Both hemp and marijuana are plants of the cannabis family, but there are some key differences that distinguish these two strains. These differences are found in their chemical composition, physical appearance and use. Let's take a closer look at the unique characteristics of each:
History of Cannabis:
Cannabis has been used by various cultures throughout history for medicinal, textile, religious and recreational purposes. The use of cannabis is believed to date back thousands of years in regions such as Central and South Asia. In ancient China, hemp was valued for its fibre, which was used to make textiles and rope. Archaeological remains of cannabis seeds have also been found in tombs in ancient China, suggesting its use as food or medicine.
In some ancient Indian cultures, cannabis was considered a sacred plant and was used in religious ceremonies and spiritual practices. The term 'bhang' refers to a traditional cannabis-based drink that is still consumed during Hindu and Sikh festivities.
One of the key differences between hemp and marijuana lies in their cannabinoid composition. As mentioned above, hemp contains very low levels of THC, generally below 0.3% on a dry weight basis. THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis and is responsible for the intoxicating effects associated with marijuana.
On the other hand, marijuana has significant levels of THC, which vary depending on the strain and growing conditions. THC levels can range from 5% to 30% on a dry weight basis, or even higher in some specially bred hybrid strains. This means that marijuana has a much greater potential to alter mood, perception and cognition compared to hemp.
On a morphological level, there are also notable differences between hemp and marijuana. Hemp tends to have a taller and thinner growth, with long, slender stalks that are ideal for the production of textile fibres. Marijuana, on the other hand, tends to be more compact and dense, with more bud and leaf development.
This difference in morphology is partly due to the different cultivation methods and strain selection that have been developed over the years. While hemp is grown primarily for fibre and seed production, marijuana is cultivated for higher THC levels for recreational and medicinal purposes.
Use and applications:
Hemp and marijuana have different uses. Hemp has been cultivated for thousands of years and is mainly used in the production of various industrial products. Hemp fibres are used in the manufacture of paper, textiles, ropes and building materials. Hemp seeds are edible and can be used in cooking, and CBD-rich hemp oil with therapeutic properties is also extracted.
On the other hand, marijuana is mainly used for recreational and medicinal purposes. Due to high THC levels, marijuana can produce psychoactive effects that alter perception and mood. It is smoked, vaporised or ingested in food and is used to relieve pain, reduce anxiety and stimulate appetite, among other medicinal uses.
Textile and Commercial Uses of Hemp:
For centuries, hemp has been one of the most versatile plants known to mankind. Its strong and durable fibres were used to make clothing, rope, sails, paper and fishing nets. The caravels that explored the New World during the Age of Discovery carried hemp sails because of their durability and ability to withstand the salinity of the ocean.
In the 1940s, hemp cultivation experienced a significant decline due to the prohibition of cannabis in many countries. However, as awareness of its industrial benefits has increased in recent times, there has been a resurgence of hemp cultivation for textile and commercial uses.
Legal and Regulatory Differences:
The legality of hemp and marijuana varies by country and region. Some countries have embraced the cultivation and use of hemp for industrial and medicinal purposes, allowing controlled levels of THC in hemp products. Others have chosen to maintain a more restrictive policy.
With regard to marijuana, more and more countries have moved towards a more tolerant stance or even legalised its recreational and/or medicinal use. This shift has been driven, in part, by growing recognition of the plant's therapeutic benefits and a desire to dismantle illicit markets and drug trafficking.
Environmental Impact of Hemp:
In addition to its industrial and commercial uses, hemp is valued for its positive environmental impact. It is a fast-growing plant that requires less water and pesticides compared to other crops, such as cotton. It also has the ability to improve soil health and can be used as a phytoremediation tool to absorb heavy metals and other pollutants from the soil.
In short, two distinct strains of the cannabis plant, hemp and marijuana, have a long history of uses and cultural meanings. For centuries, people have used hemp for industrial and food purposes, while different cultures have revered or stigmatised marijuana because of its THC content. As scientific knowledge advances and attitudes change, it is likely that the perception and use of these two plants will continue to evolve in the future. In many countries, the legality and regulation of cannabis will continue to be debated. Scientific research will continue to shed light on the benefits and risks of use.