Throughout it’s extensive history, various breeds of cannabis sativa have been given many labels – Including, Weed, pot, hemp, Marijuana, Kush – and of course, just plain old cannabis… I’m sure you can see why this has led to a bit of confusion!
…And recently, things have actually gotten even more confusing.
Today we want to take a deeper look into the two most prominent terms used to describe the main varieties of this plant; Hemp and Marijuana.
So what are the differences, and why are people still getting them mixed up?
Marijuana is a high-potency breed of the plant species cannabis Sativa, and is restricted in most countries. If cannabis is high in the psychoactive compound ‘THC’, it is lawfully classed as ‘Marijuana’. The THC levels that cannabis must exceed to be labelled as ‘Marijuana’ vary from country to country, but is usually around or under 1%. However, to feel a ‘high’ from consumption, THC content usually has to exceed 7-15%
The term ‘Marijuana’ entered the U.S lexicon via Mexico, but there are other speculations on the actual origins of the word. According to the book ‘Cannabis: A History’, written by Martin Booth, the word Marijuana could have been passed down from an ancient Aztec language. There is also speculation that it may have originated from soldiers’ slang for “brothel” – Maria y Juana.
The word Marijuana became popular in the Reefer madness campaigns of the 1930s. Fuelled by racism, fear, and greed, these smear campaigns were a key factor in the criminalisation of cannabis around the globe. By the 1950’s, the world was so afraid of a select breed of cannabis that they chose to overlook what was once dubbed the ‘Billion Dollar Crop’. After the campaign, the global hemp industry was decimated – and synthetic alternatives to hemp products flooded the market.
Hemp is a low-THC cultivar of the plant species cannabis Sativa. However, the true definition of hemp can be confusing… mainly because different countries have different laws. Contrary to popular belief, hemp is not ‘the male cannabis plant’. Rather, it is a crop of female cannabis plants that have been pollinated by a male plant. Once pollinated, the flower of the plant will begin to produce seed.
In Australia, a licence to grow hemp only allows for industrial varieties of the plant to be grown. Here, ‘industrial Hemp’ is grown for seed, fibre, and roots & the cannabis plant must not exceed a THC content of more than 0.3% in most states. The only exception is Western Australia, where edible hemp is allowed to reach 1% THC, and seeds for new crops must not exceed 0.5%. Other countries have similar classifications, which is where a lot of the confusion stems from.
According to The Atlantic, it’s estimated that hemp is currently used in over 25,000 commercial products around the world. Once, it was speculated that hemp has over 50,000 possible commercial applications. Here are a few groundbreaking uses for hemp:
…And plenty more.
Most countries created their own cannabis laws after it was criminalised… But ultimately, the majority ceased production of the species altogether. India, China, Vietnam, Russia, and a select few European nations were among the small number of countries that continued hemp production after this point.
The simplest way to explain the reason that hemp and marijuana get mixed up is because they are the same plant; only bred differently.
A common misconceptions about hemp is that it is defined by having male reproductive organs… this is not quite true. The primary purpose male cannabis plants serve is pollinating female plants to stimulate the production of seeds – they are not very useful for anything else. In fact, male plants can be quite a nuisance to those growing for medicinal or recreational purposes.
According to Eileen Reyes from CBD Energy Labs, a female cannabis plant will lose 30% of its cannabinoid content and 50% of its total mass once pollinated by a male. Instead of flower, the energy is directed to producing seeds. These seeds can then be planted, consumed, or cold-pressed to make hemp seed oil. After pollinating the females, male plants soon die off. However, male plants can still be processed through a decorticator to yield fibre and hurd. The best way to sum all this up is by saying industrial hemp is simply a pollinated female cannabis crop that went on to produce seed. After the seed is harvested, the rest of the plant can be processed for fibre and hurd. Therefore when you’re trying to grow cannabis for hemp seed, it’s critical to have male plants existing in the crop.
It gets a bit confusing here, because even some cannabis that hasn’t been pollinated is still called hemp. It’s all to do with the THC content! But we’ll get to that soon…
If you’re growing to yield medicinal or recreational flower, you’ll want to grow a crop of female cannabis and get rid of every male in the field. As stated previously, cannabinoid content dramatically decreases once pollinated by a male plant. Therefore, male cannabis plants will ruin a medicinal or recreational crop. When female cannabis ‘buds’, it produces a cannabinoid-rich flower that can offer a wide variety of effects. Due to the varying types and concentrations of cannabinoids, hobbyists and scientists set out to naturally manipulate the genetic profiles of cannabis to achieve a desired outcome. Want CBD flower with no THC? They’ve done it – and of course, they’ve done it the other way around too.
When it comes to medicinal and recreational cannabis, the crop has a different label depending on one sole factor – THC content of the flower. Like we spoke about earlier, every country has a different THC threshold at which point ‘hemp’ becomes ‘marijuana’. In Australia, cannabis with THC content above 0.3% is classified as ‘Marijuana’. In America, the Farm Bill of 2018 states that the threshold is 1%.
Female cannabis plants that have been pollinated by a male: Hemp
Female cannabis plants with under 0.3% THC (not pollinated): Hemp
Cannabis plants with over 0.3% THC: Marijuana
Hopefully this clears up any confusion around the differences between medical, recreational, and industrial strains of cannabis. If you want to learn more about hemp, check out our related articles!
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