Many people may believe that hemp and cannabis are the same, but this is a common misconception. Although some people use hemp and cannabis as interchangeable terms, the plants have key differences that set them apart. The critical difference between hemp and cannabis plants is their quantity of THC. Cannabis plants have high THC content in their flower, whereas hemp plants only have a limited amount of THC. To determine why this main difference exists, we have to discuss the fundamental differences between the plants, how people bred the plants, and a short history of hemp and cannabis. Once we discover how and why hemp and cannabis are different, we can learn about the products that these plants produce.
Just like the plants, many misconceptions surround hemp and cannabis products. Some people believe that hemp products are not psychoactive, whereas cannabis products are psychoactive. The answer is that both plants can produce psychoactive and non-psychoactive products that range from euphoric highs to sober health benefits. Hopefully, you can learn a thing or two about how hemp and cannabis products differ and how to choose between these products.
Hemp vs Cannabis: A Quick Overview
Although hemp and cannabis are different, they are actually the same plant species. Therefore, the only thing that separates hemp and cannabis are legal regulations of how much THC can be in the plant. An analogy for the difference between hemp and cannabis is like seedless grapes and seeded grapes. Cannabis is like seeded grapes, as this is how the plant exists naturally in the environment. Hemp is like seedless grapes, where the plant is naturally modified to not include a key element. A grape with or without seeds is still a grape, just like how hemp and cannabis are the same plant. Like with seedless grapes, farmers use essential methods to develop cannabis plants into hemp plants.
The creation of low-THC cannabis, hemp, has a legacy that stretches back hundreds of years. Cannabis originated in Asia, and almost all the strains were low in THC, low enough to be considered hemp. Despite the lack of psychoactive properties, hemp was still a valuable commodity, as it can create essential everyday products like rope, cloth, and paper. As hemp spread to Europe, colonists sent it overseas to the Americas.
Americans in the 17th century and beyond widely cultivated cannabis. For a significant time, the Americas only had access to low-THC hemp, not cannabis. However, this slowly began to change. Southeast Asian countries have farmed cannabis for centuries to bring out its psychoactive properties. Through selective breeding, they were able to transform the low-THC hemp into a cannabis plant that was high in THC. Trade between Southeast Asia and the Americas resulted in hemp and cannabis crops mixing. Since hemp and cannabis are the same plant, the low-THC and high-THC varieties can easily reproduce. Suddenly, instead of the Americas only having access to hemp, they could get high off the psychoactive cannabis strains.
The United States government soon realized there was a clear difference between non-psychoactive hemp and psychoactive cannabis. For a multitude of reasons, the US government decided to crack down on people enjoying the cannabis high. However, the US government could not figure out what caused people to get high. Not until the 40s and 50s did scientists discover that THC was the main psychoactive factor in cannabis. Once scientists discovered THC, the US government created a designation for low-THC cannabis, hemp. But why did the US government think it was necessary to designate low-THC cannabis as hemp?
Hemp Government Regulation
Now that we know that the US government created hemp as a classification for low-THC hemp, we are still left to wonder why was it necessary? In the 1930s, the United States decided to criminalize the use of cannabis for psychoactive purposes and eliminate the cultivation of the cannabis plant. You may be surprised to learn that the only thing that prevented the elimination of hemp and cannabis in the United States was World War 2.
As the United States plunged into WWII, they needed all the raw materials they could get. Nothing could go to waste in the war effort. Therefore, the United States turned to a good they had produced since the Americas were settled, hemp and cannabis. As we already learned, people can make hemp into rope and clothes, something soldiers at the front desperately needed. So hemp production went from criminal to encouraged. There was even a famous WWII propaganda film called Hemp for Victory, which some people attribute to saving hemp production in the United States.
After the war, the production of cannabis continued. However, the US government still wanted to figure out why some cannabis plants had psychoactive properties but others did not. It was not until the discovery of THC in 1964 that cannabis could be distinguished between psychoactive and non-psychoactive strains.
Only recently was hemp cultivation federally legalized in the United States. The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp production and legally defined hemp as cannabis that contains no more than 0.3% THC. Today, anyone can grow hemp anywhere, although many states restrict farming cannabis.
Hemp and THC Products
Now that we know the difference between hemp and cannabis plants, you may believe you are also an expert on hemp and cannabis products. However, you still need to know several things about hemp and cannabis products.
Many believe that all hemp products are non-psychoactive and all cannabis products are psychoactive. This is not true. Hemp is commonly used to create CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. However, hemp contains several psychoactive cannabinoids. Just how THC causes a high, other natural cannabinoids such as Delta 8 THC and Delta 10 THC are psychoactive. Also, CBD can be derived from cannabis, as CBD is in hemp and cannabis. So, you can find non-psychoactive cannabis products and psychoactive hemp products.
Hemp and cannabis might be the same plant, but they have some essential differences. Hemp is cannabis, but without the THC that causes the signature cannabis high. Hemp developed from a long history of cannabis cultivation. For much of human history, low-THC hemp was the only cannabis available. It was only in the past few hundred years that farmers bred high-THC cannabis. Over the years, the similarities between the plants caused controversy in the United States, but hemp is finally federally legal. Also, remember that even though hemp does not contain THC, many hemp products are psychoactive. The next time you enjoy a hemp product, from Delta 8 gummies to hemp pain cream, know that you are consuming a long history of natural cultivation.