There is much confusion surrounding hemp, what it is, and what it looks like in comparison to its sister marijuana.  The truth of the matter is, they both are from the same species and family of plants so the similarities between the two can make them easily mistaken for one another.  In fact, hemp has been wrongly accused by police officers of being marijuana in states where it is illegal to grow and sell it.

To the untrained eye looking for key details, it is not hard to mix them up.  This hopefully should clarify what makes hemp unique from its peers.

Hemp and Its Family Explained

The hemp plant is from the cannabis genus of plants.  There are three distinct species of Cannabis: Sativa, Indica, and Ruderalis.  While marijuana can belong to the sativa and indica families, hemp is solely a member of the sativa species.  It is also referred to as industrial hemp, as it is typically cultivated for use for its sturdy fibers and edible seeds.  

Hemp plant products must contain less than 0.3% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) which is the psychoactive component found in all cannabis plants, to be considered viable hemp used for legal non-recreational purposes.  It contains the compound CBD (cannabidiol) which can provide numerous health benefits but will not leave you in a mind-altering state as THC does.  

The uses for hemp and its compounds are more rooted in the physical components of the plant itself for thousands of years.  Its multifunctionality has been put to good use for so long, likely in many products you may not have been aware of.

Physical Characteristics of Hemp

While hemp and marijuana look nearly identical, what sets hemp apart include many varying components.  When the leaves are formed into a dried product, to discern between hemp and marijuana takes a pretty skilled eye as they not only look extremely similar but also smell alike.  

When left in its natural plant form, the key differences are much more discernible if you are aware of the key differences between them.

Leaves – The leaves of a hemp plant are longer and leaner than that of marijuana.  Consisting of a top leaf which is the peak, gradually becoming smaller towards the stem, evenly on both sides much like a palm frond.

Height – A hemp plant grows to be nearly 15 feet tall with the majority of the leaves and flowers being grown at the top.  Compared to marijuana, which has a bush-like appearance in contrast and grows wider and typically lower to the ground much shorter than hemp at only a few feet high.

Flowers/SeedsSeed-producing flowers form elongate, spike-like clusters.  This is where the edible portion of the plant stems from, as the fiber of the stalk is used for more industrious goods.   

StalkThe slender cane-like stalks are hollow except at the tip and base.  Tall and weedlike, the stalk is where the strong fibers are found, making hemp a reliable source for creating woven products as well as other building materials.

Growing and Cultivating Hemp

Hemp is grown in temperate zones as an annual cultivated from seed and is typically grown outdoors.  As the use of hemp is more on a whole plant basis including the stalk for its fiber, allowing for its larger-scale growth to maximize yield.  It does not require much in the manner of control or attentiveness, allowing it to reach maturity fairly naturally.  

Hemp plants which are grown for the purpose of utilizing the seeds to produce oil are typically smaller in scale where the leaves and flowers are more abundant.  Grown best in a sandy type soil, watering hemp crops do not require as much as other forms of plants cultivated for consumption, only requiring about 2.5 inches of rainfall a month during the growing season.  As such, it makes for a very easy and sustainable crop.  

As a tough plant, hemp does not have too many predators to be concerned with which will cause destruction, therefore can be grown organically and pesticide-free in many instances.  Legally, in the U.S. on a national level, hemp can be grown without issue.  But, the problems arise when it thought to be marijuana and crops are seized out of a case of mistaken identity.  Which is why it is important to increase your knowledge base on the differences between the two very similar varieties.   

Uses of Hemp Products

Considered to be one of mankind’s first cultivated crops, the use of hemp and its products is abundant. Categorizing the different products based on the part of the plant that is utilized is going to be an easier way to understand its many uses.   

Hemp Seed Oil Products –  Oil expelled from the seed of the hemp plant is used in numerous products on the market today.  Prized for its intense moisturizing abilities, you can find hemp seed oil as a stand-alone product or as a featured ingredient in many skincare and beauty products.  Specifically for use in anti-aging serums and creams, hemp seed oil provides a dose of all-important omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids which provide not only needed hydration but the ability to soothe and calm the skin.  When used in pain relief products, hemp seed oil not only provides added moisture but it allows for faster absorption of the active ingredients making it work even faster.  As a topical or even ingested, hemp seed oil’s high concentration of those important omega fatty acids along with all of the other nutrients makes for an effective additive for all uses.      

Hemp Oil – The key difference between hemp oil and hemp seed oil is where the oil is extracted from.  Hemp oil is derived from other parts of the plant where CBD is present.  Therefore, it is often used as a base for other CBD based products such as tinctures, creams, and more.  If you are averse to wanting to use CBD-based products for any reason then be sure you are looking for hemp seed oil versus simply hemp oil.  It can often be confused with one another so if you have a specific need for hemp seed out, ensure that you are paying close attention to what is being described on the product.   

Hemp Seeds – All of the nutritional goodness that hemp offers are found in these little seeds.  Edible just and mirroring the look of a chia seed, hemp seed’s superfood status has been touted by nutritionists for years.  Sprinkle it on your yogurt, oatmeal, cereal, in a smoothie, and more to reap the benefits of the omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids which can only be provided to the human body by consumption.  Often found in fatty fishes, nuts, and seeds, it is a much-needed nutrient that helps your body’s cells to regenerate and repair itself.  Known for its heart-healthy benefits, hemp seeds make a great alternative to those who are looking to add fatty acids without having to consume fish-based products.  

Hemp Fiber Products – Hemp fiber products can be found in just about everything and anything.  Its durability makes it a go-to resource in creating functional items such as rope, canvases, tarps, netting, apparel, diapers, denim, shoes, handbags, and other textile-based products. When used in wearable wellness products such as gloves,  ankle braces, back braces, compression socks, and more, the moisture-wicking properties of hemp fiber makes an excellent material choice for long term wear.  Not only is hemp fiber durable, but that breathable quality is a highly sought after feature in the world of sports apparel.  You can also find hemp fiber used for paper products such as newsprint, cardboard, and various other packaging materials. 

Hemp is truly a versatile and diverse plant which unfortunately has a stigma surrounding it due to its close relationship with marijuana.  Hopefully, some light was shed on what sets hemp apart and why it needs to be embraced more as a product that needs to be better accepted as a usable good in our everyday lives.  

If our ancestors knew about hemp’s properties for the last several thousands of years it’s obvious that its usefulness is tried and true.  It was not until the last 100 years that specific laws created a misunderstanding regarding cannabis products, allowing for the assumption that all products which fall under that category are the same.  

Hemp is the innocent sister in the never-ending debate of what is legally acceptable regarding cannabis products.  More needs to be understood about hemp and its many facets which make it such a unique and unassuming plant.  Only the spread of valuable knowledge is going to change people’s perception of this super plant, and reveal how truly dynamic this plant can be.