In fact, each refers to a very specific entity, even though they are all surrounding a plant. Cannabis itself has over 1,200 slang terms and more than 2,300 names for individual strains, which only further adds to the confusion surrounding their disparities. When referring to the plant, its uses, its legality and more, there are a lot of variables to keep track of. Let's take a look at each of the glossary terms to know, when talking shop about cannabis.
By definition, cannabis is a genus of flowering plants in the familyCannabaceae. Within the genus, there are two popular species, Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica, although the total number of species is still the subject of dispute. Both hemp and marijuana come from the same genus of plant (cannabis), but that does not mean using them interchangeably is a perfectly accurate portrayal.
Hemp, by definition, is used to describe a cannabis plant that contains only trace amounts of THC , which is the psychoactive cannabinoid found in the plant. Its counterpart, CBD, is another cannabinoid found in the plant that does not have psychoactive effects. These cannabinoidsare the most studied, but there are over 100 cannabinoids produced by cannabis to consider. A cannabinoid, by definition, is a substance that is structurally or functionally similar to chemical constituents of cannabis. Of the cannabinoids found in cannabis, THC and CBD are the most prevalent.
Cannabis itself has over 1,200 slang terms and more than 2,300 names for individual strains
The presence of high THC is the most popular factor to keep in mind when differentiating between what we know as cannabis and what is classified as hemp. Canadian researcher Ernest Small developed the international definition of hemp in 1971, with his findings playing an influential role today. As discussed in his book, "The Species Problem of Cannabis," plants with less than 0.3% THC are to be known as hemp, a standard that became a global one as far as the legal classification is concerned.
Small's findings were not crystal clear, however, and remain the source of confusion today due to his belief that 0.3% THC is the arbitrary line drawn between determining hemp from cannabis, while also stating that there is "no natural point at which the cannabinoid content can be used to distinguish strains of hemp and marijuana."
While his 0.3% definition has largely been adapted, another key factor in the difference between hemp and marijuana can be based on your location. The U.S., for example, has legally defined hemp as all parts of any Cannabis Sativa plant that doesn't have any psychoactive properties (THC), whereas Canada dubs it as any part containing less than 0.3% THC. The THC concentration also plays a key role in the legality of the product. The current classification of cannabis plants with THC is that it is a Schedule I drug, which is the most restrictive class. By definition Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Legislation to deschedule marijuana has been consistently introduced since 1972.
The term marijuana is often used to describe the dried flowers of the cannabis sativa plant specially, but it can also refer to the cannabis plant itself. Marijuana and THC are also used conversationally to both reflect the connotation of psychoactivity. In practical use, hemp refers to the food and fiber variety of the cannabis plant, while marijuana is used to describe cannabis that includes THC.
Hemp and marijuana are cultivated in similar ways, but have different legal statuses and also different intended purposes. Hemp is cultivated for the usage of the whole plant, including for fiber, food and oil, whereas marijuana is cultivated for its flowers specifically. As such, we often use the term industrial hemp to discuss cannabis plants with 0.3% THC, which were made federally legal by the 2018 Farm Bill. The law completely removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and allows it to be sold as an agricultural commodity, unlike cannabis plants with a higher presence of THC.
In summation, the conversation surrounding cannabis must be nuanced to be fully understood, as there are a lot of moving parts to consider.