Cannabis vs. cannabis vs. marijuana vs. hemp. These words all mean different things. It’s high time writers got it straight.
What is marijuana? What is cannabis? What is hemp? The fact is, the mainstream media gets these words mixed up quite often. Even the cannabis journals get it wrong from time to time. It’s even blatantly wrong on Wikipedia. And I’d like to set the record straight, as they say.
Before I begin, I just want to share my motivation for writing this post.
I’m a full-time cannabis writer. And one of my pet peeves as a writer is when writers don’t use the correct words. For a lame example, I see writers constantly use the word “jealous” when they mean “envious.” You’re jealous when your mate cheats on you. You’re envious when someone has something you wish you had. There’s a big difference there. This is known as malapropism. I’m not here to rant about malapropism. I do it too sometimes. But the facts that I’m peavy about it and that cannabis is my area of expertise are the motivation for me writing this article.
Cannabis according to Wikipedia:
“Cannabis, also known as marijuana (Spanish pronunciation: [maɾiˈxwana]) among other names, is a psychoactive drug from the Cannabis plant used primarily for medical or recreational purposes. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive component of cannabis, which is one of the 483 known compounds in the plant, including at least 65 other cannabinoids, including cannabidiol (CBD). Cannabis can be used by smoking, vaporizing, within food, or as an extract.”
This is just outright INCORRECT:
- Cannabis is a plant, not the product of a plant.
- Marijuana is a product of the Cannabis plant, not the plant itself.
- THC is not the primary psychoactive component of cannabis, it’s the primary component of marijuana. There are strains of cannabis with zero THC.
- Not all cannabis is smoked or cooked. Only the flower clusters are used for smoking, vaporizing, and making special brownies.
- “Psychoactive” is not even really the correct word for marijuana’s intoxicating properties. Just saying.
The longish page goes on to repeat these mistakes and others throughout the remainder of the narrative.
Let’s try to clear up some of the confusion…
What’s the difference between Cannabis and cannabis?
The term Cannabis (written with an upper case C) is what’s known as a genus.
Wikipedia says that a genus is “a taxonomic rank used in the practice of biological classification of living and fossil organisms, as well as viruses, in biology.”
In the hierarchy of biological classification, genus comes above species and below family.” (I can only hope that Wikipedia has the correct information here. I’m not a biologist.)
In somewhat more layman’s terms, according to the Oxford Dictionary, a genus is “any class of things that have common characteristics and that can be divided into subordinate kinds.” Emphasis ours.
The genus Cannabis includes a variety of species.
What are the various species of Cannabis?
The species of cannabis with which the general public is most familiar, and the one that is used to produce the products sold in marijuana dispensaries, is referred to by biologists as Cannabis sativa, or more to the point, C. Sativa.
Another species of Cannabis is C. ruderalis. And another is C. Indica.
While ruderalis is generally accepted to be a distinct species, there is some debate as to whether or not C. Indica is its own species of Cannabis or if it is actually a subspecies of C. Sativa. I suspect the latter.
For clarity, when I talk to myself, I use the names C. sativa Americana and C. sativa Indica after their geographical origins. “Indica” is Latin for India.
On a side note, these two species developed on different continents with different traits, and thus they produce somewhat different physiological effects. However, since humans began breeding a vast array of cultivars of cannabis, the lines have gotten blurred. Plants from the Americana line can be bred to produce indica-like effects. And Indicas can be bred to produce Americana-like effects. Moreover, the two species are commonly crossbred to produce unique strains with specific traits and effects. This is a topic for another day.
Returning to the Cannabis vs cannabis question, there is a camp that subscribes to the idea that cannabis (with a lowercase C) refers generally to all types of marijuana and its extracts (ie: cannabis extract).
I’m not in this camp. To say that marijuana and cannabis are the same thing is like saying coconuts are palm trees.
I agree that the extract of any cannabis species can be referred to as cannabis extract. However, I stand firm that using the word cannabis to refer specifically to marijuana is slang usage.
You can’t have a jar full of cannabis any more than you can have a jar full of palm trees. You can have a jar full of coconut, though. You can have a jar full of marijuana, or a jar full of hemp flower, or a jar full of hemp seeds, or a jar full of hemp fibers, or a jar full of cannabis leaves. But you can’t have a jar full of a collection of species.
So, Cannabis is a genus, there are multiple species of Cannabis.
And lower case cannabis is a general term that refers to the topic of all things C. Sativa. Eg: The cannabis industry, or the cannabis market, or cannabis laws.
What is hemp?
Cannabis species can also be subdivided into various cultivars — often referred to as strains — that have been bred by humans to have specific traits.
The most striking example is a set of cultivars collectively referred to as hemp. Hemp is not grown to produce marijuana.
All types of hemp contain very low levels of the intoxicating cannabinoid compound called delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol or THC which is found in marijuana.
However, some hemp strains are rich in other cannabinoids such as cannabidiol or cannabigerol (CBD or CBG). Cannabidiol is quickly becoming a household item. While it offers a diverse array of health benefits, it does not cause a high as THC does.
