Weed vs Hemp: What’s the difference between weed and hemp?

Shedding some light onto weed and hemp

Weed vs Hemp: what’s the difference between weed and hemp? In a nutshell, weed and hemp are the same thing: cannabis. All of the confusion on the topic comes from the fact that neither ‘weed’ nor ‘hemp’ are accurate terms to define what we’re talking about. Both are, in fact, common names. Read further to discover more about cannabis prohibition, the power of language, and the main differences and similarities between weed and hemp.


weed vs hemp

Cannabis for smoking (weed) in front of some (hemp) rope made of cannabis fibers


A short history of prohibition

To better understand the origins of confusion behind weed and hemp we have to travel back in time to the 30s of the XX century, when the US started a global war against cannabis. Never before had humanity thought of cannabis as something dangerous; in fact, quite the opposite. Cannabis was widely cultivated and used across the globe as a source of fibre, a plant medicine, a spiritually-enhancing herb. Depending on the use, growers bred many different strains and phenotypes.

Then, Harry J. Aslinger launched the US government’s campaign against cannabis. Unfortunately, Aslinger knew very well how to use the power of language, and used it to accomplish his plan. He understood that, in order to demonize something that had been totally normal until that moment, he first had to change its name. In his cannabis-demonization campaign, he made sure to always refer to hemp with what he saw as a depreciative term: ‘marijuana’. Marijuana was the name used by Mexicans to refer to hemp flowers. American society in the 30s was deeply racist, and Aslinger made no exception. This had a devastating impact on cannabis’ reputation.


Cannabis: what is it exactly?

Weed and hemp are essentially two different names for cannabis. But what exactly is cannabis? The word cannabis refers to a genus (genus is a taxonomic rank that falls between ‘specie’ and ‘family’) of flowering plants that belong to the Cannabaceae family. Taxonomists still dispute the number of species within the genus. Some recognise three different species, Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis. Some treat sativa and ruderalis as the same species, while some others consider the three as subspecies of the same species, Cannabis Sativa.


Sinsemilla: what is it exactly?

Sinsemilla comes from the Spanish phrase ‘sin semilla’, which means seedless. Sinsemilla has always been grown for smoking purposes. To grow seedless plants, the grower has to remove and isolate the male plants before they are able to pollinate the females. The female plants respond by putting all their energy in the production of flowers and resin. This is the process used to obtain the fat, smokeable buds we all love. This is not necessary if the plants are grown for fibre; what we call hemp usually has small flowers full of seeds.


Species of Cannabis

These are the main subspecies of Cannabis, according to current taxonomy. Strains are subspecies, obtained by cross-breeding phenotypes coming from different genetic pools. Most of the breeders breed cannabis with three main objectives in mind: getting bigger buds, increasing resin production, and creating delicious terpene profiles.  

Cannabis sativa

Cannabis sativa tends to be tall and branched, with thin leaves. Industrial hemp grown for fibre is typically a sativa strain, selected and bred to be up to 4 meters high. Sativas strains can also be bred to produce delicious smokeable flowers and resin. Some examples of pure sativa or dominantly sativa strains bred for flowers are the one that belong to the haze family, Colombian Gold, Durban Poison. When growing for flowers, male plants have to be kept away from females.

Cannabis Indica

Cannabis indica is shorter, bushier, with broad leaves. Indicas thrive in the mountainous regions of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East. Known for their heavily narcotic effects and for the huge production of resin, indica plants have been mainly bred for human consumption. Indicas’ resin is used in the production of many traditional hashes. Some examples of indica-dominant strains include the members of the kush family, Mazar I Sharif, G13.

Cannabis ruderalis

Cannabis ruderalis is native to Central and Eastern Europe, and Russia. It is similar to Cannabis sativa, but much shorter. It doesn’t produce a lot of fibre or resin, but nevertheless possesses some interesting qualities. Differently from sativa and indica plants, ruderalis doesn’t need a change in the day/night cycle to start flowering. Hence, breeders mix ruderalis genetics with sativa and indica genetic pools to obtain the famous ‘autoflowering’ strains.   

