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Industrial Hemp vs. Marijuana

One is a controlled substance, known for its mind-altering properties and famed for its therapeutic uses. It’s a notorious drug or a miraculous medicine – depending on who you ask. The other is cultivated all over the world for its usefulness and versatility. You might find it in your granola, your carpeting or your clothing. Its cultivation is closely controlled in the United States, but it is legal to grow it when strict conditions are met.

History of Cannabis in the US

“Marijuana” and “industrial hemp” are names used for two different varieties of the same species of plant: Cannabis Sativa. The first European colonists in North America established cannabis as an agricultural product. It was so widely cultivated that even Presidents Washington and Jefferson grew it.

Some strains were bred to produce plants with long, fibrous stalks, which were processed to make cloth, rope, paper and other products. Others were hybridized to produce more potent flowers and leaves, to be used for medicinal and therapeutic purposes.

The fiber-producing strains have come to be defined as industrial hemp, while the variants used for their psychoactive properties are generally known as marijuana.

Marijuana Prohibition and Industrial Hemp

All varieties of Cannabis Sativa were widely available in the US until the early 20th century. At that time, a movement to better regulate drugs and pharmaceuticals coincided with the temperance movement.

Meanwhile, competition from cotton and new synthetic fibers weakened the industrial hemp industry. By 1960, US had produced its last commercial hemp crop.

A decade later, the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970 placed cannabis under federal control. Although the CSA contained a specific exemption for industrial hemp, the DEA’s interpretation of the law led to a ban on all forms of cannabis.

Today, the US is the only industrialized nation that does not allow the commercial production of industrial hemp. Times are changing, though, and in 2014, Congress passed a farm bill that allows industrial hemp to be produced under very strict controls.

Industrial Hemp and Cannabinoids

Cannabis Sativa contains chemical compounds called “cannabinoids” that may be used for medicinal and therapeutic purposes. The most well-known cannabinoid is delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. This chemical is responsible for the psychoactive effects of some strains of cannabis. Until recently, most cannabis research has focused on the effects of THC.

Today, researchers and consumers are starting to pay more attention to another cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD). Far from producing the mind-bending experiences associated with THC, the effects of CBD are associated with relaxation and focus, as well as a gentle mood enhancing effect. New scientific studies suggest a range of additional health benefits, including relief from pain and seizures.

Producing CBD Products from Industrial Hemp

Industrial hemp may be imported from other countries, where there are fewer restrictions. In most states in the US, though, it’s now legal to grow industrial hemp. It must contain less than 0.3% THC, and growers must be participating in an approved research project or agricultural pilot program.

Many farmers see hemp as a valuable alternative to crops like wheat or tobacco. Because it was bred for its fibers, this fast-growing strain of cannabis produces large quantities of plant matter.

Sourcing high-quality hemp, with the optimal ratio of CBD/THC, is only the first step. The extraction method is crucial to creating a high-quality product. More precise extraction makes it possible to create all-natural products that are tailored to the needs of consumers, while meeting legal requirements that demand low levels of THC in commercially-available products.

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The Author

Meg Kramer

Meg Kramer

Meg Kramer is the Managing Editor of CBD Hacker. She's a writer and editor who has covered topics in science, health, and education.

When she's not writing about CBD, you can find her playing with her dogs or perfecting her bagel recipe.