Cannabis plants come in many different breeds and varieties. In many cases we think of the varying marijuana plants and their range of effects when consumed. We often completely forget about hemp, an extremely useful variety of marijuana plant that has been used industrially for thousands of years. Cannabis plants have been used as hemp for making a variety of useful things, including food, oil, rope, fabric and textiles. They have also been used religiously and medicinally for thousands of years as well. So what’s the difference? How can the same plant be used in such vastly different ways?
The Genetic History of Cannabis Plants
It seems that parentage has a lot to do with this. Cannabis is thought to be one of the first plants that was domesticated and evidence of its use goes back thousands of years. In early civilizations, tall, strong cannabis plants were bred with other hearty plants that held similar traits and this led to the creation of hemp. Plants that were recognized to have psychoactive properties were specifically bred for medical and spiritual purposes leading to the production of the marijuana plant used today. This early breeding is also thought to have separated cannabis plants into two strains: Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa.
A Matter of Gender
Gender has a lot to do with the difference between marijuana and hemp. The marijuana plants that are used for their psychoactive purposes are flowering buds from female plants during their flowering stage. These plants have to be grown and cultivated in a very specific way that takes a lot of care and attention. Cannabis plants are known to have unique compounds called cannabinoids in them. Research shows that there are over 60 cannabinoids found in these plants. THC is the cannabinoid compound known to produce the psychoactive high in those who consume the plant. Marijuana plants contain high levels of THC, with percentages ranging from 5%-30% depending on the strain. They are also known to have very low levels of CBD, a cannabinoid known to actually reduce the effects of THC.
Simplicity in Hemp
On the other hand, hemp is primarily a male plant. It doesn’t require any excessive special care, unlike the marijuana plant that needs a lot of attention in order to get the right levels of THC to present itself. It can grow in most environments and it can be cultivated and used at any stage of its cycle. These plants usually grow tall and strong and are more resilient. They contain very little trace amounts of THC and high levels of CBD.
While the industrial and medicinal uses of cannabis plants seem almost miraculously useful, they are still considered a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substance Act and it is therefore illegal to produce any type of cannabis plant, including hemp, in the United States. Other countries have been utilizing the benefits of cannabis both medicinally and for industrial purposes. As popularity grows and more research is done, it’s likely that laws regarding this plant will be revisited at a future date so that everyone can once again benefit from this plant’s many gifts.