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What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana Plants?

What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana Plants?

Cannabinoid products are everywhere these days, with vapes and oils offering potential relief for a range of mental and physical problems. While these products may all seem the same, they can come from different sources, namely hemp and marijuana plants. Key characteristics of hemp plants You’d be forgiven for confusing hemp plants for marijuana plants. While they might have completely different names, they actually both belong to the same species. So what exactly is the difference between the two? Plant appearance Hemp plants contain typical cannabis characteristics: thick pointed leaves with a short, bushlike structure. Although that’s the look you might imagine when you hear the word “hemp,” the physical characteristics of hemp plants vary based on the strain. Compound content The important thing to remember about hemp plants is that they contain less than or equal to 0.3% THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, content. THC is a major cannabinoid compound that’s responsible for the high commonly associated with cannabis use. One compound that hemp plants do contain in high levels is CBD, cannabidiol, another major cannabinoid that has demonstrated impressive therapeutic potential. Research tells us that CBD may be able to:

  • Reduce anxiety (1)

  • Act as an anti-inflammatory (2)

  • Improve sleep (3, 4)

  • Help protect the brain from neurodegenerative disorders, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (5)

  • Reduce pain (6)

  • Alleviate the symptoms of seizure disorders, specifically seizure frequency and severity (7)

  • Improve the appearance of skin of people with various skin conditions (8, 9)

Key characteristics of marijuana plants While similar to hemp plants in many ways, the compound content of marijuana plants is what sets it apart. Plant appearance Marijuana plants are similar in appearance to hemp plants—short bushy plants with the characteristic “weed” leaf. Also like hemp, the appearance of marijuana differs from strain to strain. Compound content The THC content is the big difference when it comes to marijuana plants vs. hemp plants. Marijuana plants contain more than 0.3% THC, and significantly more than that in some species. Marijuana plants can also contain other cannabinoid compounds like CBD and minor cannabinoids. THC: what sets hemp and marijuana plants apart When it comes to classifying a plant as hemp or marijuana, the difference lies in its THC content. If a plant contains 0.3% or less THC, then it falls into the hemp category. If its THC levels are higher than 0.3% then it’s a marijuana plant. Aside from THC levels, hemp and marijuana plants are essentially the exact same plant. Hemp and marijuana are simply different words for describing the cannabis species of plants, which are separated only by their THC levels. The higher level of regulation and control around THC is due to the compound’s psychotropic nature. Which plants can get you high? Because of their different THC levels, only marijuana will get you high. THC is the chemical compound in cannabis that produces a high, and with levels lower than 0.3%, hemp doesn’t contain enough to induce any psychotropic effects. If you do consume marijuana with high enough levels of THC, you can expect to experience symptoms including feelings of euphoria, delayed reaction times, hallucinations, and relaxation. THC also contains impressive therapeutic properties. Research tells us that THC may be able to help to:

  • Reduce pain (10)

  • Reduce nausea and vomiting (11)

  • Act as a sedative (12)

  • Improve appetite (13)

  • Reduce tumor growth in animal models (14)

The legal difference between hemp and marijuana A big reason for the classification of hemp and marijuana plants is their different legal statuses. THC is often used in the US as a measure of whether cannabis plants are legal. CBD isn’t regulated by federal law because, thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, all CBD products are legal provided that they’re sourced from hemp (0.3% THC or less), rather than marijuana. This legal exception means it’s important that you know where your cannabis products have been sourced from. Purchasing a hemp product over a marijuana product could be the difference between a legal and an illegal act. Which is better: hemp or marijuana? Deciding between hemp and marijuana products comes down to your personal needs, preferences, and the legality of the product. If you live in a state that legalizes all cannabis products, including THC, then marijuana products and their higher THC levels may be more appealing to you. However, if you don’t enjoy the effects of THC, or live in a state where THC use is still controlled, then you may want to stick to hemp products. Ultimately, the choice between hemp and marijuana is a personal one. It’s best to do your research into each and decide which one fits your needs best. From a legal standpoint, it’s also advisable to take your local laws into consideration when purchasing a cannabis product. The bottom line While hemp and marijuana both come from the same species of plant (cannabis), their difference lies in their THC content. Hemp is classified as cannabis plants with 0.3% THC or less, and marijuana includes cannabis plants with more than 0.3% THC. Deciding between hemp or marijuana products depends on the legal status of THC in your state, your personal preferences and experience with THC, and the specific symptoms you want to treat.


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