While we’re being technically correct, raw cannabis flowers contain little if any THC or CBD. What they do contain are the acidic forms of these molecules — THCa and CBDa — which are both non-intoxicating. These cannabinoids are converted into THC and CBD when the buds are smoked or used in cooking.
Hemp strains can be further categorized by their use.
Some strains of hemp are bred to grow very tall and produce long, strong fibers. There also strains bred to produce fat buds with copious amounts of hemp seeds. And there are strains of hemp that are used for medicinal purposes in much the same way as marijuana (but without the high). Different types of hemp should not be lumped in together.
Another extremely common misconception is that CBD oil is extracted from industrial hemp. It is if you’re a lawmaker. This use of the term hemp is written into laws across the nation and the world.
The truth is, hemp strains used to produce CBD oil were bred from strains of marijuana, not from strains of industrial hemp. Essentially — metaphorically speaking — it’s like marijuana with no THC was ripped away from its hip mother and raised by puritan sharecroppers.
Phytocannabinoid-rich hemp strains used to produce CBD oil are all descendants of marijuana strains that have had the THC bred out of them.
PCR hemp, as it’s sometimes referred to, looks like marijuana. It smells like marijuana. And it’s grown like marijuana in pots or plots where plants can be individually pruned for maximum production and the highest quality. It’s not grown in monstrous hemp fields. (At least not ideally.)
PCR hemp buds look and smell exactly like marijuana buds and can be enjoyed in the same ways.
Although smoking hemp bud doesn’t get you high, it does make you feel relaxed and content. It also has the added benefits of relieving pain, improving sleep, reducing seizures, treating depression, reducing anxiety, plus scores of other health benefits. (My partner and I keep a jar of premium hemp flower handy at all times.)
Another sidebar: After hemp was legalized there was an explosion of hemp farmers. “Explosion” is the right word because they went all over the place. Many didn’t know that there was a difference between industrial hemp and the THC-free strains of marijuana used to produce CBD. Nor did they know the crops are cultivated differently. Kilotons of crappy hemp is sitting in barns across the U.S.A. getting moldy. That’s a long story for another day.
Ideally, if I could roll back time and take over the world, I would tell lawmakers they need to refer to the three hemp crops distinctly.
- Hemp strains used to produce fiber really should be called industrial hemp. Industrial hemp is used in textiles and building materials.
- Strains of hemp used to produce hemp seeds should be referred to as seed hemp. Or maybe agricultural hemp.
And if I were king of the world,
- Hemp strains used to produce CBD oil would just be called marijuana. We know that won’t work with politicians, so maybe CBD hemp. Or PCR hemp. If it were up to me, Cannabis grown for cannabinoids would not be lumped in with hemp.
What is marijuana?
According to the author(s) of Wikipedia’s page on cannabis, the term cannabis is synonymous with the term marijuana. It’s not. Not literally anyway. My right eyelid convulses every time I see this.
Marijuana is a product of Cannabis plants in the same way coconuts are products of the palm tree.
Not all palm trees produce coconuts, only coconut palms do. And not all Cannabis strains produce marijuana, only high-THC strains such as Pineapple Express do.
The term marijuana specifically refers to the resinous female flower clusters of Cannabis strains that are high in THC. Hemp buds are never to be referred to as marijuana.
To produce marijuana, only female plants are grown.
In fact, for the highest quality marijuana, either growers plant rooted clones from a mother plant, or feminized seeds are sewn. Otherwise, all of the male plants must be culled as soon as they show their sex.
The reason for growing exclusively females Cannabis plants is twofold:
- First, as soon as the flower clusters are pollinated, the female Cannabis plant begins to put all her resources into pushing out seeds rather than putting out an abundance of luscious, cannabinoid-rich buds.
- Second, it’s highly undesirable to have to deseed marijuana before partaking in it. Today’s consumers demand sans semelia or seedless marijuana, not that brown seed-ridden weed that was smoked up until the Late-Mid-20th Century.
So to wrap this up:
- Cannabis refers to a genus of plants.
Within that genus exist C. sativa and C. indica — the two strains used to produce marijuana and CBD oil—and the marginalized C. ruderalis.
- The word cannabis, in lower case, refers to the discussion of the physical plants, the industry, the market, etc., not the genus.
So, for example, the term cannabis industry, to me, includes both hemp and marijuana.
- Marijuana is specifically the flower clusters of female cannabis plants that are high in THC.
Marijuana is an aromatic, magical flower. In my kingdom, it would be blasphemous to hold cannabis fibers, cannabis leaves, or cannabis seeds in a jar and refer to it as marijuana.
- Hemp refers to strains of Cannabis that produce low levels of THC.
In order to meet the legal definition of hemp, a plant must produce less than 0.3 percent THC. There are hemp strains that are great for producing fiber and hemp strains that are great for producing seeds.
- There are also Cannabis strains that are essentially devoid of THC but high in other cannabinoids. Although they are descendants of marijuana and not of hemp they have been lumped in with hemp.
These wonderful strains of non-intoxicating, low-THC, high-CBD marijuana are sadly, hopelessly, and seemingly forever stuck with the name industrial hemp like gum to a busy New York sidewalk.