The Difference Between Cannabis and Hemp Explained

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Hemp is marketing full-out. Hemp CBD products are everywhere including Walmart, Walgreen’s, CVS, and supermarkets. And, their claims of hemp CBD’s health benefits have drawn the unwelcome attention of the FDA. That attention will only confuse the marketplace and complicate legal concerns.

The hemp advocates and lobbyists get a lot of mileage of being able to sell hemp products everywhere. But there is a lot of difference between cannabis and hemp.

From the family

People through terms around as if they were synonyms, so confusion is inevitable. But you can start with a Cannabaceae, a class of plants. Of the 770 plants that may belong to the class, botanists have settled on 104. The cannabis subspecies include strongly-aromatic and flowerless green plants and are distant relatives of the rose, hackberry, mulberry, and more familiar plants.

Cannabaceae include dioecious plants, the ones that produce male and female flowers on separate plants. Larger plants have woody strengths and high fiber content. And, the Cannabaceae family is often labeled “the Hemp family.” Among the plants in the family are “hop” (Humulus lupulus). Beer makers use female flowers from hop to make their brew.

But we are interested in cannabis sativa which markets as hemp or marijuana.

Still confused?

♦ Hemp is classified as cannabis sativa by botanists. In the marketplace, it is called “industrial hemp” that has long been cultivated as a cash crop in many places in the world. It sells for its high fiber resource and its seeds. It primarily differs from cannabis marketed as marijuana because it has only trace amounts of THC (∆9-tetrahydrocannabinol).

A history of documents and artifacts indicate hemp started in Central Asia. As early as 2800 BCE, people were growing hemp for its fiber in 2800 BCE. The used the plant in its entirety including its fibers for weaving baskets, blankets, and fabrics. Someone brought it to Europe, and it would be farmed in North and South America as explorers moved west in the 1500s.

Hemp remains a major cash crop in temperate agricultural zones. But its evolutionary struggle with hostile climates would alter its composition and chemistry. What we know as industrial hemp grows to 16-feet in well-drained sandy soils. Plants raised for their oils reach 10-feet with small yellowed flowers.

Growers process the stalks, mostly in traditional extraction methods, to separate the woody elements from long straight fibers. The separated fiber is longer and stronger but less flexible than flax. Processors and weavers create burlap, cable, rope, string, twine, and yarn in their distinctive dun brown color because hemp does not dye easily.

Hemp grown for its oil-producing seeds offers consumers fiber, magnesium, oil, and more. People eat the seeds raw or drink hemp milk as an alternative to lactose kinds of milk. But the oil has also found its way into a growing inventory of oils, pills, soaps, skin care products, and edibles.

New Frontier Data predicted, “The 2018 Farm Bill will restore industrial hemp to nationwide legal production for the first time since World War II, offering vast opportunities for the industry and investment in a market expected to triple in four years.” With hemp removed from the Controlled Substances Act, the market looks “to expand at a healthy 18.4% through a 5-year combined annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2018-2022… in leading all hemp product categories, the hemp-derived CBD market will grow from a $390 million-dollar market in 2018, to a $1.3 billion market (or 3.3x) by 2022, representing a 27.2% 5-year CAGR.”

This sets up competition with the medical and recreational cannabis market. Its broad legal availability offers hemp CBD a major opportunity to command a significant slice of the market. It also sets up a competition of claims to benefits and research projects driving advertisers to spin appeals. At the same time, the contest allows each segment to ride the coattails of the other as marketing often works.

♦ Cannabis sativa belongs to the Cannabaceae family, too. It’s a sturdy aromatically-pungent herb also established in BCE Central Asia. It also found its way across Asia to Europe, Africa, and the Western Hemisphere with traders, merchant, sailors, explorers, nomads, travelers, and the winds.

Keeping it simple, the tall plants provided fiber, and the shorter female plants burst with THC. Over time, wild-raised and industrially-farmed cannabis morphed into evolving structures and chemical composition. As a result, many botanists have identified cannabis Indica and cannabis ruderalis as distinct species. Furthermore, modern breeders have created hybrid strains through delicate and difficult processes.

Cannabis Indica is believed to have originated in India, Afghanistan, and sub-Asian continent and is recognized by its high THC content. Cannabis ruderalis is believed to be a survivor born in western Russia and the Baltic states. Botanists believe it is first-to-grow vegetation following a natural or provoked climate catastrophe. It is very low in THC but high in oil content.

What’s the difference?

Cannabis and Hemp differ in botanical structure and chemistry. Hemp has proven a major agricultural crop throughout the world since ancient times. Its farmers have found thousands of uses for all parts of the plants in all its variations. And, radically low in THC, it has earned legal status in most locales. It promotes its CBD content and its related health and medicinal benefits to expanding markets looking for products in multiple lines from sublingual oils to cosmetics to food supplements. Its claims to effectiveness as a food supplement are now under scrutiny by the FDA.

Cannabis sativa and cannabis Indica come in scores of combinations triggering complex psychoactive and medical results. It is raised, bred, and crossbred as strains of plant buds to serve customers who want specific experiences. The high THC content of Indica produces uplifting and euphoric experiences that can push consumers to uncomfortable paranoia and panic attacks. A high CBD content produces relaxation and calm, sometimes reaching a physical couch-lock sensation that can be enjoyable or upsetting. Strains with a closer THC: CBD ratio produce a balanced experience for most users.

So, CBD dominates medicinal uses and infused markets while THC dominates recreational use. To claim their market share, legal medical and recreational marijuana vendors continue to grow their presence in infused lines like oils, drinks, and edibles as well as therapeutic salves, balms, and patches.

Short story: Hemp CBD may produce medicinal benefits. It should be checked for its sourcing, purity, and dosing in an unregulated market. Legal Cannabis (marijuana) delivers psychoactive responses and researched medical benefits with ingredients, nutrition, and seed-to-sale scrutiny in a heavily regulated environment.