26 February 2015

Hemp and Cannabis

The terms hemp and cannabis (frequently referred to as 'marijuana') are often used interchangeably, although they do carry separate connotations. According to A Practical and Natural Taxonomy for Cannabis, published by the International Association of Plant Taxonomy in 1976, “both hemp varieties and marijuana varieties are of the same genus, Cannabis, and the same species, Cannabis Sativa. Further, there are countless varieties that fall into further classifications within the species Cannabis Sativa.”

However, how the plant is grown and utilised determines which term is correct. Cannabis ('marijuana') is used when describing a Cannabis Sativa plant that is bred for its potent, resinous glands or trichomes (crystalline structures which look a lot like little mushrooms when magnified, they cover the bracts and leaves of the plant and consist of a stalk terminating in a glandular head). These trichomes contain high amounts of THC (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the cannabinoid most known for its psychoactive properties. Hemp, on the other hand, is used to describe a Cannabis Sativa plant that contains only trace amounts of THC. Hemp is typically bred and grown for a myriad of industrial uses including textiles, paper, building materials, foods, personal care products, pet care products, medicine, mulch and much more.

The international definition of hemp (as opposed to cannabis) was developed by a Canadian researcher, Ernest Small, in 1971. His arbitrary 0.3% THC limit became standard around the world as the official limit for 'legal' hemp, after he published a little-known, but very influential book, The Species Problem in Cannabis. In his book, Small discussed how “there is not any natural point at which the cannabinoid content can be used to distinguish strains of hemp and marijuana” but despite this he continued to “draw an arbitrary line on the continuum of cannabis types and decided that 0.3% THC in a sifted batch of cannabis flowers was the difference between hemp and marijuana.” This continues to create controversy and confusion as to what truly constitutes the difference between hemp and cannabis. 

Industrial Hemp Uses

adapted from an excerpt of What is Hemp? from MedicalJane

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