Does the hemp plant differ from marijuana?
The hemp plant is a variety of Cannabis Sativa L. It is an herbaceous, dioecious plant that’s indigenous to Central Asia. Today, hemp — now often referred to as industrial hemp — is a widely cultivated cash crop used as a raw material in the production of many common consumer goods.
The hemp plant has been widely cultivated for centuries. In China, as early as 10,000 BCE, hemp was used abundantly in the production of clothing, ropes and paper. The Yangshao people — who lived in China around 5,000 BCE — reportedly wove hemp and pressed it into their pottery for aesthetic purposes. Hemp was also cultivated in Japan for paper and fibre between 5,000 and 300 BCE.
The hemp plant is often assumed to be marijuana — a popular psychotropic substance. However, this is not the case. Both hemp and marijuana are classifications of cannabis, a genus of flowering plants in the family Cannabaceae. They are essentially sister crops.
However, unlike marijuana, hemp contains minimal amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — often less than 0.3%. THC is the cannabinoid responsible for the psychoactive effects on users after they consume marijuana. The minute amounts of THC in the hemp plant make it a non-psychoactive substance.
Are hemp plants legal in Australia?
Hemp plants are legal in Australia but can only be grown under a license issued by a state government. A license is required to grow industrial hemp because the crop is not classified as a farming commodity. Even with the approved levels of THC, the government classifies the substance as cannabis, which is listed under the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act of 1981.
The growing location must be approved by the state in order for the government to conduct routine checks and inspections on the farm. Licenses are issued in order to ensure that hemp is not being grown as a therapeutic good and to prevent the public from coming in contact with the substance.
Types of industrial hemp
Traditionally, industrial hemp is divided into three major varieties. These categories are based on the purpose for which the plant is cultivated:
- Fibre varieties;
- Grain varieties and;
- High-cannabinoid producing varieties.
1. Fibre varieties
The fibre varieties of the hemp plant produce long fibres and biomass. These are essential in the production of numerous items, including:
- Building materials,
- Paper/pulp, and
2. Grain varieties
The grain varieties of hemp are utilised primarily for food. Hemp grains — seeds — are high in protein, fatty acid and fibre content. It is curious to note that these varieties traditionally produce lower cannabinoid content in favour of grain/seed production.
3. High-cannabinoid producing varieties
This variety of the hemp plant is currently the most widely cultivated and lucrative of all hemp varieties. This can be attributed to the fact that these are a major source of the therapeutic substance, cannabidiol (CBD).
CBD is a cannabinoid present in the hemp plant which is beneficial to the treatment of numerous chronic and terminal diseases, including cancer and chronic pain. It can be processed into oils, tinctures, creams, and many other by-products.
The hemp plant has been around for a while — a matter of centuries. Being a cannabis variant, it’s often mistaken for marijuana, its sister crop. However, the hemp plant has no psychoactive effects, despite containing trace amounts of THC. Hemp is legal in Australia but in order to cultivate the plant, individuals must seek appropriate licensing from the state government. Those who cultivate it use it for a number of purposes.
The three major varieties of industrial hemp are fibre, grain and high-cannabinoid varieties. Hemp fibre are used for manufacturing products such as textile, paper, and more. But the hemp plant’s uses don’t stop there — they can also be consumed or used for skin care products. All in all, the plants industrial uses serve as another differentiator between it and marijuana. Where marijuana is typically a recreational and medicinal drug, hemp is primarily an industrial material.