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Distinguishing Hemp from Marijuana

Same Difference: Understanding Hemp And Marijuana

  • What are the differences between hemp and marijuana and what does that mean for you?

If you were to take a hike through the mountains of Nepal, your eyes would feast on visual treats. Scaling mountain peaks and lush valleys would surround you at every turn and twist as you move through the landscape. However, it’s also highly likely that you would find wild-growing varieties of cannabis. When looking at them, you might think, “is this hemp or marijuana?”

Visual inspection alone makes it impossible to know, so let’s dive into how to distinguish between hemp and marijuana.

The Difference Between Hemp And Marijuana Is On The Inside

Throughout the history of cannabis, people have frequently separated the plant into two species, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis sativa based on their physical appearance. Sativas are often indicated as being tall plants with thin leaves and indicas are noted to be squat with wide leaves.

However, in 2016, Dr. Danielle Piomelli spoke with one of the world’s leading cannabinoid researchers, Dr. Ethan B. Russo, and asked him about the variances found in Cannabis. Russo lamented the fact that the conversation has been so trivialized.

He said, “it is clear that there are many chemotypes of Cannabis: THC predominant, CBD predominant, and mixed types.” However, he noted that there isn’t really any single way to accurately describe the varieties of Cannabis.

He pointed out that “the debate continues. Some espouse Cannabis as a single species, while others describe up to four: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, Cannabis ruderalis, and Cannabis afghanica.”

Which brings us to how we differ between hemp and marijuana. Essentially, it’s a game of semantics. In this game of semantics, however, legislative bodies have written some of the definitions for us.

Towards the end of 2018, the President signed the 2018 US Farm Bill into law. A portion of that bill spoke directly about hemp. According to the Hemp and Farm Bill Programs Fact Sheet, hemp is now legal to produce under federal law and farmers can now partake in certain USDA programs.

A key move in the bill was the declassification of hemp as a Schedule I narcotic. Effectively, hemp and all of its constituent parts, including CBD, are legal at the federal level.

There are two important caveats:

  • Businesses must have proper licensing

  • Hemp plants must remain below 0.3% THC

That is where the definition of hemp and marijuana is truly separated in today’s vernacular. Hemp refers to Cannabis plants with little-to-no THC, and anything above the 0.3% THC limit is considered to be marijuana.

Not everyone is satisfied with leaving it up to politicians, however. Dr. Russo mentioned in his interview that he would “strongly encourage the scientific community, the press, and the public to...insist that accurate biochemical assays on cannabinoid and terpenoid profiles be available for Cannabis in both the medical and recreational markets.”

A pragmatic approach to how we discuss the differences between hemp and marijuana is integral to getting the conversation correct. For now, we’ll defer to the politically correct versions, but we look forward to a more nuanced discussion not left to the whims of political leaders who’ve largely supported prohibition in the past.

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