When I was a kid, using the word “hemp” was just a sophisticated-sounding way to talk about weed, but while marijuana and hemp are related they have some pretty different uses. Hemp is a fast-growing plant that makes for a sustainable option for everyday items like paper and clothing, and it doesn’t get you high, while marijuana is obviously known for being psychoactive and medicinal. For decades, though, the two have been treated as one and the same, and it’s time to set the record straight.
Why hemp can be confused for marijuana
Hemp and marijuana come from the same cannabis sativa plant, have the same iconic leafed greenery, and give off the same aroma. The main (and glaring) difference between the two is that hemp contains only 0.3 percent of the psychoactive element THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), while marijuana can have anywhere from five to 30 percent. So, you can’t get high off hemp.
Because of their proximity in genus and family resemblance, it was illegal to grow hemp in the United States until the Hemp Farming Act passed in 2018. There are still some restrictions to hemp growth in different states, so check your local legislation before erecting hemp stalks in your garden.
While marijuana has been found to have medicinal properties to relieve pain and other severe symptoms from illness, hemp has its own uses that benefit the body and the environment. Hemp seeds contain 25 percent protein and about 30 percent fat, which make them optimal for animal feed and, for some people, protein shakes. The seeds can also be pressed and made into oils or combined with water and other ingredients to make hemp milk.
The difference between THC in marijuana and CBD in hemp
Hemp is often linked with marijuana for the familiar pairing of THC and CBD (cannabidiol), but hemp has a much lower THC level. Still, the flower can technically have a physical effect on the body, only minus the high, as the cannabis dispensary site Weed Maps explains: “CBD, though technically psychoactive, is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid and won’t produce any form of a euphoric high on its own.”
So, unlike marijuana, you won’t feel high, although some people will use CBD tinctures and gummies in hopes to produce that effect, or smoke hemp leaves. Of course, if you really want to try it for some reason, ask a physician before ingesting or inhaling any sort of hemp or CBD products.
How is hemp used differently from weed?
Planting site Leafly uses a handy infographic to break down the useful components of the hemp stalk. The “bast fibers” of the hemp plant can be fashioned into rope, carpet, clothing, shoes, and bags. The stalk can be converted into fuel and paper products like cardboard. The “shiv” or “hurd” can be made into dog beds, mulch, and construction materials like fiberglass and concrete.
Hemp plants grow faster than most, require little water, and take up little space. Additionally, the plants combat greenhouse gasses and improve the quality of the soil for other plant life. Now that weed is losing its stigma and cannabis plants are becoming more widely accepted and available, maybe we might benefit more from hemp, too.