It’s easy to confuse hemp with its illegal cousin, marijuana
Cannabis, hemp, and marijuana. These three terms have been getting a lot of attention lately. You hear that some states have decriminalized it. Which one? You also hear that the Federal Drug Administration has approved a drug made from an active ingredient to treat epilepsy. Which one? Meanwhile, the rush is on by manufacturers to offer beverages and food infused with another active ingredient that’s being studied for a variety of health-related benefits. Which one?
It’s a torrent of news, and it can be confusing if you don’t know something up front. Cannabis, hemp, and marijuana are not the same thing. For most of us, there’s only one from this confusing trio that’s important, and it’s what’s available to practically everyone everywhere. It’s the products derived from hemp. Here’s what you need to know.
Related, but not the same
Cannabis is a family of plants. There are two main classifications within this family:
Marijuana can be considered a member of either family. Hemp is exclusively a member of the Sativa family. Even though they’re related by being a member of the Sativa family, hemp and marijuana have distinct differences.
It’s why one (marijuana) remains on the Drug Enforcement Association’s list as a Schedule I drug, along with things like heroin and LSD. This is because marijuana contains a psychoactive substance known as tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. Consuming this cannabinoid compound is what gets you high. THC concentrations in marijuana are around 15 percent to 40 percent.
Marijuana’s relative – hemp – contains only trace amounts of THC (0.3 percent or less). It is, however, an abundant source of an alternative cannabinoid substance known as cannabidiol, or CBD. This cannabinoid substance is the subject of intense scientific study because of its potential health benefits. CBD has been shown to interact with our body’s own cannabinoid system. We have receptors throughout our nervous system that regulate everything from our appetite and sleep to temperature regulation and inflammation.
Telling them apart
You may never see marijuana and a hemp plant growing side by side. If you did, you would easily observe that while they’re obviously related plants, each has easily identifiable physical characteristics.
Marijuana grows as a short and bushy plant, with broad leaves and dense buds. It has no additional uses other than for its psychoactive substance.
Hemp is a much taller, skinnier plant with thin leaves that grow in concentration towards the top. Besides being an abundant source of CBD and other cannabinoids, hemp has many industrial uses ranging from paper products and clothing to building material and biofuel. Because of its low THC content, hemp is legal and cultivated throughout the world.
It’s not surprising that hemp is a commonly cultivated global crop. Hemp plants can be grown as close as four inches apart and can thrive in a variety of climates. Marijuana plants, on the other hand, require as much as six feet of space between each plant and require a warm, humid growing climate.
Because hemp is so easy to grow and cultivate, it’s been used as a textile fiber for thousands of years. English farmers were encouraged to grow hemp to manufacture the sails for the fleet of ships used to defeat the Spanish Armada. Hemp was even promoted by our first president, George Washington, who believed it could become a more profitable crop than tobacco.
The promise of hemp-derived CBD
CBD and phytocannabinoid products have such promising health benefits that they are in the process of creating a $2 billion industry by the end of this decade. What excites entrepreneurs and scientists alike are the amazing range of benefits that CBD hints at delivering.
Cannabinoids are showing promise at relieving symptoms for a range of health conditions, and many share the key characteristic of inflammation. When ingested or applied topically, CBD appears to join the cannabinoids our own body produces to combat inflammation and act as a pain reliever.
While studies must be concluded, there are already results available from the National Institutions of Health (NIH) showing that CBD oil applied for the treatment of arthritis provides measurable pain relief and reduced inflammation. CBD also prevents the body from absorbing anandamide. It’s a neurotransmitter produced by the brain which is associated with the regulation of pain.
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*The FDA regulates food, drugs, and cosmetics that contain CBD. CBD products have not been subject to FDA review as part of the drug approval process, and there has been no FDA evaluation of whether they work, what the proper dosage is, how they could interact with other drugs, or whether they have dangerous side effects or other safety concerns.