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Difference Between Hemp vs Industrial Hemp

If you’ve done any research into CBD oil products and brands, you’ve likely seen the terms “hemp” and “industrial hemp” used interchangeably. And you may be wondering if there is a difference between them.

The short answer is no. Hemp is a cannabis sativa plant with only trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive ingredient typically associated with marijuana. The term “industrial hemp” is just a more descriptive synonym of “hemp” regarding its many uses.

What Is Industrial Hemp?

The U.S. government defines industrial hemp as “a plant of the genus Cannabis and any part of the plant, whether growing or not, containing a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of no more than three-tenths of one percent (0.3%) on a dry weight basis.”

The stalks, leaves, oil, and seeds provide materials used in a wide variety of products, including paper, textiles, building materials, food products, supplements, biofuels, bioplastics, and personal care items. Sources claim that industrial hemp may have as many as 25,000 applications.

Industrial hemp is grown in many countries around the world. At one time in American history, farmers were legally obliged to grow it because it served so many practical functions.

The history of hemp cultivation in the U.S. has gone through dramatic changes, from a required crop to a banned one. It’s now again a resurgent industry driven by the rising popularity of CBD oil products.

Industrial Hemp in America

In the decades following World War 2, hemp farming was banned in the United States although limited hemp fiber production continued in Wisconsin until 1958. The U.S. has imported industrial hemp from other countries since then because there was no domestic crop to rely on.

The Agricultural Act of 2014 allowed state-sanctioned pilot programs to grow hemp, and in the process, develop strains ideal for domestic cultivation and specific properties, launching experimental programs in many states to study best practices in hemp cultivation.

Kentucky was the first state to launch a pilot program, using their state-sponsored status to develop a high resin content crop. Most industrial hemp crops are not high in CBD content, but plants with high resin content are ideal for CBD production.

Kentucky farmers investigated hemp cultivation in California, where they found strains like  ACDC, which has a notably high CBD content of 20 percent, but exceeds the sanctioned .3 percent THC. ACDC is considered better than any other internationally certified cultivar for CBD production.

More About Industrial Hemp in America

One slight difference between industrial hemp grown in other countries and the crops produced by the revived American hemp industry concerns the percentage of THC. Certification for European and Canadian varieties of hemp limit the percentage of THC to 0.3 percent, down from the former 0.8 percent. But French breeders were able to lower that percentage even further and capture the EU market for hemp seeds.

However, the National Advisory In Hemp and CBD (NAIHC) defines industrial hemp differently,  as having less than 1 percent of  THC, and a “greater than 1” ratio of CBD to THC. By that definition, current crops of American-grown hemp, and hemp grown in Europe and Canada, all fall clearly into the category of industrial hemp.

U.S. hemp growers are required to stay strictly within the 0.3 percent THC limit. In Kentucky, a recent harvest in a hemp farming pilot program produced crops exceeding the legal 0.3 percent. Since the crops tested showed a percentage between 1.2 and .4 percent THC, 100 pounds of the harvest were destroyed.

Critics called for raising the legal percentage of THC to 1 percent because of the advantages for plant breeders. As the pilot program continues, there will certainly be more discussion regarding this requirement.

More Historical Perspective

In colonial times, the English required colonists to grow hemp needed for cordage, textiles, paper, and other uses, and it continued to serve those purposes in America, long after the Revolutionary War.

In the 19th century, Missouri, Kentucky, and Illinois were key producers of hemp, but the need for the product tanked when the invention of steamships cut the demand for the sails and cordage for sailing ships.

The industry faced another major downturn when tariffs on Asian jute were lifted, offering a cheaper market for materials.

After World War 1, the need for hemp diminished, but an increasing anxiety about recreational cannabis gripped the nation, as captured in the 1936 film, Reefer Madness. The Marihuana Tax Act was passed in 1937 to discourage farmers from growing it.

When World War 2 broke out, there was a serious need for hemp in a tight market. The government encouraged farmers to grow it for the war effort, lifting the Marihuana Tax Act temporarily for added incentive. 

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