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Hemp vs Marijuana: Learn the Difference

Posted by Jim Higdon on Sep 4th 2020

Hemp vs Marijuana: Learn the Difference

Hemp vs Marijuana Differences

What everyone needs to know

As leaders in the new hemp industry, one question we get a lot is "what's the difference between hemp and marijuana?" It's an understandable question, as the legal definition has only recently changed to make hemp a legal plant in America. This article will help you understand the difference between hemp vs marijuana, and how that relates to producing the highest quality full spectrum CBD oils.

At the federal level, Congress re-defined hemp in the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills to mean any cannabis plant with a THC level not greater than 0.3%.1 Any plant with a THC level greater than 0.3% is still considered to be illegal marijuana, and is therefore subject to federal and state restrictions. The legality of hemp cultivation is clear under United States federal law, but can still vary from state to state as to the legality of the final products.

Cannabis Through History

The cannabis plant has been a part of human history since ancient times -- both as a medicinal plant, and as a source of fiber for textiles. However, in 1937 Congress introduced the Marihuana Tax Act, which placed a heavy tax on cannabis sales. This legislation effectively banned personal possession of cannabis, although the penalties were not yet very severe.

In 1970, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, which assigned cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug. This placed hemp and marijuana alongside drugs like heroin and LSD, which completely prohibited the use of any form of cannabis.

Only recently has the public opinion of hemp and marijuana changed enough to force Congress to change the status of the cannabis plant in federal legislation, removing it from the Schedule 1 drug list. And now that hemp has been removed from the list of controlled substances, Kentucky's hemp industry has reawakened.  

The History of Hemp in America

Kentucky was a top producer of hemp from 17752 until the end of World War 2 in 1946 (with a few years' gap from 1938 until 1942). Those plants grew tall and skinny and didn't produce many cannabis flowers. This made them perfect materials for the fiber industry.

The cannabis grown by the Cornbread Mafia in the 1980s was potent, high-THC marijuana that was illegal3 under federal and Kentucky law. Today, at least 33 states grow marijuana legally for medicinal use, but not yet in Kentucky.4 

Despite lagging on marijuana policy, Kentucky helped lead the national effort to legalize hemp by passing a hemp bill at the state level in 2013.5 The next year, Kentucky lawmakers helped Congress re-define hemp as any cannabis plant with not more than 0.3% THC in the 2014 Farm Bill.6 

Congress thought it was legalizing "industrial hemp." But when cannabis breeders realized that the federal law only limited THC content, they got to work on breeding strains with legal THC levels and high CBD content. By the 2018 Farm Bill,7 Congress dropped the word "industrial" from the definition of hemp8 to recognize the fact that hemp was now a legal source of cannabinoids.9

21st Century Hemp and Marijuana

The hemp plants growing in Kentucky today are much different than the varieties that were growing in the 19th century or World War II. In fact, they are more similar to the types of plants grown illegally by the Cornbread Mafia, or that grow legally in states like California and Colorado -- just without the THC content.

Marijuana and hemp are both considered to be from the same plant species: Cannabis sativa.10 They smell the same, look the same, and feel the same.11 That's because over the past five years hemp geneticists have cloned cannabis plants to produce the highest levels of CBD or cannabidiol, and a THC level below 0.3%.

The only difference from hemp vs marijuana is the level of THC. If the plant has over 0.3% THC, it is defined as marijuana.12 Marijuana and hemp are indistinguishable by look or smell,13 its identity can only be determined by studying its chemical composition through a scientific lab test. If you were to walk up to a field of marijuana plants that was right next to a field of hemp plants, you'd never know which one was which!14

Hemp vs Marijuana Infographic by Cornbread Hemp

Hemp Strains vs Marijuana Strains

Cannabis is a species of flowering plants that has two major subspecies: sativa and indica.15 Cannabis sativa varieties are native to tropical locations16 and tend to grow tall. A number of marijuana strains popular to the Baby Boomer generation are sativa strains: Maui Wowie, Thai Stick, and Panama Red.

Cannabis indica strains come from the Hindu Kush,17 a mountain range18 separating the Indian subcontinent from the rest of Asia. While sativa strains are tall, indica strains are squat and bushy. Indica varieties gained popularity in America after California legalized medical marijuana in 1996. Any strain with "Kush" in its name is an indica19 or an indica-dominant hybrid.

Over the decades, breeders cross-bred these different cannabis varieties to form hybrids.20 This is the same method that cannabis breeders used to create hemp strains that look like marijuana but with a THC level low enough to be legal.

What is Hemp?

The hemp grown today is much different from the hemp Kentucky farmers grew in the 1940's for the "Hemp for Victory" war effort. Farmers that grow hemp today breed specific varieties to have the highest levels of CBD possible. Hemp used to be defined as a strong fiber used solely for rope and textiles. Today, hemp is a source of a full spectrum of cannabinoids for optimum health and wellness.

