Hemp, Cannabis and Marijuana: What’s the Difference?

There is often some confusion between hemp, cannabis and marijuana, and definitions can vary depending on what you read. Although all derive from the genus Cannabis, hemp is defined by its use as a food and fibre, its low THC content (0.2-0.3% in the EU), and the fact that it doesn’t get you ‘high’. Cannabis or marijuana, names that are used interchangeably for the same plant or plant product, is higher in THC (4-20% or more) and is consumed for recreational and medical purposes.

Cannabis is the scientific name given to the plant and three variants are generally recognised: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis. However, even this is not straight forward and there is an ongoing debate as to whether they are separate species, sub-species or varieties.

The term marijuana arrived in the US from Mexico, and became a politicised and pejorative term during the early efforts of prohibition. Harry Anslinger, the head of the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics and prohibition frontrunner, strategically adopted the term, associating the plant with migrants and distancing it from its medicinal and industrial use. Anslinger famously said,

“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”

Harry Anslinger

Today, cannabis is often the preferred term because it carries less stigma and is less racialized.

Due to international drug laws prohibiting the use of Cannabis, CBD is most commonly extracted from industrial hemp grown under license. Hemp in the UK and the EU must be grown from an EU-approved seed variety and must produce plants that contain no more than 0.2% THC. There are currently 66 permitted seed varieties.

Hattie Wells

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