Hemp’s popularity is growing following the legalization of cannabis in the United States and other countries, and it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that it’s about time. Hemp has been used for thousands of years, and along with bamboo, it may be one of the most widely utilized plants throughout human history.
Many regard hemp as an all-rounder because of its versatility – be it its health benefits or its many other practical uses. But there is also a lot of misinformation and a lack of understanding about the enormous potential of this plant. A lot of people are confused about its chemical composition and its properties, as well as its link to marijuana.
This is why we need to talk more about this versatile plant and offer some information that can clear up the confusion. In this article, we’ll talk about hemp and hemp cultivation, its uses, and its connection to marijuana.
The Hemp Crop 101
Hemp belongs to the cannabis family. It’s an industrial variety of the Cannabis sativa L. plant and it’s primarily grown for industrial purposes, like making fiber for the production of commercial items and building materials. In recent years, it has also been cultivated for its CBD (cannabidiol) content, while its seeds are used to make hemp seed oil.
Botanically, the hemp plant is dioecious, meaning it has separate male plants and female plants. It’s a very tall plant with thin stalks that can reach between 10 to 15 feet. The hemp crop can be divided into five main parts:
- Bast fibers that make up the outer layer of the hemp stalks;
- Hurds are short hemp fibers that constitute the inner layer;
- Leaves which are slender and most of them are found at the top;
- Flowers which are small and greenish with a hint of yellow;
- Seeds with a hard outer shell that can vary in color, they are mostly very dark brown or grey with stripes.
Does Industrial Hemp Contain THC?
All Cannabis sativa varieties contain an abundant amount of cannabinoids that give them their special properties, and the hemp variety is no exception. This also includes THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive compound. However, the ratio of these cannabinoids varies from species to species.
Even though the industrial hemp plant produces THC, compared to other varieties, hemp produces THC in very small concentrations. On the other hand, hemp is capable of producing an abundance of the non-intoxicating cannabinoid CBD (cannabidiol), for which it’s known.
That said, hemp can’t get you high. Its THC content simply isn’t high enough to be intoxicating (0.3%), but its CBD content will definitely cause you to feel its therapeutic effects.
Industrial Hemp and Marijuana – What’s the Difference?
Hemp and marijuana are often put in the same category, and while they both belong to the same cannabis plant species, their genetic makeup and biological structure are very different. Additionally, hemp fields look very different from marijuana fields – the marijuana plants look fuller and broader, while hemp crops look taller and slimmer.
But the major difference between them is the cannabinoid content – hemp is almost exclusively dominant in CBD and only contains trace amounts of THC, while marijuana’s THC levels can sometimes reach 30%, while its CBD content can vary. For this reason, marijuana has mind-altering properties and is used both recreationally and medicinally, while hemp is more commonly used for its therapeutic effects.
Industrial Hemp Cultivation
In the last decade or so, the rise of hemp production has caused the hemp industry to expand and make room for various hemp products. Depending on the desired product, many hemp cultivars are mainly being chosen for their cannabinoid content, terpene profile, stem quality, and seed production by acre.
The hemp crops are normally cultivated outside where the plant has enough room to thrive. They are usually densely planted as they’re very resistant to pests and hemp farmers don’t need to use a lot of pesticides or herbicides.
Its growing season is between March and May or September and November, depending on whether you live in the northern or southern hemisphere. The seeding to harvest period can be between 70 and 140 days, depending on the cultivar and the hemp grower’s goal.
Is Hemp Farming Legal?
Regarding the federal government, the 2014 Farm Bill allowed for hemp cultivation solely for the purpose of research. However, with the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 as part of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp varieties that contain less than 0.3% THC were removed from the Schedule I classification of the Controlled Substances Act. This means that the industrial production of hemp became legal.
This decision allowed U.S. farmers to cultivate hemp freely as long as it contained a negligible amount of THC, and to produce hemp as a legal agricultural product. It also allowed them to obtain production licenses and crop insurance, as well as get loans for hemp production.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in 2019 nearly 150.000 acres of hemp were planted in the United States, with the leading states being Montana, Colorado, Kentucky, Oregon, North Dakota, North Carolina, and Minnesota.
The Many Uses of the Hemp Plant
As we said, the hemp plant is very versatile. All parts of the plant can be used to produce a wide range of products, ranging from building materials to commercial products, and even food products.
The hemp stalks are very durable and are used for the production of various industrial products. The hurds can be used for making textile, rope, paper, woven fabrics, and clothes. The bast fibers, on the other hand, are sturdier and are used for industrial materials like insulation and biodegradable plastics.
The most popular hemp product is CBD oil, made by extracting CBD from the stems and flowers of the hemp plant and infusing it with a carrier oil. However, the hemp seeds can also be used to make hemp seed oil. The seeds don’t contain CBD, but they are rich in vitamins, minerals (especially iron), unsaturated fatty acids, and proteins – in fact, their protein content is close to that of soybeans.
The growing popularity of the hemp plant is completely justified given its enormous versatility and therapeutic properties. Hemp has been misunderstood for years despite its age-old history of use, but fortunately, things are beginning to change. The 2018 Farm Bill has made hemp cultivation legal which was a big step for the hemp industry.
Many people aren’t aware of the difference between the hemp plant and the marijuana plant, and given the lack of exposure, this is completely normal. The most important difference between them is the cannabinoid ratio between CBD and THC – the hemp plant is richer in CBD while marijuana is higher in THC.
Hemp can be used for the production of a variety of not only commercial items but also industrial materials, utilizing all parts of the plant.