Hemp and marijuana are two words that get used a lot in modern discourse. You have probably heard both of these words used in some capacity. You’ve probably heard them a lot in discussions about whether or not a state should legalize marijuana, but then, where have you heard hemp?

Some people seem to use them interchangeably, but is that correct? Although the words get thrown around a lot, there seem to be lots of uncertainty about what it means for something to be either hemp or marijuana. Which is legal and which is not—or are they the same thing?

At Vertava Health Ohio, we strive to provide you with the most accurate and clear information possible in our mission to provide quality addiction treatment. Keep reading to find out more about hemp vs. marijuana and what all the fuss is about!

What Is Hemp?

First off, hemp. Currently, federal law uses the word hemp to refer to varieties of Cannabis sativa (a plant species) that contains less than 0.3% of THC by dry weight. THC is the psychoactive and intoxicating compound that creates the psychological effects of marijuana.

Your body has natural cannabinoid receptors. According to LiveScience, these receptors are found in your brain and are located in the areas that are responsible for thinking, memory, pleasure, coordination, and time perception.

THC, meanwhile, acts like your body’s naturally-existing cannabinoid receptors. When you use marijuana, THC will attach to your body’s cannabinoid receptors, thus affecting memory, coordination, and time perception. That’s why marijuana use can cause side effects linked to those same things.

So, hemp actually contains very little THC. Therefore, you can conclude that hemp will not produce psychological effects in the way that something like marijuana would. Instead of being used in order to produce psychological effects, hemp is harvested for use in food supplements and other products like rope, clothing, and insulation.

You can think of hemp as the non-intoxicating variety of Cannabis sativa. Although it does not contain much THC, which is needed to induce the psychoactive effects of the plant, hemp does contain a chemical compound called CBD.

CBD isn’t a psychoactive compound. Instead, CBD is extracted from hemp for use in many natural remedies and natural products for consumer use. For some people, CBD extraction may be a way to try pain relievers without the psychological effects of marijuana (due to THC) or side effects of other strong prescription painkillers.

According to healthline, there are several observed benefits of CBD:

  • Pain relief
  • Potential aid for those with anxiety and depression (though not a cure)
  • Help with subduing some side effects of cancer treatment such as nausea (though not a cure for cancer)
  • Help with reducing acne due to its anti-inflammatory properties
  • Possibility of having neuroprotective properties (reducing things like the severity of seizures in people with epilepsy)
  • Potentially benefiting heart health
  • Reducing psychotic symptoms (for conditions like schizophrenia)
  • Assisting in recovery from substance use disorders
  • Reducing the risk of diabetes

As you can see through the precautionary language that is used in the above list, CBD seems to have many benefits but those benefits need much more research and study to truly understand how effective the CBD chemical compound is at relieving particular conditions and symptoms.

Now, you can see that although hemp has some useful properties because of its CBD compound, the amount of THC it contains—the chemical needed to get a user high—is not enough to create any psychological effects in a user.

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What Is Marijuana?

You’ve learned a little bit more about hemp, but what about marijuana? What makes marijuana different from hemp?

Well, marijuana refers to a different classification of the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica (another species of the Cannabis genus) plant. Marijuana is a classification that refers to a variety of the plant that contains more than 0.3% THC by dry weight as well as induces psychoactive effects in the user. Marijuana can contain up to 30% THC, which is quite a lot of the compound, making it very potent and enough of the compound to surely get a user intoxicated.

Marijuana is commonly smoked in hand-rolled cigarettes that are referred to as joints, with pipes, or special water pipes called bongs. Marijuana can also be smoked through emptied cigars that have been refilled; these refilled cigars are known as blunts.

Marijuana can also be consumed when it is mixed with food. Marijuana that is made consumable is known as an edible. Edibles usually come in the form of brownies, cookies, candy, or tea.

Marijuana use as a drug has occurred for centuries. Because marijuana contains such significant levels of THC, it can produce a high in the user. With a marijuana high, a user might feel relaxed or euphoric.

Side effects of marijuana use include

  • Altered senses (including seeing colors appear brighter)
  • Mood changes
  • Warped sense of time
  • Trouble thinking or remembering
  • Difficulty problem-solving
  • Some impaired body movement
  • Hallucinations (in high doses)
  • Delusions (in high doses)
  • Psychosis (with consistent high-dose use)

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana can affect brain development. Marijuana use can impair areas of the brain related to learning, memory, and thinking. Because marijuana has recently exploded in recreational popularity in the last decade in the United States, more research is continuously ongoing to identify the long-term effects of marijuana on the brain of teenagers.

