for industrial purposes. It is described as a practical and renewable source of everything from textiles to skincare products. Humanity has a long history of using hemp for various purposes. In fact, the earliest cultivation of hemp by mankind reportedly dates all the way back 10,000 years. This makes hemp fall in the category of one of the earliest know human agriculture crops. With agriculture being so vital to early civilization, it’s safe to assume that hemp was a very important part of human development.
What Is Marijuana?
This category of cannabis encompasses the vast majority of how we see the plant portrayed in popular culture. Marijuana refers to the any type of cannabis plant that is over the 0.3% THC threshold.
The history of marijuana in the United States is actually very complex and intertwined with the history of hemp. So in order to fully understand the history of marijuana as we know it, we must first examine the history of hemp as an industrial product.
Throughout the 1800s hemp was an incredibly important crop, mainly used to make rope and textiles for sailing ships. The industrial revolution saw the majority of commercial sailing ships replaced by quicker, more efficient steam ships. This led to a decrease in the popularity of hemp as an industrial crop.
By 1890, cotton had replaced hemp as the major cash crop in the Southern United States. Up to this point, hemp was not grown for any sort of intoxicating purposes. In fact, hemp during this period contained a negligible amount of psychoactive THC. The shift from the cultivation of cannabis for industrial purposes, to the cultivation of cannabis for its medicinal and intoxicating qualities all began with the Mexican Revolution.
By 1910, the Mexican Revolution caused many people to flee Mexico and seek refuge in Southern parts of the United States. Along with them, these people brought strains of cannabis from Central America that possessed some of the medicinal and intoxicating qualities that marijuana is known for to this day.
Soon after these strains were brought to the United States, European and American legislators started to ban the consumption of drugs with intoxicating properties. The Harrison Act of 1914 is the first pieces of national legislation that defined the consumption of marijuana as a crime. Despite the legalization of medicinal and recreational use in many states over the last few decades, marijuana remains illegal to possess, grow, and sell under federal law to this day.
Effects Of Marijuana and THC Intoxication
To better understand why marijuana was made illegal, it’s important to understand how its psychoactive ingredient, THC, effects the user. Nowadays, marijuana strains have been selectively cultivated for specific recreational and medicinal purposes. Some of these purposes may include anti-anxiety properties, pain relief, and anti-nausea effects.
Let’s quickly explore how marijuana reacts with the brain to affect its users. THC’s chemical structure is similar to the chemical anandamide, which is naturally found in the brain. Because of this similarity, THC is able to bind to the receptors in the brain that are meant for the natural chemical, causing the user to experience a “high” or the desired medical effects.
THC, acting through these receptors in the brain, also activates the brain’s chemical reward system. This includes parts of the brain that govern the response to healthy pleasurable activities such as exercise and eating. Like many other drugs that people ingest, THC stimulates neurons in the reward system to release the signaling chemical dopamine at a much higher rate than naturally occurs. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for many feelings of pleasure and contentment. This unnatural flood of dopamine contributes to the pleasurable “high” that users experience.
In the early 1900s, marijuana was also used in for medicinal purposes in tinctures and tonics much like cocaine and opioids. The drug has different effects on the mind and body of its user based on the method of ingestion.
When a person ingests cannabis by smoking it, the psychoactive ingredient THC is quickly absorbed by the lungs and into the bloodstream. The circulatory system acts as a delivery service, administering THC to the brain and different parts of the body. This is the quickest method of ingestion.
When THC is eaten, in edible or tincture form, it will take much longer to experience its psychoactive effects. This can vary for a number of reasons but it typically begins to affect its user in 30 minutes to an hour. Since everybody metabolizes food differently, the time it takes for marijuana to take effect can vary greatly depending on body mass and other factors.
