Cannabis 101


For many growing up in the United States, there has always been confusion on the meaning of the words cannabis, marijuana and hemp. A major source for this confusion is the US government, who has lumped hemp in with marijuana since the 1950’s to cast its prohibition net wider. The three words are interrelated, but different. In June, I covered the major compounds in cannabis, such as THC and CBD, and how it impacts your high.

Below are summary-level descriptions to help differentiate these three terms:

Cannabis: Cannabis is scientific term that refers to the genus of the flowering plant we all know and love. It is the common glue across the three words, as marijuana and hemp both come from the cannabis plant. There are three generally accepted varieties of cannabis, Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis.

Marijuana: Marijuana is a variation of the Mexican Spanish word marihuana, which entered into English usage in the late 19th century. Many suggest that this term was heavily pushed by US prohibitionists in the 1930s to make it sound foreign and demonic in their quest to ban the cannabis plant. Marijuana really refers to cultivating the cannabis plant for drug production, whether for recreational or medicinal use. Both marijuana and hemp contain the cannabinoids THC and CBD, however marijuana contains much higher concentrations of the psychoactive THC which produces the ‘head’ high. Marijuana can approach 25% THC, whereas industrial hemp ranges in the 0.3%-1.0% range.

Hemp: Hemp is an Old English term that refers to low THC strains of the Cannabis sativa plant. Hemp is used for many industrial purposes, such as fuel, paper, food (highly nutritious seeds and oil), textiles, body care products, detergents, plastics, paints, varnishes and other building materials. In short, a miracle plant that humanity has counted on for 10,000 years.  Industrial hemp with its low THC, is not a recreational or medicinal drug, nor can it effectively be used as one. Hemp is grown differently from marijuana and hemp can grow in a wider variety of climates. Under federal law, Hemp is also illegal to grow in the United States (without a DEA permit, which you won’t be able to obtain) as prohibitionists have equated it to marijuana. This ban on industrial hemp is a crime against our citizens and our economy. Last month, US Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) sponsored an industrial hemp farming amendment (S.A.2220) to the 2012 Farm Bill (S.3240), read more at National Cannabis Coalition on how to help support federally legalizing the growth of industrial hemp.

If you’re interested in a deeper understanding, below are a few suggested articles: