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The Key differences between Cannabis and Hemp.

To break marijuana and hemp into binary categories is to ignore all the variations in the middle, but that said, it is the fact that one contains psychoactive properties and the other does not that constitutes the most definitive difference.


Both industrial hemp and marijuana are derived from the cannabis sativa plant, but have been bred for widely different purposes. The primary difference is that marijuana contains increased levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive property that creates the “high”, whereas hemp does not.


Prior to understanding the cannabinoid profiles that comprise hemp, it was primarily grown for its fibers which have been used to produce everything from rope and paper to fabric. We now understand that there may be some 50,000 applications for use from hempcrete for construction to hemp milk and seeds as food for human consumption. It can be used to feed livestock or manufactured into 3-D filament and bioplastics and since it has naturally occurring UV protection, it’s the perfect material as a base for sunscreen. It can also be used to make fuel, ink and carpet.


Basically, there are items on the market that can cloth you from head to toe, nourish you from inside out and provide items for use in daily life and we haven’t even touched on its medical properties.


To the uninitiated, industrial hemp and marijuana present similarly. This is why crops are shipped with paperwork designating that it is indeed hemp. Law enforcement often has a difficult time telling the two plants apart, so growers keep their provenance paperwork handy just in case there is any confusion.


As a practical matter, both are pest resistant, allowing them to be grown with relative ease either organically or using organic growing principles. Pest control is rarely an issue. Both also provide benefits to the soil by being nature’s cleaners both eliminating unwanted soil properties and enriching soil and whose root structure grows deep aiding in erosion control.


Indeed, the primary difference lies in the allowable THC levels, which under the law in hemp can not exceed .03 percent THC. Testing is done by a county’s agricultural commissioner prior to harvest to ensure the crop falls below that percentage. Anything over means the crop is classified as marijuana and will be destroyed, which would be financially devastating for most growers.


When it comes to comparing the structural differences of industrial hemp and marijuana, the former tends to be taller as its been bred historically for its fibers. Hemp generally requires a four month grow period, and it’s common for plants to grow six-plus feet tall. The nodes are usually further spaced, growing more straight with fewer side branches.


Also, depending on why the hemp is being grown determines how many plants will need to be cultivated to yield a crop to meet those goals. Marijuana on the other hand, is bred solely for its flower and usually with high levels of THC. This means structurally marijuana tends to grow shorter and more bushy keeping its energy focused on producing quality flower. Therefore smaller grows can produce greater income, and when grown for distribution to dispensaries, marijuana is typically grown indoors allowing greater quality control.


Marijuana biomass can also be repurposed, but is of secondary consideration. When we take the long view of all these plants offer both medically and environmentally, one thing is certain: both offer the opportunity to shift away from industries and practices that are known to have negative impacts toward one that provides what is needed in a sustainable and almost unlimited manner. If we can conceive it, odds are materials produced through hemp or marijuana cultivation can play a role.

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