Why Not Hemp Oil, Pt. 1: How Hemp Is Not Medical Cannabis

There is a lot of confusion about hemp and what we popularly know as “marijuana.” Most people assume that hemp and marijuana is the same thing. Historically, the government has lumped them together as banned substances. It doesn’t help that some medical cannabis proponents refer to it as “hemp oil.”

What is hemp and how is it different from medical cannabis?

Although hemp is technically a cannabis plant, it is a very different variety from the cannabis that is used recreationally and medicinally. The website, HempEthics, defines hemp in this way:

The term ‘Hemp’ commonly refers to the industrial/commercial use of the cannabis stalk and seed for textiles, foods, papers, body care products, detergents, plastics and building materials.

Hemp is an amazingly versatile and useful plant, not unlike its medical cannabis cousin in this regard. However, the similarity might end there. In addition to usage, there are several other ways that hemp and recreational/medical cannabis differ, according to HempEthics.

Hemp more closely resembles bamboo in the length and woodiness of the stalks and grows to an average height of 10-15 feet before harvest.

  • Unlike recreational cannabis that has been bred over the years to yield high THC (the psychoactive compound responsible for feeling “high,” as well as having a number of documented medical benefits), industrial hemp is very low in THC.
  • In hemp, it’s the stalks and seeds that matter. The stalk provides strong fiber for making rope, paper, textiles, and building materials and the seeds can be turned into cooking oil and food products, body care products, and biofuel. In recreational/medical cannabis, the prized parts of the plant are the buds and flowers of the female plant, the source of THC and CBD and other beneficial components.
  • Hemp and marijuana plants look entirely different. Hemp more closely resembles bamboo in the length and woodiness of the stalks and grows to an average height of 10-15 feet before harvest. In contrast, marijuana plants grow to an average height of 5 feet, with leaves and buds that grow out rather than up. Hence, hemp can be grown packed closely together whereas marijuana plants require a lot of space.
  • The growing conditions and environments also differ for each kind of plant. Recreational/medicinal cannabis plants need warm, humid environments to grow. The more delicate parts of the plant—the buds—require a lot of handling which make them suited for indoor cultivation. Hemp plants, on the other hand, are hardy and can grow in a wider range of areas. They thrive in fields that grow crops like corn and produce higher yields than other cannabis plants.

Blurred Lines

Recently, however, the lines between hemp and recreational/medical cannabis use have become blurred and consumer confusion has spiked as a result of new entrepreneurs—most motivated more by greed than by a genuine interest in wellness—attempting to find a new use for hemp as medicine.