There are also some physical effects that can accompany marijuana use. These symptoms include

  • Problems breathing: Like cigarette smoke, marijuana smoke can irritate your lungs. Regular users could see themselves develop a daily cough and excess phlegm. Additionally, more frequent lung illnesses or a higher risk of lung infections are also possible.
  • Increased heart rate: According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, for up to three hours after smoking marijuana, a user’s heart rate can be elevated. For some individuals, this can mean that their risk of a heart attack goes up. Those who already have heart problems or are elderly may be more at risk for a heart attack.
  • Issues with child development during and following pregnancy: Research on this issue is still developing and followed. However, some early studies and preliminary results suggest that marijuana use in pregnancy could lead to lower birth weight and the presence of THC in breast milk could alter a baby’s brain development.
  • Intense nausea and vomiting: If you use marijuana often and for a long period of time, you could develop a condition called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome. This condition makes users very nauseous and can cause vomiting, and dehydration (due to excessive vomiting.)

Right now, several states in the U.S. have legalized recreational marijuana use, some states only allow for medicinal use of the substance, and some states have no provisions at all for any kind of marijuana use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that “marijuana is the most commonly used psychotropic drug in the United States, after alcohol.”

Marijuana has the potential to be addictive. This doesn’t mean that everybody who uses marijuana will become addicted, but it also doesn’t mean that marijuana addiction does not exist.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse cites statistics that say “between 9 and 30 percent of those who use marijuana may develop some degree of marijuana use disorder.” If a substance use disorder becomes severe enough, it is known as an addiction.

When you have an addiction to a substance, you recognize that the substance use is causing problems in your personal, social, and professional lives but are unable to stop use. If you stop using, you might feel very strong, compelling urges, and cravings for the drug. You might want to quit but are finding it very difficult to stop the habit.

Differences Between Hemp And Marijuana

You can most easily identify the differences between hemp and marijuana by breaking it down into four distinct categories. We’ll put it all together for you below:

Composition

As we’ve discussed in our section on hemp, hemp does not contain the same amount of THC (the psychoactive compound) that marijuana contains. Hemp contains significantly less THC than marijuana, which means that you can’t get high from hemp, but you can get high from marijuana.

Although the most potent forms of marijuana can come in somewhere around 30% THC, the average is somewhere between 5% and 20% THC, which is still quite significant. The comparison is even wider when compared to the less than 0.3% of THC that hemp contains.

In contrast to marijuana’s high percentage of THC, hemp contains more CBD than marijuana plants. In fact, some marijuana plants do not even contain any CBD.

Legality

At certain points in time, both hemp and marijuana were declared illegal substances. The decision behind making both plants illegal was likely due to how closely they are related to each other. Both plants share the same genus (Cannabis) and are often confused with each other. (After all, this is why we’re writing this blog today!)

From a federal standpoint, marijuana remains illegal. Certain states, though, have some exemptions for medicinal uses of marijuana and a few also allow adults to use marijuana recreationally. Today, marijuana is a controlled substance.

Hemp, meanwhile, has lost its status as a controlled substance within the past few years. In 2018, the U.S. Congress passed the Farm Bill, which removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. However, some states still ban hemp from use. In this way, hemp is kind of like the opposite of marijuana.

Whereas marijuana is banned on a federal level but allowed at some state levels, hemp is allowed on a federal level but banned at some state levels.

Cultivation

These two plants may share the same genus, but they are grown under different conditions and require different kinds of care to thrive. Marijuana can be fickle when growing and needs to be monitored quite often and carefully taken care of. Things such as the humidity and temperature are some key elements that are taken into consideration when growing marijuana.

The kinds of nutrients that a marijuana plant needs are generally closely watched. Likewise, the spacing between marijuana plants must be carefully thought out in order to grow a successful batch of plants.

In almost complete opposition to the marijuana plant, hemp is fairly easy to grow, or at least, less high-maintenance than marijuana. Hemp plants do not need a lot of space to grow and can be grown close to each other. Additionally, the hemp plant is more durable than the marijuana plant and fares better in nature. Hemp requires less specialty care in areas like nutrients, fertilizers, and proper environments than marijuana.

Use

Of course, based on restrictions and such that we have discussed, we can understand that the use of these two plants is going to be very different.

Marijuana use is much more limited and often a more controversial discussion than hemp. Marijuana, of course, can be used recreationally where it is allowed, or for medicinal purposes where it is allowed, but outside of that, all use is considered illegal.

Hemp, since it was revoked from the Controlled Substances Act, is used in the production of many products and goods today. Before it was included in the act, it was also used in the production of many things. For example, the fibers of hemp are particularly notable for their strength.

Because of this, it was used in the construction of ship sails, cloth, and clothes. Hemp fibers are also used in some areas of the construction industry. Materials like bioconcrete and bioplastic stem from a result of hemp as a material.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What does the hemp plant look like vs. marijuana?
Marijuana plants tend to be shorter and bushier. Marijuana plants also tend to have more flowers than hemp plants. Hemp plants look taller and skinnier than marijuana plants.
Hemp vs marijuana what is the difference?
A user cannot get high from hemp, whereas marijuana can induce a high. Hemp does not contain enough of the chemical compound THC to produce psychoactive effects. Marijuana, on the other hand, contains enough THC to produce those effects for a high.