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The Hemp Plant vs. The Cannabis (THC) Plant

Where they overlap, where they differ, and why it matters

 It’s Earth Day, a day set aside to celebrate the planet and all its wondrous creations! In honor of the holiday and the planet Earth, we thought we’d take a moment to discuss two of the most polarizing plants out there, hemp and cannabis. Especially as federal and state legislation continue to go back and forth on the legalization of cannabis, it’s important to know what each plant is, where they differ, why their differences matter, and their current legal status.

Hemp: What is it?

The hemp plant is from the Cannabis sativa plant family, it is also known as ‘industrial hemp’ for its multitude of uses as a strong foundation substance for creating textiles and various materials.

Like its relative cannabis, hemp does in fact contain THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol. In order to be considered hemp and not cannabis however, the hemp plant must contain less than 0.3% THC. This is the biggest and most important difference between the two plants, as that 0.3% chemical make-up is a difference of jail time and perfectly legal activities depending on the state you’re in.

Hemp was made federally legal with the 2018 Farm Bill. This bill is important because it differentiated hemp from cannabis, stating that hemp and hemp products must contain 0.3% or less THC. It also therefore impacted the distribution of hemp products and the production of hemp products in America. If the plant has more THC than 0.3%, it must be destroyed or changed to be less than 0.3%, depending on the state, rather than used as is, in states where cannabis is illegal.

Because it is federally legal, hemp is the plant responsible for bringing you most of your CBD products. However, CBD, or cannabidiol, can be extracted from both hemp and cannabis plants. But hemp gives back to the planet too, it not only removes toxins from soil as it grows but it adds nutrients at the same time. These abilities make it an obvious choice for crop rotation, restoring nutrients and removing toxins between the planting of other crops that cannot do the same. This will in turn prevent erosion and depletion of soil health, making the crops that don’t restore nutrients and remove toxins that much healthier.

Cannabis: What is it?

Cannabis is also from the Cannabis sativa family, but it is biologically structured differently than hemp, which is why its flowers produce more THC than hemp. Cannabis is also known as weed, pot, and a plethora of other nicknames.

The cannabis plant contains at least 0.3% THC. THC is a psychoactive cannabinoid, which means it affects the brain. THC is the chemical that produces the euphoric feeling of being blissfully ‘high’, meaning cannabis is the plant responsible for that feeling as well.

Unlike hemp, cannabis is not legally federally, though many states have made it legal medicinally and/or recreationally. Right now, cannabis is medically legal in thirty-nine states. That means that you can get a recommendation from your doctor and buy, carry, and consume cannabis legally. There are eighteen states that have made cannabis legal recreationally.

Hemp vs. Cannabis

But let’s talk about these two very similar plants side by side.

Physically, hemp is a much taller plant than the cannabis plant. The hemp plant can reach about twenty-feet tall. Its leaves resemble a cannabis leaf; however they differ in that Unless they are side by side, or you are very well-versed in the subject, it would be very easy to mistake a hemp leaf for a cannabis leaf, or vice versa.

Hemp, like cannabis, produces buds or flowers. They simply don’t contain the THC levels that cannabis plants do but they can if left unattended. That’s right, hemp flowers can reach higher than 0.3% THC content levels, which generally happens when farmers are experimenting with new plants and letting them grow longer than usual. This product is referred to as ‘hot hemp’.

As far as care goes, hemp plants are a lot heartier and easier to grow. They don’t need much attention and can grow in a variety of climates, side-by-side with various other plants. Cannabis on the other hand, needs warm and moist conditions to thrive. It’s best to keep it from other plants, as a cross-pollination corrupts the THC content, even growing male and female cannabis plants next to each other changes the THC content. Female cannabis plants without male cannabis plants nearby produce buds with higher THC and CBD contents. This is due to the females not using energy for fertilization.

And finally, because of us are visual learners, we thought making a quick chart to summarize all of this information might be helpful. So here are the bullet points, enjoy!

HEMP

  • Grows in many different climates
  • Requires little care
  • Grows up to 20 feet
  • Co-habitats with other plants
  • Low THC content (0.3% or less THC)
  • Creates non-psychoactive effects
  • Has flower buds
  • Slim, thinner leaves than the cannabis plants
  • Cannabis Sativa plant
  • Contains CBD
  • Federally legal
  • Contains over 100 cannabinoids aside from THC and CBD
  • Used to create various materials and goods like fabrics, rope, even food!
  • Contains protein and amino acids

CANNABIS (THC)

  • Needs warm, moist climate
  • Requires a lot of care and attention
  • Grows into shorter bushes
  • Cross-pollination corrupts THC content
  • Higher THC content (0.3% or more THC)
  • Creates psychoactive effects
  • Has flower buds
  • Broad, thick leaves (thicker than hemp)
  • Cannabis Sativa plant
  • Contains CBD
  • Medically legal in 39 states
  • Recreationally legal in 18 states
  • Contains over 100 cannabinoids aside from THC and CBD
  • Classified a schedule 1 drug in 11 states

Final Thoughts on Hemp and Cannabis

While these two sibling plants are very similar, in the end, their biological make-up is different enough to draw a hard line, at least in eleven of the states. As we become more educated on the true impacts of cannabis, we hope to see more minds open to its medicinal potential. Hopefully, we will soon reap the benefits of cannabis as we have been with hemp, which is a sustainable, easily farmed, versatile, natural resource that we would just plain be silly not to utilize more.