There are not only different strains, or ‘cultivars’ of hemp; there are even different species. It can be confusing for first-time smokable hemp users, especially if you had always thought of hemp as that stuff rope is made from! Well, it turns out, hemp is excellent for many uses — potentially thousands. Including exciting medicinal health benefits, scientists are discovering daily.
Now that hemp is federally legal in the United States, savvy hemp breeders are busy cross-breeding for new and exciting high-cannabinoid hemp varietals. So, what are the variables when it comes to hemp species and different varietals? Let’s break it down.
The first thing to understand about the amazing hemp plant is its relationship with marijuana.
They are the same Cannabis species — or technically, one of the same three cannabis species (more about that below). The main difference between hemp and marijuana (including in the eyes of the feds) is THC, aka tetrahydrocannabinol. THC is the cannabinoid that imparts a psychoactive feeling. Or the compound in marijuana that gives users the experience of a “high.”
There are many additional cannabinoids in hemp (and marijuana) plants, including CBD (cannabidiol) and CBG (cannabigerol). But none of those have a psychoactive element. According to the 2018 farm bill, hemp is legally defined as having less than .3 percent THC. Any cannabis plant harvested over .3 percent is legally considered ‘marijuana.” But if it is under .3 percent, it is legally considered ‘hemp.’
Yes, most hemp does contain a tiny THC percentage; however, for reference sake, most of the marijuana strains currently circulating test at 15 to even 25 percent THC. So, essentially hemp has so little THC as not to be noticeable. The bottom line, smoking hemp doesn’t make you high.
There are three species of cannabis that are often inter-bred to highlight different effects. These are the same species interbed for marijuana as well, — as noted above — breeders select for low THC plants.
While the different species of the cannabis plant is still a hotly debated topic amongst taxonomists, generally speaking breeders have agreed upon three main species used in hemp breeding.
Cannabis sativa generally evolved in European regions, and it is associated with uplifting and mood-enhancing properties. Cannabis sativa is thought to energize and improve the spirits of its users.
Cannabis indica primarily originated in Asian countries. It has been typically thought to impart calming, relaxing effects good for stress and pain relief. Cannabis indica is associated mainly with the traditional ‘fiber hemp’ grown for fiber and grain, not to smoke or made into essential oils for medical benefit.
Cannabis ruderalis is a shorter, stalker version of the cannabis plant that primarily evolved in Southeast Asia. Its principal property is a short period of growth before starting to flower.
Other hemp varietals flower only when daylight hours become less than a certain amount a day (typically around 13 hours). Cannabis ruderalis however, does not need a shortening day length to produce flowers. That is why ruderalis strains are commonly called “autoflower.” Auto-flowering properties are useful because they allow hemp growers to grow year-round in greenhouse conditions that control light and temperature.
Many people ask if they grow a hemp plant for CBD, can they also use it for fiber?
While technically, that is true, hemp varietals used for fiber (and grain) production has been selected for different characteristics than hemp is grown for flower and CBD production.
Hemp grown for fiber is selected for plants that grow long, tall, straight stems that produce long strands of ‘bast’ fiber. They also provide a second, short fiber called “hurd.” The bast fiber is what is woven into textiles. Hurd fiber is used for things like animal bedding and hempcrete. Fiber hemp varietals are not selected to grow a lot of big flowers.
Hemp grown for cannabinoid production (like CBD and CBG) look similar to what many people think of as marijuana plants. They are shorter and stocky with lots of branches and a large production of big flowers harvested for the cannabinoids.
Yes, CBD hemp will make fiber, but it will not produce the long bast fibers, which are what the hemp fiber market demands.
It is tough to say what type of hemp is best because, in reality, all three species have been extensively interbred. Most geneticists believe the different species of cannabis had all interbred and essentially become a ‘hybrid’ species long before humans actively started selecting different strains for different traits. Even though today, hemp breeders will classify their varietals as having more “sativa” versus “indica” traits.
Hemp (and the cannabis species) is all a big mish-mash of traits!
How do you know which one to select for you? Well, the best way is to understand what cannabinoid you are interested in experiencing. Every hemp breeder, including Colorado Breeders Depot, is required by law to post a COA (certificate of analysis) showing the percentage of cannabinoids in that particular hemp strain (and harvested crop).
By checking the COA, you can assure the hemp you are purchasing is indeed hemp (under the .3 percent THC thresh-hold), and you can concentrate on what other cannabinoids you want to experience. Speaking with a knowledgeable hemp breeder or smokable hemp ‘budtender’ can help direct you to what strain for what sort of experience will work best for you.
In the end, though, there are many different smokable hemp varieties on the marketplace. And more coming. So, feel free to experiment and try out different strains and find your favorite. That is what is so remarkable about the cannabis plant — it has something for everyone.
At Colorado Breeders Depot, we have a wide-range of smokable hemp varietals grown by our farm and farmers we trust. Reach out via our website, and we would be happy to help you choose the best varietal for you.