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Cannabis and hemp: understanding the difference

The popularity of cannabidiol (CBD) products is on the rise. However, things can get confusing with so many different products in the market. What is the difference between Cannabis and Hemp? How does Marijuana fit into the mix? What are strains? And how are Hemp and Cannabis grown?

Some of the most common misconceptions surrounding Cannabis, Hemp, and Marijuana and what the differences and facts really are.

Hemp and Cannabis: Understand the Difference
Hemp and Cannabis: Understand the Difference

What are Cannabis and Hemp?

In short, Cannabis is also colloquially called weed, grass, pot, as well as Mary Jane. It comes from a group of plants called the Cannabis Sativa plant. It is mainly cultivated for recreational purposes. This is because of its characteristically high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content. This is the compound, that gives users the typical “high” associated with this plant. However, THC also has powerful therapeutic properties. Properties, that can help people suffering from various, serious medical conditions.

To name a few examples; Chronic pain, inflammation, mental health issues, and neurological disorders. Furthermore, it is said to be effective against some cancers (e.g. breast, colon, and lung cancer), HIV, and Glaucoma.

Hemp is a single strain of the Cannabis Sativa group of plants. It is grown primarily for use in industrial applications. Hemp has specifically been cultivated to produce long fibrous stems. It was one of the first plants to be spun into usable fiber, some 50,000 years ago! It is also one of the fastest-growing plants. This is why Hemp has low concentrations of THC, but high concentrations of CBD.

Cannabis and Hemp Classification

Let’s try and understand the difference between Hemp plants and Cannabis plants. To do so, it is important to first understand the system of classification for life on earth. This is otherwise known as taxonomy. All organisms are classified based on a ranking system. This starts with the kingdom and moving down from phylum to class. Then it is more detailed, to order, to family, to genus, and species. For plants, different species are then further divided into what are commonly called strains or cultivars.

Based on this system of classification, Cannabis is simply a genus of flowering plants in the family Cannabaceae. Within the genus, there are three varieties. In biological terms, three different species. There are Cannabis Sativa, and Indica, as well as Ruderalis. Then, within these three species, you find a wide range of different cultivars or strains. Each strain has very different characteristics in terms of stature, leaf shape (cannabis leaf), growing conditions, and most importantly, cannabinoid profiles.

Based on this scientific system of classification, they are the same plant. They share the same genus and come from the same species. In other words, Hemp is nothing more than a single cultivar or strain of the species Cannabis Sativa.

What is Hemp: Hemp Plants vs Cannabis Plants

Humans have bred Cannabis for different uses throughout history. Hemp plants, also called industrial Hemp, have been selectively bred. They were cultivated to produce long, fibrous stems. Hemp cultivation has been used for ropes, clothing, paper, and construction materials.

As a result, Hemp is very low in its THC content. Hemp is high in its CBD content, however. This makes Hemp plants ideal for extracting the full-spectrum CBD. Thereby manufacturing Hemp products used for therapeutic, cosmetic, and nutritional purposes. Nowadays, you can buy CBD online. uWeed offers one of the largest inventory of Hemp products in its CBD online shop.

Cannabis Strains in Contrast to Hemp

Most other Cannabis strains are grown specifically to contain higher amounts of THC. This, because of its long history of medical, recreational, and shamanistic use. THC is the cannabinoid responsible for the intoxicating and psychoactive effects. Those characteristics of the Cannabis plant, cherished by recreational users. Cannabis, “marijuana” as well as “weed” are words that are commonly used to refer to the strains and species of plants that are high in THC. Hemp plants, however, refer to one specific cultivar (strain) of the Cannabis Sativa species. Cannabis, on the other hand, encompasses a wide range of strains and species belonging to the Cannabaceae family of Cannabis plants.

What is Cannabis vs Marijuana

Essentially, Cannabis and Marijuana are two different words for the same thing. The word Marijuana was originally introduced into the English language by Mexican immigrants in North America. They also brought with them the idea of smoking Cannabis recreationally.

However, the political and racially motivated Reefer Madness, anti-Cannabis propaganda from the 1930s specifically used the term “Marijuana”. The simple reason was to make its use sound foreign and sinister. And because of this, for many people, the word is now considered derogatory and racist.

That is why, especially for minority groups, the word marijuana is falling out of favor. They rather opt for using its Latin name, which is of course Cannabis. And that’s also true when seeking the health-related effects of Cannabis. One calls it medical Cannabis rather than medical Marijuana!