Hemp contains about 150 known cannabinoids, including CBD and THC. This is what we refer to as the "full spectrum" and what scientists have discovered produces the most profound entourage effect because of the myriad of full spectrum cannabinoids.

What is Marijuana?

Marijuana is a type of cannabis plant that contains more than 0.3% THC.21 That is the only thing that is different between hemp and marijuana plants. If a hemp plant were to spike in THC while in the field and rise to a level of 0.4% THC, it would at that point be considered marijuana!

At least 33 states allow the consumption of marijuana for medical use, and at least 11 states (and the District of Colubmia) allow it to be used recreationally. Many people consume marijuana by smoking the cannabis flower, but it can also be made into a variety of high-THC cannabis products, the same as hemp.

Legality

These days, you can buy legal CBD products almost everywhere. From websites to gas stations, there is no shortage of CBD. Even in high-end health food stores you'll find CBD oil, CBD lotions, CBD for your pets, and CBD edibles and food products! Marijuana, on the other hand, is a different story. Even in states where it's legal, you can only buy marijuana in designated dispensaries.

You cannot legally buy marijuana on the internet or ship it through the mail across state lines. However, we can make CBD products in one state, and then sell them on the internet legally to all 50 states with no restrictions. You can even find some CBD oil on Amazon.

THC Content

As we mentioned previously in this article, the marijuana plant contains more than 0.3% THC,22 which is the sole differentiator between hemp plants and marijuana plants.

Because marijuana plants have a much higher level of THC, they naturally have lower levels of CBD than hemp plants. Think of CBD and THC like a see-saw, as one level goes up, the other comes down.

But don't let that fool you. Hemp derived CBD oil, and other full spectrum CBD products, contain trace amounts of THC below 0.3%.23 If taken regularly, this can be enough to cause someone to fail a drug test.24 Make sure to consult your HR department if you have any concerns about whether you could be drug tested while using CBD. That even includes folks who are taking broad spectrum CBD, which has had the THC removed in a laboratory.

Recreational vs Wellness

CBD products have only been legal since 2014 in the United States.25 They became legal as a result of parents demanding hemp oil for their sick children. That's when businesses began to sell products labeled as CBD oil or hemp oil.

CBD products are used for a variety of wellness reasons including maintaining general wellness, easing everyday stresses, and bringing a sense of calm and focus to our everyday tasks. For this reason, hemp-derived CBD products are much more popular for wellness related health conditions.

Unlike hemp, marijuana is often used for recreational purposes to get a person "high." Marijuana also has a variety of medical applications. Neither hemp or marijuana have any risk of overdose. At least 33 states have legalized marijuana for a long list of medical conditions.26

Consumption Methods

The other major way that hemp and marijuana are different is the way in we consume them. Marijuana is usually consumed by smoking it, or eating a THC-infused edible. CBD products, on the other hand, are more likely to be consumed under the tongue with a quality CBD oil or swallowed by taking CBD capsules.

However, there is also a growing trend of people smoking CBD flower with low THC levels. These people want to smoke something that helps them relax without making them feel "high."

Hemp vs Marijuana Conclusion

The differences between hemp and marijuana are not as obvious as they once were. These days, the line begins to blur as CBD hemp products become a legal alternative to marijuana. Both marijuana products and hemp-derived CBD products come from the cannabis plant.27 But the difference is: CBD doesn't get you high.

Since the U.S Department of Agriculture allowed the establishment of a domestic hemp production program, thousands of CBD companies have popped up almost overnight. Since the industry is so new, there are few regulations in place to ensure people are buying a safe CBD product.

Cornbread Hemp's CBD oils carry the USDA certified organic seal, guaranteeing them to be free of harmful pesticides, chemicals, and other contaminants. We use organic non-GMO cannabis seeds and our Kentucky farmers follow organic cultivation methods. All of our products are produced in small batches and are third-party lab tested for optimal potency and safety.

We have learned that there are many people out there who want the wellness properties of cannabis without the "high" from marijuana. That's the new definition of hemp, led by Cornbread Hemp and our USDA organic CBD products.

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Hemp vs Marijuana FAQ's

What is hemp?

Hemp is any cannabis plant that has less than 0.3% THC, as defined by the Farm Bill of 2018. Some hemp plants accidentally raise above 0.3% THC while they are growing, at which point they are destroyed by the farmer. Hemp plants are not considered psychoactive, and they do not get you high.

What is marijuana?

Marijuana is any cannabis plant that is above 0.3% THC. Marijuana is not federally legal, and is only legal for recreational use in a handful of states. Marijuana plants are considered psychoactive because of the euphoric sensation that is caused by THC.

References

1.

Hudak, J., 2018. The Farm Bill, Hemp Legalization And The Status Of CBD: An Explainer. [online] Brookings. Available at: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2018/12/14/the-farm-bill-hemp-and-cbd-explainer/ Accessed August 03, 2020. 2nd paragraph, 2nd sentence

2.