Hybrid cannabis strains

Hybrids possess mixed characteristics inherited by their sativa, indica and ruderalis parents. Most of the buds we find in the shelves of the dispensaries nowadays are hybrid. We have so many hybrid strains available because humanity has spent a great deal of time breeding cannabis, whether to obtain the tallest stems or the densest flowers. Some examples of hybrid strains are the gelato family, Gorilla Glue, Runtz. 


Weed: what is it exactly?

Weed is, together with pot, bud, mj, herb, ganja, shit, chronic, trees, chiba, etcetera, just another slang name for cannabis. The use of the term weed in reference to cannabis can be traced back to 20s and the jazz community in America. Jazz musicians were looking for an unassuming way of calling their beloved cannabis, and opted for a generic ‘weed’. Of course, they were speaking about cannabis’ smokeable flowers. Most people nowadays use the term weed to refer to cannabis meant for smoking such as smoked in a bong.


Hemp: what is it exactly?

The word hemp is generally used to define tall, fibre-producing Cannabis plants that are grown not for their flowers, but for their stalks. Hemp plants can reach 4 meters in height, and tend to have little branching. The females do produce flowers, although the flowers tend to be small in comparison to the plant size, and can be full of seeds, due to male and female plants being grown in the same area. Hemp growers tend to grow both female and male plants, and use them indiscriminately.

Does hemp have THC?

To be able to legally grow fibre hemp nowadays, growers have to keep the plants within tight THC limits. In other words, the THC content in the plants they grow has to be below a certain amount, usually less than 0.3%, or they risk having their field closed and their entire crop destroyed.

Can I smoke hemp?

You can smoke hemp, provided you smoke its flowers. Surely there has been a time when the distinction between hemp and cannabis wasn’t so sharp. Ancient people were growing lots of hemp, and most probably they were using the same plants to make fiber, flowers, and food (seeds). Today, we have refined our techniques and we have highly specialized strains. So, hemp plants will have lots of fibre and just a few small flowers, possibly with lots of seeds in them and a low THC content. However, yes, you could smoke them.

Is CBD cannabis hemp?

No, not really. Albeit it is popular nowadays to distinguish hemp and cannabis based on their THC content, that’s not correct. CBD buds come from plants that have been grown for flowers, not fibre. Compared to fibre hemp, CBD plants are shorter and more productive in terms of flowers and resin. The males are separated before pollination. What growers want in this case is to have buds that look just as beautiful and flavourful as THC-rich buds, but without the THC content. Hence, they select and breed specific strains that produce other cannabinoids (the more, the better) and no THC. So, calling CBD bud hemp is not quite right.


Hash: what is it exactly?

Hash, or hashish, is a product of the cannabis plant, but it's not the same thing as weed, hemp or marijuana. Read more about hash here.


Governments: a history of language manipulation and neurolinguistic programming

Alter language to alter perception. Alter perception to alter behaviour. This is, in a nutshell, one of the basic principles of neurolinguistic programming. As Orwell noted in his dystopic novel 1984, a totalitarian system strives to subtly impose a ‘newspeak’. The power of language is huge. In fact, language has the power to change perception (hence behaviour).

Let’s make a small example: back in the 90s, you’d smoke a joint and say ‘it got you high’; nowadays, you’d probably prefer to say that ‘it got you medicated’. We are, in fact, speaking about the same thing (the effects of cannabis). But, as you might have noticed, the images evoked by the phrase ‘get high’ and ‘get medicated’ are totally different.


Weed and hemp: a case of THC-based discrimination

To sum up, we can say that the classification of cannabis into ‘hemp’ and ‘weed, marijuana, ganja, etcetera’ is arbitrary. It is based on THC content, or better, on legality status; hemp is the good guy, weed is the bad. But, for official botany and taxonomy, weed and hemp are the same thing. Names and labels aside, Cannabis is truly a wonder of nature. With a history traceable back to at least 12.000 years ago, Cannabis has been used around the world for its fibre, its medicinal properties, its spiritual power. After almost 100 years of stigma and prohibition, it’s time to fully rehabilitate Cannabis, whether you want to call it hemp or weed, and use it for the benefit of mankind.

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