Differences Between Cannabis and Hemp

The only difference between Cannabis and Hemp is that Cannabis refers to a group of plants in the family Cannabaceae, while Hemp is a single strain of plant within that family. Hemp and Cannabis plants have almost identical anatomies, and both might look very similar.

But They Are Not.

Both plants have thin stems and a similar leaf pattern with usually about 5 to 7 leaflets. They also have similar flowering anatomies (buds and colas). However, the main difference is the height of the plants. Cannabis Indica and Sativa plants are not that tall. Indica plants are especially short. On the other hand, because Hemp plants are primarily grown for their fibers, they grow to be much taller and can reach heights of up to two meters.

Strain Types of Cannabis and Hemp

Cannabis comes in thousands of different strains. Generally speaking, however, most people divide Marijuana into three categories: Indica, Sativa, and hybrid strains. Although not an exact science, indica is believed to have a relaxing effect on the user. Sativa has a more energizing effect. Hybrids, on the other hand, are a combination of the two. Growers and shops also divide the types of Cannabis they have into strains, as mentioned before. Strains essentially being the different breeds of cannabis. Different strains have been bred to have their own unique cannabinoid and terpene profiles. Profiles, which have specific effects on the consumer. Most recreational strains of Cannabis are high in THC. With the interest in CBD, some strains have purposely been bred to have higher concentrations of CBD. Similarly, new strains of Hemp are also being developed. Those focus on CBD content instead of the quality of the Hemp fibers. These are generally known as medical Hemp strains or CBD Hemp. Of this, we stock a large variety in our online shop. Our stock includes popular strains like ACDC, Afghan Kush, and Charlotte’s Web.

Common misunderstanding about cannabis and hemp

Hemp comes from male plants and the other from female plants

Male Cannabis plants have strong fibers. This causes the misconception, sometimes, that Hemp comes from male plants and Cannabis comes from female plants. Hemp plants produce male and female plants, however, just like all other species of cannabis plants. Because the flowers produced by the female plants contain significantly higher concentrations of cannabinoids than male flowers. It is in fact female Hemp plants that are most sought after for medical usage. The only difference between Hemp plants and Cannabis plants is that in the case of Hemp, farmers grow female plants for the CBD and other cannabinoids (while keeping THC below the legal 1% threshold in Switzerland). As for Cannabis, unless a strain is a specialized medical strain specifically cultivated to contain a specific cannabinoid profile, growers seek the highest concentrations of THC and CBD possible.

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Hemp Is Medicinal, Cannabis, and Marijuana Is Recreational

Another popular misconception is that Hemp plants are medicinal and Cannabis plants are recreational, equating to drug consumption. The reason for this is mainly because of the rise in popularity of CBD products which are touted as a cure-all for everything from anxiety to epilepsy. CBD does have the potential to help treat a wide variety of symptoms and diseases. The use of Cannabis and THC is equally shown to have medicinal properties. In fact, because of something called the entourage effect, research is showing that full-spectrum extracts from Cannabis plants, such as those used in CBD hemp oil, are in some cases preferable to those from Hemp plants for certain conditions. In addition, there are now strains of Cannabis plants that are developed and grown to produce particular cannabinoid profiles to help treat specific conditions.  So, in short, although Cannabis can be used recreationally, both, Hemp and Cannabis plants have medicinal benefits. However, because Hemp contains so little THC, the user will not get “high”.

How can you grow cannabis plants? Different ways

Cannabis plants are grown in a variety of ways. The two most common are either indoors, in large greenhouses, or outdoors. Growers refer to the outdoor method as “soil and sun” cultivation.

Indoor growing is often preferred because growing conditions can be controlled and the plants are naturally protected against forces of nature. For instance, indoor growing can control for the 18-hour daylight cycles, soil and nutrients are customized for the vegetative or blooming phases, and fan-forced breezes keep temperatures under control. In addition, exotic cultivation methods can be incorporated to increase the growth rate and flower potential of indoor Cannabis. This can include things like adding carbon dioxide, low-stress training, and scrogging can be used.

Hemp and Cannabis: Understand the Difference
A Cannabis plant

Growing cannabis outdoors is more ecological

Growing Cannabis outdoors makes for what many aficionados feel a more natural product with true-to-strain effects. Side-by-side tests of clones cultivated outside under the sun result in a higher overall cannabinoid profile. This shows that the sun unleashes the plant’s true potential and heightens its medicinal power. Once daylight hours increase during spring and summer, outdoor the plant grows rapidly. The unlimited room for its roots combined with good genetics can produce growth of up to 3-4 meters during the vegetative phase. Plants are usually topped and thinned out during the growth phase to encourage even growth and evenly sized flowers during the bloom stage.

