Many of us are familiar with marijuana. We know that it comes from the cannabis plant and that it can produce psychoactive effects.
Lately, research is revealing a deeper understanding of the world of cannabis along with the health benefits it can provide. As we learn more, terms like CBD, THC, hemp, cannabinoids and more are becoming more and more familiar.
But what exactly are all these different things? What sort of health benefits can they provide? Let’s start by looking at the source of them all: the cannabis plant.
Cannabis is one of the world’s oldest crops. It has been sown for over 12,000 years and may have been domesticated over 30,000 years ago. Cannabis sativa is perhaps the world’s most recognizable plant. Its shape has been used on t-shirts, jewelry, and in modern artwork. It is believed to be native to India and can grow 8 to 12 feet high.
Although cannabis sativa is known as the cannabis plant, there are actually other varieties in existence. These include cannabis indica and cannabis ruderalis. Pharmaceutical companies have worked with and blended other forms of cannabis to create their individual varieties as well.
The cannabis plant contains hundreds of chemicals, some of which are known as cannabinoids. One of these cannabinoids is commonly known as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Marijuana is a variety of the cannabis plant that is high in THC. It is produced in the leaves, flowers and viable seeds of the plant.
Marijuana is often referred to as cannabis. While in this sense, they are one in the same, there is an actual difference between marijuana and the cannabis plant. Marijuana is derived from the plant, but is not completely made of the plant. In essence, while all marijuana is cannabis, not all cannabis is marijuana.
Marijuana is known to produce psychoactive effects and because of this, has been illegalized for many years. Recently, research has shown that it can provide several health benefits to the human body and is now becoming more socially and legally accepted. However, it is still not legal in many parts of the world.
Hemp is another product of the cannabis plant. Unlike marijuana, which is derived from the flowers of the cannabis plant, hemp is the stalks, stems and sterilized seed of cannabis sativa.
Hemp is quite different from marijuana. It is non-psychoactive and therefore not illegal. It is also valuable in the production of fuel and fiber.
Despite the many differences between marijuana and hemp, many people still confuse the two. This may be due to a political issue which arose in the later part of the 20th century. During this time, hemp was lumped in with marijuana and prohibited in an effort to suppress fuel and fiber production. The story goes, that a small group of people created the marijuana myth so they could profit from more expensive alternatives. However, the prohibition on hemp has since been lifted.
Today, hemp is used as biodiesel fuel, to produce fiber, food and medicine. It is also known for being economic, biodegradable and for its health benefits when taken as a supplement.
Now that we have established some background that can help us better understand what hemp and marijuana are, here are some basic differences between the two.
Appearance: Marijuana and hemp vary quite noticeably in appearance. Marijuana leaves are broad and tend to cover the whole plant while hemp leaves are skinnier and more concentrated on the top. As a whole, marijuana looks like a short, fat bush. Hemp is skinnier and taller, and it can grow up to 20 feet.
Chemical Make-up: The main difference between hemp and marijuana is in their chemical make-up. Essentially, one gets you high and one doesn’t. This is due to the THC levels in each plant.
In marijuana, THC levels are 5-30%. Hemp, on the other hand, contains only 0.3% THC, which is nowhere near enough to create any psychological effects.
Cultivation Environment: Hemp and marijuana are grown quite differently as well. Hemp is grown closely together, sometimes as close as 4 inches apart. It is grown in large, multi-acre plots and can grow in a variety of climates. Its growth cycle is 108-120 days.
Alternatively, marijuana requires a warm and humid atmosphere for proper growth. Its growth cycle is also considerably shorter, only 60-90 days. Marijuana plants cannot be grown too close together. Ideally, they should be kept 6 feet apart. If they are grown too close to a hemp field, the hemp’s pollen will ruin the marijuana, diluting its psychoactive properties.
Uses and Benefits: When comparing the uses and benefits of marijuana and hemp, you will see that the two are vastly different. Here are some ways they can be used in society today.
Hemp: Hemp can be used in a several ways. It can be beneficial as part of a diet when taken as a powder or in supplement form. It’s rich in protein, unsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals and fiber. These work in the body to improve heart health and protect the brain from neurodegenerative diseases.
Because hemp is rich in gamma linolenic acid, it fights inflammation, which helps symptoms of arthritis and other chronic diseases. Its rich content of vitamins and minerals can also be beneficial to skin and hair health.
- Oils and Body Lotions: Because hemp is so rich in nutrients, it works well in moisturizing lotions.
- Oil Based Products: These include candles, lanterns and paint. When used in paint, the paint is non-toxic and tends to last longer as compared to non-hemp products.
- Clothing: Hemp can be used to make clothing last longer. It is found in articles of clothing like sportswear, lingerie and high fashion apparel and is incorporated into lines of prominent designers like Ralph Lauren, Armani and Calvin Klein.
- Plastic: Hemp is used to make plastic products that are biodegradable to reduce refuse ending up in landfills.
- Paper: Paper made from hemp is more economical and environmental. It saves trees while protecting forests and wildlife.
- Construction Materials: Hemp can be used to make durable construction materials. When used to make cement, construction is longer lasting and overall more efficient.
- Fuel: Hemp is used to make biodiesel fuel and ethanol, which is safe for the environment.
Marijuana: Marijuana is typically used for medical and recreational use. Though once thought a potentially dangerous psychoactive drug, recent research has shown that it can produce the following benefits in the human body:
Pain Relief: Marijuana can work on certain receptors in the brain to relieve chronic pain.
Treatment for Addiction: Although more evidence is needed to establish whether this is true– research has shown that marijuana can be effective in treating certain addictions. Its ability to work as a painkiller makes it a suitable substitute for opioids. It has also been shown to affect memory to reduce associations with the pleasurable feelings the drugs provide.
Depression and Anxiety: Marijuana is known to cause a calming effect in some and anxiety in others. However, it has been shown that in severe cases of anxiety, PTSD and other mental disorders, it can give the brain the chemicals it is lacking to produce a calming effect.
Cancer: Marijuana can be helpful to cancer patients in two capacities. Known to produce ‘the munchies’ in most users, it can work to increase appetite and reduce nausea and vomiting in those undergoing chemotherapy. Some research has also shown that marijuana may slow down or kill certain types of cancer cells.
Multiple Sclerosis: Studies have shown that marijuana may reduce spasticity in those suffering with multiple sclerosis.
Epilepsy: Marijuana has been shown to be effective in reducing seizures in those suffering with epilepsy.
What About CBD?
Before leaving this topic, it good to know that there are other cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant. CBD is one of the most popular of these although CBN and CBG are also notable due to their potential health benefits.
So, would these be considered marijuana? The answer is no.
Marijuana refers only to parts of the plant that are high in THC content. CBD and other cannabinoids are sometimes mixed with trace amounts of THC to produce a broad spectrum effect, but they otherwise do not contain THC at all.
Also, unlike marijuana, CBD can be found in both the cannabis plant and in hemp itself.
Cannabinoids like CBD, CBG and CBN produce health benefits which may be similar to those THC provides, but they are non-psychoactive.
The bottom line is that while marijuana and hemp are both found in the cannabis plant and they both provide health benefits, they are very different. They differ in appearance, characteristics, uses and applications. Those that are interested, should feel encouraged to explore the world of cannabis while remaining aware of the different ways each of its constituents can be used. Good luck finding out how these cannabis products can improve your quality of life.