Here are some terms you have probably heard and most likely used:
Ironically, while we are tossing about these terms as if we are scientific or medical experts in the world of cannabis, we probably don’t really know what we are talking about and are likely using the wrong terms at the wrong time. (And, no, you can’t blame it on the euphoric or psychotropic effects of the THC!)
So let’s go back to Cannabis 101, and get our facts and information straight.
An Overview of the Cannabis Genus
Without going full-nerd on you, let’s perform a quick review of how the cannabis genera (the plural of “genus”) are related to each other. In biology, scientists rank items in different classifications (called a taxonomy); there are seven taxonomic ranks, as follows (from broadest to most refined):
- Phylum (or Division)
Cannabis is a genus within the Cannabaceae Family. There are three common species within the cannabis genus:
- Cannabis sativa – this grows naturally in tropical areas and was originally the most popular species for recreational use; this plant can grow as high as 13 feet, making it the tallest plant of the three species
- Cannabis indica – “discovered” later than cannabis sativa, this species thrives in arid and mountainous regions, including areas like India and Pakistan; this plant is generally shorter and bushier than its sativa cousin, often shaped like a Christmas tree
- Cannabis ruderalis – this plant adapts well to harsher climates; it is the smallest of the three species and quite hardy, and it used for both its fibers and nutrition, producing low amounts of THC with relatively higher quantities of CBD
So far, neither marijuana nor hemp have appeared in our little scientific narrative. What gives???
Actually, “hemp” has been a term used for the cannabis sativa plant for centuries; it is only recently (and with great thanks to the racist fear mongering in America in the early 20th century) that “marijuana” (the Mexican name for Mary Jane and meant to conjure up the image of invading Mexican men bent on unbridled sex and murder) was used to describe the cannabis sativa plant. And here is the big difference between these two descriptions:
- Hemp – refers to a cannabis sativa plant containing a quantity of less than 0.3% THC (by dry weight)
- Marijuana – refers to any cannabis sativa plant containing a quantity of more than 0.3% THC (by dry weight)
(Just as a point of reference, a cannabis sativa or cannabis indica plant can contain as much as 30% THC.)
Yep, we just made up “marijuana” as a scary term to thwart interested parties in partaking of a plant offering euphoric and medical benefits. Sadly, that fear tactic worked for more than a century!
We’ll now examine cannabis sativa a little closer in their known forms as hemp and marijuana, starting with the older, more common term: hemp.
Cannabis sativa as Hemp
As mentioned in one of our previous articles (POTUS Potheads: Facts, Rumors, and Myths), we mentioned that hemp was a popular and valued product grown by many early presidents, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. In fact, the history of hemp as a textile fiber dates back 10,000 years with the discovery of a hemp cloth in Mesopotamia from 8000 BC, making it perhaps the oldest crop cultivated by the human species.
It also has a reputation as one of the strongest natural fibers found in the world. For centuries, and even still today, hemp is found in multiple industries, including:
- Body Care – balms, cosmetics, lotions, shampoos, and soaps
- Building Materials – acrylics, coatings, fiberboard, fiberglass substitute, fuel, insulation, oil paints, printing inks, solvents, and varnishes
- Foods – EFA food supplements, hemp protein powder, hemp seed hearts, and hemp seed oil
- Industrial Textiles – canvas, carpeting, caulking, molded parts, netting, rope, and tarps
- Paper – cardboard, newsprint, packaging, printing
- Textiles – clothing, denim, diapers, fine fabrics, handbags, and shoes
Because of its versatility, cannabis sativa (as hemp) has served humankind throughout the word for thousands of years. And somewhere along that line, someone discovered the THC component of cannabis sativa, opening yet another world of discovery, delight, and remedy.
Cannabis sativa as Marijuana
Imagine being one of the first humans to experience the euphoric effects of cannabis sativa through some form of consumption. While it may have created images of what heaven must be like, it certainly made life on earth immediately better.
In spite of its absurd illegality in America for much too long of a time, and even with the deliberate suppression of scientific studies to determine any potential health benefits obtain through the use of marijuana, we already know that it can help the human body in the following ways (according to the Harvard Medical School):
- Chronic Pain – they are safer than opiates (and non-addictive!) and can replace NSAIDS (like Advil or Aleve) for those with kidney or ulcer issues
- Muscle Relaxant – patients have even found it helpful when suffering from Parkinson’s disease
- Nausea – cancer patients enduring chemotherapy treatments find it to be the best way to alleviate nauseous symptoms
- Weight Loss – even with the “munchies,” users are less likely to develop metabolic syndrome which increases the difficulty of losing weight
- Glaucoma – multiple studies from as far back as 1970 indicate that THC and CBD reduces intraocular pressure, a major glaucoma condition
- PTSD – soldiers and individuals suffering from a physical trauma have found relief for their PTSD through THC and CBD
As mentioned before, this all has been uncovered in spite of the fact the federal government was intimidating others (including scientists!) with the fear of criminal charges and possible imprisonment for exploring any possible benefits of cannabis sativa and its cousin, sativa indica.
The Main Differences Between Hemp and Marijuana
As befits any related species, variances between hemp and marijuana exist. Differences do indeed stand out, so let’s take a closer look at those differences.
While hemp and marijuana both produce THC and CBD, hemp plants are known for their lowered THC levels. Today, a hemp plant cannot contain over 0.3% of THC content; if it does, it is automatically categorized as a marijuana plant instead of hemp and the usual stupid laws concerning marijuana fall into play.
As mentioned before, a cannabis sativa (or cannabis indica) plant may contain as much as 30% THC content, quite enough to obtain that euphoric state so well-loved and appreciated.
When cultivating these two types of cannabis sativa, different approaches to growing and care apply.
With hemp, it’s all about quantity, so growers look to maximize both its size and yield. This means that hemp is generally grown outdoors and requires little ongoing care and attention during its life cycle.
While marijuana can be grown either indoors or outdoors, much more regular care and attention is demanded of these plants. This involves breeding strains under controlled environments, optimizing certain characteristics (such as taste, effect, look, and texture), and producing sufficient female plants to perpetuate the new strain into the future.
For years, both plants suffered from legal issues and concerns. Up until 2018, with the implementation of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, hemp was regulated as an illegal controlled substance as defined in the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act.
While more states are loosening or eliminating criminal charges for the possession or use of marijuana (i.e., cannabis sativa with a THC content exceeding 0.3%), it is still a federal crime (for the time being; with so many states legalizing marijuana, the federal government is taking a closer look at their unreasonable stance – there is even a house bill to remove its Schedule 1 status)
Thanks to its 10,000-year head start, hemp has a wide variety of uses spanning across many fields of interest and need. This makes hemp an amazing, natural multi-use product in areas including food, textiles, body care, and building materials, to name only a few.
On the other hand, in the few decades in which high-THC cannabis sativa has been studied, results are already proving the governmental nay-sayers wrong in their panic-inducing propaganda that “marijuana” will kill you, make you insane, or convert you into a raping, murdering outlaw. On the contrary, THC has saved countless lives; this does not even attempt to count up all the people whose lives have been improved through the ingestion of THC in one form or another.
So there you have it. Let’s take a look at that list of terms that started this piece:
If we did our job right, you should have a greater (and more accurate) understanding of those terms, including how and where to use them. And perhaps you can school some of your friends and acquaintances when they start misusing these commonly misunderstood terms!