As outlined above, THC acts on specific receptors in the brain. This causes the “high” that marijuana users typically experience. Some of the short-term effects of this state may include:
- Altered senses (for example, seeing more vibrant colors)
- Altered sense of time (slowing or quickening)
- Changes in mood
- Impaired body movement
- Difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
- Impaired short-term memory
- Hallucinations (only when taken in high doses)
- Delusions (only in high doses)
- Psychosis (only in extreme cases)
Along with these effects, THC ingestion can also have the following physical effects:
- Respiratory Issues: Cannabis smoke can irritate the lungs and people who smoke it frequently can suffer some of the same ailments that tobacco users suffer from. These problems may include chronic coughing and mucus build-up, more frequent lung illness, and a higher risk for lung infections.
- Increased Heart Rate: THC intoxication can lead to a higher heart rate for up to 3 hours after smoking. This may increase the users risk of heart attack. This risk is increased with older people and people with existing heart conditions.
- Intense Nausea/Vomiting: Long-term cannabis use can, in rare cases, lead to cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome. This condition causes users to experience cycles of severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration that may require immediate medical attention.
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Differences In Chemical Compositions: Hemp Vs. Marijuana Products
As mentioned in the beginning of this article, the key difference between the classification of hemp and marijuana lies in its THC content. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the primary chemical compound found in cannabis that causes the majority of its psychotropic effects. As logic would suggest, the higher the concentration of THC that is consumed by a marijuana user, the more intense the “high” will be. With modern marijuana for recreational and medicinal use, higher THC content is often sought after and strains are selectively bred to have stronger effects.
Hemp is the classification used for any type of cannabis plant that contains a THC content that is below the 0.03% threshold. This is a negligible amount of the psychoactive substance and it is impossible to achieve any sort of “high” from ingesting cannabis that falls under the hemp category.
CBD Oil And Legal Issues Surrounding Marijuana And Hemp
We discussed the early history of hemp and marijuana in a previous section, but modern legislations may help to further clear up some of the confusion regarding these two products. In the 1970s, the United States government further defined the illegality of all forms of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act. This outlawed even the personal growing of plants for medicinal or industrial purposes and helped solidify the stigma around hemp as an industrial product.
Not much headway was made in the effort to legitimize hemp as a viable cash crop until the 2010s. In 2014, the Farm Bill gave us the distinction between hemp and marijuana by defining hemp as cannabis that contains less than 0.03% THC. This also allowed for hemp that met that criteria to be grown on a limited basis.
In 2018, the Agriculture Improvement Act was introduced to the United States on the federal level. This act made hemp and all products derived from hemp legal in all 50 states. This led to the rise in popularity of CBD or cannabidiol.
CBD is a key component of marijuana that is intended for medicinal use and it can be found in high concentrations in hemp plants. CBD does not produce a psychoactive reaction in its users, but many claim that it has relaxing and calming effects. The World Health Organization had the following to say about CBD: “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential. To date, there is no evidence of public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD”.
CBD is commonly used to address anxiety and for patients who suffer from sleep issues such as insomnia, studies suggest that CBD may help with both falling asleep and staying asleep.
CBD may offer an option for treating different types of chronic pain. Some studies have shown, using an animal model, CBD applied on the skin may help lower pain and inflammation due to arthritis. Another study demonstrated the mechanism by which CBD inhibits inflammatory and neuropathic pain, two of the most difficult types of chronic pain to treat. More study in humans is needed in this area to substantiate the claims of CBD proponents about pain control.
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Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the difference between THC and CBD?
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that causes the sensation of being “high.” It is also the ingredient that is responsible for marijuana being illegal in the United States. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a component of hemp that does not have any psychoactive properties. It is mainly used medicinally for its pain relieving and calming properties and is legal on a federal level.
- How can you tell the difference between hemp and marijuana?
Scientifically speaking, hemp and marijuana are often identical in appearance as they both fall under the Cannabaceae family of plants. The difference between hemp and marijuana falls in the plants THC content. THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. If a plant contains more than 0.03% THC than it is considered to be marijuana and therefore federally illegal. If it contains less than 0.03% THC, it is considered to be hemp and is legal to grow and sell in the United States.