Historical Industrial Hemp in Kentucky - Reefer Madness Museum. http://reefermadnessmuseum.org/chap04/MinorStates/KentuckyHemp.htm. Accessed August 3, 2020. First Paragraph, 2nd sentence

3.

Hudak, J., 2018. The Farm Bill, Hemp Legalization And The Status Of CBD: An Explainer. [online] Brookings. Available at: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2018/12/14/the-farm-bill-hemp-and-cbd-explainer/ Accessed August 03, 2020. 2nd paragraph, 2nd sentence

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Karmen Hanson AG. State Medical Marijuana Laws. https://www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-medical-marijuana-laws.aspx. Accessed August 03, 2020. Refer to states’ cannabis program map

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Hudak, J., 2018. The Farm Bill, Hemp Legalization And The Status Of CBD: An Explainer. [online] Brookings. Available at: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2018/12/14/the-farm-bill-hemp-and-cbd-explainer/ Accessed August 03, 2020. 2nd paragraph, 2nd sentence

7.

Hudak, J., 2018. The Farm Bill, Hemp Legalization And The Status Of CBD: An Explainer. [online] Brookings. Available at: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2018/12/14/the-farm-bill-hemp-and-cbd-explainer/ Accessed August 03, 2020. 2nd paragraph, 2nd sentence

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Hudak, J., 2018. The Farm Bill, Hemp Legalization And The Status Of CBD: An Explainer. [online] Brookings. Available at: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2018/12/14/the-farm-bill-hemp-and-cbd-explainer/ Accessed August 03, 2020. 2nd paragraph, 2nd sentence

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Hudak, J., 2018. The Farm Bill, Hemp Legalization And The Status Of CBD: An Explainer. [online] Brookings. Available at: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2018/12/14/the-farm-bill-hemp-and-cbd-explainer/ Accessed August 03, 2020. 2nd paragraph, 2nd sentence

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Is hemp the same thing as marijuana? https://phys.org/news/2019-02-hemp-marijuana.html. Accessed August 3, 2020. Under ‘What's the difference between hemp and marijuana?’ title, 1st paragraph, 1st and 2nd sentence

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12.

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17.

Hindu Kush - One of The Most Important Strains in Cannabis History. https://www.liwts.org/strain-reviews/hindu-kush-one-important-strains-cannabis-history/. Accessed August 3, 2020. Under ‘Growing Hindu Kush’ title, 1st paragraph, 3rd sentence

18.

Hindu Kush - One of The Most Important Strains in Cannabis History. https://www.liwts.org/strain-reviews/hindu-kush-one-important-strains-cannabis-history/. Accessed August 3, 2020. Under ‘Growing Hindu Kush’ title, 1st paragraph, 1st sentence

19.

Hindu Kush - One of The Most Important Strains in Cannabis History. https://www.liwts.org/strain-reviews/hindu-kush-one-important-strains-cannabis-history/. Accessed August 3, 2020. Under ‘Growing Hindu Kush’ title, 1st paragraph, 3rd sentence

20.

Cannabis Varieties | Medical Marijuana Resource Canada | Medical. https://medicalmarijuana.ca/patients/cannabis-varieties-2/. Accessed August 3, 2020. 2nd paragraph, 2nd sentence

21.

Is hemp the same thing as marijuana? https://phys.org/news/2019-02-hemp-marijuana.html. Accessed August 3, 2020. Under ‘What's the difference between hemp and marijuana?’ title, 1st paragraph, 6th and 7th sentence

22.

Is hemp the same thing as marijuana? https://phys.org/news/2019-02-hemp-marijuana.html. Accessed August 3, 2020. Under ‘What's the difference between hemp and marijuana?’ title, 1st paragraph, 6th and 7th sentence

23.

Is hemp the same thing as marijuana? https://phys.org/news/2019-02-hemp-marijuana.html. Accessed August 3, 2020. Under ‘What's the difference between hemp and marijuana?’ title, 1st paragraph, 6th and 7th sentence

24.

Consumer Reports. 2019. Can You Take CBD And Pass A Drug Test?. [online] Available at: https://www.consumerreports.org/cbd/can-you-take-cbd-and-pass-a-drug-test/ Accessed August 03, 2020. 8th and 9th paragraph

25.

Hudak, J., 2018. The Farm Bill, Hemp Legalization And The Status Of CBD: An Explainer. [online] Brookings. Available at: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2018/12/14/the-farm-bill-hemp-and-cbd-explainer/ Accessed August 03, 2020. 2nd paragraph, 2nd sentence

26.

Karmen Hanson AG. State Medical Marijuana Laws. https://www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-medical-marijuana-laws.aspx. Accessed August 03, 2020. Refer to states’ cannabis program map

27.

Is hemp the same thing as marijuana? https://phys.org/news/2019-02-hemp-marijuana.html. Accessed August 3, 2020. Under ‘What's the difference between hemp and marijuana?’ title, 1st paragraph, 1st and 2nd sentence