How are Hemp and Cannabis cultivated?

If legally permitted, growing your own is a fun, inexpensive way to enjoy high-quality Cannabis and Hemp. Cannabis and Hemp are hardy plants that can grow in a wide range of climates all year round. They thrive whether indoors or outside. Here’s how to grow Hemp and Cannabis: Choose your seeds: Things to consider are your personal needs and growing circumstances. Which strains have you enjoyed or which performed as a satisfactory medicine for your particular ailment? Are you growing in a cupboard and need small plants, or do you have outdoor space where you can grow larger plants? Growing requirements: Cannabis plants need over twelve hours of light per twenty-four-hour period. You also need a suitable growing medium that can include soil, but also hydroponic systems. For strength and proper exchange of oxygen, Cannabis and Hemp plants also require fresh, circulating air. The plants also need sufficient water, nutrients, and mild temperatures. Growing, harvesting, drying & curing: Once everything is ready, you can plant your seeds and grow your Cannabis or Hemp. The plant will grow through a vegetative phase (where leaves grow) and a blooming phase (when flowers develop). Once the flower clusters are swollen and seem to have turned inside out, they are ready to harvest. Once that’s done, dry the buds in a dark cool place with little humidity. When dry, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor!

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What can be found in hemp plants?

The various forms of the plants are complex, containing various ratios of over 400 chemical entities. For instance, over 90 different types of cannabinoid compounds have been identified. However, the vast majority are in such small concentrations that they are difficult to detect. 

The most abundant cannabinoids are classified as the three major cannabinoids, CBD, THC, and Cannabichromene (CBC). There are also five minor cannabinoids, Cannabigerol (CBG), Cannabichromevarin (CBN), Cannabidivarin (CBDV), Cannabichromevarin (CBCV) as well as Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV).

Hemp and Cannabis plants also include various terpenes. Scientists have shown them to have their own sets of beneficial properties. This is because terpenes are formed in the same resinous trichomes as cannabinoids. The main hemp terpenes include caryophyllene, humulene, limonene, linalool, myrcene, ocimene, pinene, as well as terpinolene.

In addition, the extracts are also rich in fatty acids, amino acids, as well as proteins.

Hemp and Cannabis: Understand the Difference
Cannabis plants / plantation

What are They Used for?

Hemp strains commonly have long, fibrous stems, very little THC, and a lot of CBD. They also don’t produce psychoactive effects when ingested. That is why Hemp is used for a wide range of therapeutic, health, cosmetic, and industrial purposes including:

  • Hemp CBD oils  and CBD supplements to help manage a variety of symptoms, conditions, and even withdrawal symptoms
  • Health foods like hemp seeds and hemp seed oil
  • Cosmetics like CBD topical and Hemp seed oil enriched skin products
  • Clothing and textiles 
  • Building materials 
  • Plastic and composite materials 
  • Paper 
  • Cordage and ropes

The main active ingredient in Cannabis is THC. Some strains contain up to 30% THC. For this reason, it is mainly cultivated for recreational purposes. People smoke cannabis in various forms like blunts, pipes, and vaporizers to name but a few. They primarily consume it for:

  • Recreational use that induces relaxation in the body and mind by soothing the nerves
  • Sacred and spiritual use in various religions and is offered as one of many psychoactive substances or entheogens
  • Medicinal use that helps with symptom relief and fighting diseases (e.g., multiple sclerosis)

Is Hemp or Cannabis Legal?

The legal status of the plants varies greatly depending on where you live. In Switzerland, Cannabis and CBD may contain up to 1% of THC content. This is more than three times the 0.2% THC permissible by other European countries. In addition, in Switzerland, authorization for the use of medical Cannabis consumption with THC concentrations higher than 1% can be legally obtained from the Federal Office of Public Health by the doctor responsible for the treatment.

Final considerations on hemp and cannabis

Especially for those new to the world of CBD and Cannabis, the differences between hemp and cannabis can cause a lot of confusion. We hope that we’ve shed some light on this important subject in this article and that you fully understand the difference between Hemp, Cannabis, and Marijuana. See what legal Cannabis products you can find on uWeed here

Yes, you can grow your own hemp