To understand the difference between hemp and marijuana, one must first understand the cannabis plant. Though they are sometimes used interchangeably, hemp, marijuana, and cannabis are not the same thing. Cannabis is a plant family with two primary classifications: indica and sativa. Both marijuana and hemp are derived from cannabis; however, marijuana is derived from both cannabis sativa and cannabis indica plants, where hemp is solely derived from cannabis indica. Perhaps the biggest difference between marijuana and hemp, however, is their chemical makeup. The cannabis plant contains several different chemical compounds known as cannabinoids, the most popular of which are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Marijuana contains an abundance of THC, which is the chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychoactive effects. Conversely, hemp contains higher levels of CBD and little to no THC (0.3% or less), and therefore will not get one “high.” Aside from their chemical makeup, hemp and marijuana also have different physical characteristics and require different cultivation environments. Marijuana possesses broad leaves, tight buds, and is generally small and bushy. On the other hand, hemp is typically taller and skinnier, with thinner leaves that are highly concentrated at the top of the plant. When compared side-by-side, the two can clearly be identified. Due to their different chemical makeups and physical appearance, the cultivation processes for marijuana and hemp are different. Marijuana is typically grown in warm, humid, and carefully controlled conditions. Marijuana plants must also be grown far apart from each other (around 6 feet), and have a growth cycle of around 60 – 90 days. Unlike marijuana, hemp is grown closely together, can grow in a variety of climates, and has a much longer growth cycle (108 – 120 days).
Due to marijuana having an abundance of THC and hemp having virtually no THC, the uses for each are remarkably different. Marijuana is used primarily for its psychoactive properties, and is used both recreationally and medicinally. It can be either smoked or ingested, and can be found in a variety of forms such as capsules, vaporizers, and edibles. Hemp, however, has a different and much wider range of uses. Hemp is used primarily for industrial purposes, and can be used to make clothing, paper, housing materials, and food items. Throughout history, hemp has been used to produce textiles; in fact, it is much stronger, softer, and lasts longer than cotton. It therefore can be used to make any number of clothing items, including shirts, shoes, and pants. Similarly, hemp comprises the fibrous inner core of the cannabis plant, which shares a similar chemical composition to that of wood. Hemp fibers and pulp can be used to make paper, which is superior to paper made from trees. That is, hemp paper is more durable, takes less time to make, and does not require the use of toxic chemicals. Hemp fibers can also be turned into sturdy building materials, and used for flooring, roofing, and even cement. Finally, hemp oil (extracted from hemp seeds) is extremely nutritious. It is high in protein, fatty acids, iron, and calcium, and therefore acts as a potent dietary supplement. Combined, the uses of both marijuana and hemp are vast. Moreover, these uses will only continue to grow with further research.