25 Jun Differences Between Hemp and Marijuana
Discussions about the use of marijuana have increased right along with the number of young people using the substance and the number of states making marijuana legal. While, the right or wrong of legalization remains a topic for much debate there is another word which sometimes pops into the conversation and which can muddy the waters for the uninformed.
Hemp is a plant that shares the same species as the cannabis plant which produces marijuana and, for that reason, often gets connected in the minds of many to marijuana. However, hemp and marijuana are different in several significant ways.
Both hemp and marijuana belong to the plant family cannabis sativa. In fact, when referring to marijuana, people will sometimes call it by the plant name cannabis. But the hemp plant and the cannabis plant which produces marijuana not only look different, they produce very different crops. One, the hemp plant, is cultivated for industrial uses while the other, marijuana, is grown strictly for its mind-altering qualities.
The hemp plant is grown for its long, strong fibers which are used to produce thousands of items from rope to carpets to blankets. Hemp is also used to make hair conditioner and bird seed among innumerable other products. Hemp plants are encouraged to grow tall rather than bushy in order to yield the longest, strongest fibers. These plants typically reach 10 to 15 feet in height before they are harvested.
By contrast, marijuana plants rarely exceed five feet in height and are often bushy in order to produce the maximum number of buds and flowers from which come the key drug ingredient. Compared to hemp, marijuana plant fibers are weak and unsuitable for commercial use.
Hemp has low levels of THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana which produces the feelings of pleasure and relaxation. The cannabis plant grown for the drug marijuana has five to ten percent THC while hemp usually contains one percent or less. The THC develops in the flowers and buds of the female cannabis plant.
Hemp plants are not brought to flower and, in fact, are bred to avoid flowering. In addition to lower levels of the psychoactive ingredient THC, the hemp plant contains more cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical which counteracts THC.
Commercial production of hemp is legal in 29 countries worldwide, but remains illegal in the United States, perhaps because of fears about its potential as a drug-producing crop. While the hemp plant could be pollinated by nearby marijuana cannabis in order to produce greater amounts of THC, the ability to do so undetected would be small.
To begin with, the appearance of hemp fields and marijuana fields are readily distinguishable. One plant is tall and non-flowering and the other is lower, bushier and produces flowers. Those who propose hemp as a legal crop here point out that it is a plant which does not require pesticides and which can grow in hardy conditions – essentially anywhere that can sustain corn production. Marijuana plants are less hardy and require moist, warm conditions.
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