Gizmodo has done a brilliant job explaining the differences between marijuana plants and the industrial hemp, and clears up some misconceptions about both plants. Key facts covered include why hemp is legal to import to the US (but not legal to grow here), that hemp has been used by humanity for thousands of years, and why trying to get “high” from smoking hemp is like “getting hammered on O’Douls.”
He goes on to discuss how hemp contains “virtually zero THC and massive amounts of CBD,” and how it has been cultivated for over 12,000 years. Except for a brief period of time during World War II, hemp has not been grown in the US for over a century. Today, China leads the world in industrial hemp production; however, new state laws may be challenging federal prohibition:
Hemp is legal to import into the United States; however, due to our draconian prohibition of cannabis, hemp is illegal to grow, at least on the federal level. Nineteen states have enacted legislation to promote the use of hemp while another nine—Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia—have legalized its production outright.
After a hemp history lesson, which discusses our ancestors’ use and cultivation of hemp, Tarantola gives a concise explanation of the differences between marijuana that will get you “stoned” and industrial hemp:
As any self-respecting stoner can tell you, there are two strains of weed that get you high: the tall, scraggly sativas that originated in Southeast Asia and the short, bushy indicas from the Middle East. But there’s actually a third strain, cannabis ruderalis, from which we derive industrial hemp. These three species all produce a pair of antagonistic chemical compounds— cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—albeit in varying ratios. Sativas are especially high in THC (containing anywhere from 10 to 30 percent THC), which produces the euphoric stoner “head high,” and low in CBD, which has been shown to relieve a number of maladies. Indicas are also high in THC but have elevated levels of CBD, which provides a mellower “body high.” Ruderalis is the inverse of sativas in that they contain virtually zero THC and massive amounts of CBD. This is the result of both the species’ natural disposition and generations of breeding.
THC content in industrial hemp is virtually zero, as he goes on to explain (emphasis ours):
The certified low-THC varieties used in Europe and Canada contain maybe 0.2 to 0.3 percent THC when fully matured, and even the lesser-used varieties bred as biofuel precursors top out at 1 percent THC by volume. Trying to get high smoking a one percent THC concentration would be akin to getting hammered on O’Douls, as studies have shown that a sub-one percent concentration produces the same effects as placebo. What’s more, the large amounts of the non-psychotropic antagonistic CBD compound further overwhelms the effects of the THC.
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