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Differences Between Cannabis and Hemp

There is no doubt that the popularity of cannabidiol (CBD) products are on the rise with an increasing number of countries having now legalized this cannabis compound. However, there is a caveat; for CBD to be legal in Europe, it has to be derived from the hemp plant. 


Especially for those new to the world of CBD and cannabis, this is the cause of a lot of confusion, especially with misinformation about the differences between cannabis and hemp running wild. Add to that everyday terms such as “weed” and “marijuana”, the waters get muddied even further. 


Here we discuss the differences between the cannabis plant and hemp plant, the problems surrounding the word marijuana, as well as dispel the myths. So, let’s take a look at some of the most common misconceptions surrounding cannabis, hemp and marijuana and what the facts really are.

Hemp Plants and Cannabis Plants Are Not Different Species

There is a very popular meme currently doing the rounds on social media about the difference between hemp and marijuana. 

The claim is that cannabis has two species, hemp and marijuana, with hemp having less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and marijuana containing more than 20% THC.Although the infographic is well-meaning, attempting to destigmatize CBD and hemp, the information is unfortunately incorrect, causing even further confusion and perpetuating misconceptions.

What is Cannabis: Cannabis Classification

To understand the difference between hemp plants and cannabis plants, it is important to first understand the system of classification for life on earth otherwise known as taxonomy. All organisms are classified based on a ranking system, starting with kingdom, and moving down from phylum, to class, to order, to family, to genus and to species. For plants, species are then further divided into what is commonly called strains or cultivars. 


Based on this system of classification, Cannabis is a simply a genus of flowering plants in the family Cannabaceae. Within the Cannabis genus, there are three varieties of cannabis, or in biological terms, three different species; Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica, and Cannabis Ruderalis. Then, within these three species, you find a wide range of different cultivars or strains, each having very different characteristics in terms of stature, leaf shape (cannabis leaf), growing conditions and most importantly, cannabinoid profiles.

What is Hemp: Hemp Plants vs Cannabis Plants

Based on this scientific system of classification, cannabis and hemp are the same plant, sharing the same genus and coming from the same species. In other words, hemp is nothing more than a single cultivar or strain of the species Cannabis Sativa. 


Throughout history, humans have bred cannabis for different uses. Hemp plants, also called industrial hemp, have been selectively bread and cultivated to produce long, fibrous stems. Hemp cultivation has been used for things like rope, clothing, paper, and construction materials. As a result, hemp is very low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content but high in cannabidiol (CBD) content (read more about CBD vs THC), making hemp plants ideal for extracting the full-spectrum CBD and manufacturing hemp products used for therapeutic, cosmetic, and nutritional purposes. Should you have any interest in buying CBD online, uWeed offer one of the largest inventory of hemp products in its CBD online shop. 


In contrast, because of its long history of medical, recreational and shamanistic use, most other cannabis strains have been grown specifically to contain higher amounts of THC - the cannabinoid known for producing the intoxicating and psychoactive effects so characteristic of the cannabis plant. Therefore, what is generally called cannabis, “marijuana” and “weed” are words which are commonly used to refer to the strains and species of cannabis plant which are high in THC. 


In short, “hemp” plants refer to one specific cultivar (strain) of the Cannabis Sativa species while “cannabis” encompasses a wide range of strains and species belonging to the Cannabaceae family of cannabis plants.

What is Cannabis vs Marijuana

Essentially, cannabis and marijuana are two different words for the same thing. The word marijuana was originally introduced into the English language by Mexican immigrants in North America, whom also brought with them the idea of smoking cannabis recreationally. 


However, the political and racially motivated Reefer Madness, anti-cannabis propaganda from the 1930s specifically used the term “marijuana” to make its use sound foreign and sinister. And because of this, for many people, the word is now considered as derogatory and racist. That is why for especially minority groups, the word marijuana is falling out of favor, rather opting for using its Latin name cannabis. And that’s true when seeking the health-related effects of cannabis: call it medical cannabis rather than medical marijuana!

Hemp Comes From Male Plants And Cannabis Comes From Female Plants

Because male cannabis plants tend to have strong fibers, there is sometimes the misconception that hemp comes from male plants and cannabis comes from female plants. 


However, hemp plants, just like all other species of cannabis plants produce male and female plants. And because the flowers produced by the female plants produce significantly higher concentrations of cannabinoids than male flowers, it is in fact female hemp plants which are most sought after for medical use. 


The only difference between hemp plants and cannabis plants is that in the case of hemp, farmers grow female plants for the CBD and other cannabinoids (while keeping THC below the legal 1% threshold in Switzerland). As for cannabis, unless a strain is a specialised medical strain specifically cultivated to contain a specific cannabinoid profile, growers tend to seek the highest concentrations of THC and CBD possible.

Hemp Is Medicinal, Cannabis and Marijuana Is Recreational

Another popular misconception is that hemp plants are medicinal and cannabis plants are recreational. The reason for this is mainly due to the rise in popularity of CBD products which are touted as a cure-all for everything from anxiety to epilepsy. 


And although CBD does have the potential to help treat a wide variety of symptoms and diseases, THC is also shown to have medicinal properties. In fact, due to something called the entourage effect, research is showing that full-spectrum extracts from cannabis plants, such as those used in CBD hemp oil, are in some cases preferable to those from hemp plants for certain conditions. In addition, there are now strains of cannabis plants that are developed and grown to produce particular cannabinoid profiles to help treat specific conditions. 


So, in short, although cannabis can be used recreationally, both hemp and cannabis plants have medicinal benefits. However, because hemp contains so little THC, it is not generally considered as being an effective way to get high.

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