The emerging trend of smoking hemp has brought up a healthy amount of debate among cannabis consumers, with many wondering what the point of the exercise could be. In particular, devotees of marijuana are largely of the opinion that smoking hemp is harsh on the palate and a generally undesirable experience. In this post, we go over the fundamental differences between hemp and marijuana, as well as attempt to explain the reasoning behind the myth that smoking hemp tastes bad.
The Differences Between Hemp & Marijuana
The main difference between hemp and marijuana is that the former contains only trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — which is the psychoactive compound that gets users high — while marijuana can contain up to 30 percent THC. This means that you can’t get high from smoking hemp, no matter how much you smoke.
In most cases, hemp is grown differently than marijuana. Marijuana plants are typically grown close together in order to promote bud growth, while hemp plants are planted further apart, growing thinner and taller. Hemp is typically grown for its cannabidiol (CBD) content, while marijuana is grown for its THC content.
Hemp is also grown industrially for a wide range of uses, including the manufacture of paper, textiles, rope, or even eco-friendly concrete. Marijuana, on the other hand, is mostly used for recreational or medicinal purposes. While hemp and marijuana may look and smell similar, they are actually quite different plants.
Perhaps the most important distinction between marijuana and hemp is rooted in the legal status of THC. While the recreational consumption of marijuana is being legalized in a growing number of states, it’s worth noting that THC itself is still classified as a schedule I drug under the Drug Enforcement Agency’s drug scheduling system — making it technically illegal at the federal level. On the other hand, hemp and its extracts are legal for import, export, possession and cultivation almost nationwide.
The Role of Terpenes in Cannabis Flavor & Aroma Profiles
The differences in terpene content and concentrations between marijuana and hemp are likely the main culprit behind the general misconception that smoking hemp is an unenjoyable experience, especially with respect to flavor. Terpenes are naturally occurring hydrocarbons that give almost all plant life their distinctive flavors and aromas; over 200 of them have been identified in cannabis alone.
While hemp plants uniformly contain appreciable amounts of terpenes, they do so differently from marijuana, which have proportions and concentrations of terpenes that vary by strain. Let’s look at two examples below.
Strawberry Cough is a potent sativa strain that gets its name from its delicious strawberry aroma. It provides an uplifting and cerebral high that’s perfect for creative processes or social activities. The happy and energetic effects of strawberry cough can help treat depression, anxiety, and fatigue, making it a great choice for daytime use. It’s most abundant in the following terpenes:
- Geraniol (0.22%) imparts a sweet and floral flavor with citrusy overtones and nuances. This terpene is frequently used as a flavoring agent in food and beverages, as well as a fragrance component in perfumes and cosmetics
- Myrcene (0.21%) provides an earthy and musky flavor, with sweet undertones that can be best described as reminiscent of ripe mangoes.
Wedding Cake is a popular Indica-dominant hybrid strain known for its sweet, vanilla frosting aroma. Its effects are calming and mood-elevating, making it suitable for any time of day. Wedding Cake’s terpene profile is characterized as follows:
- Myrcene (0.36%) adds a subtle earthy flavor and a hint of clove to the strain. It has sedative effects which make it great for treating insomnia or reducing anxiety.
- Limonene (0.31%) provides an intense citrus flavor to the strain, along with uplifting and energizing effects that can help fight depression or stress. It also has antimicrobial properties which make it beneficial to overall health.
- Caryophyllene (0.20%) provides a spicy, woodsy flavor with notes of black pepper, making it an interesting addition to this strain’s aroma profile. This terpene has anti-inflammatory effects and can be helpful in relieving chronic pain.
Ice Cream Cake was created by crossing two classic indicas: Girl Scout Cookies and Wedding Cake. As its name suggests, Ice Cream Cake has a sweet and creamy flavor with hints of vanilla. This strain provides a relaxing full-body buzz that can help alleviate pain and soreness. The prevalent terpenes in Ice Cream Cake are:
- Limonene (0.81%) has a zesty and citrusy flavor profile, with the added benefit of well-documented antioxidant properties.
- Caryophyllene (0.72%) has a woody, fruity flavor with hints of balsamic and clove. It can be found in black pepper, cloves, and more exotic spices like star anise.
Within the legal cannabis industry, hemp is typically assessed by its CBD content, while marijuana is assessed by its varying concentrations of both cannabinoids and terpenes — to the extent that the nomenclature around marijuana strains is largely defined by these concentrations and their influence on their flavors and aromas. After no less than six decades of smoking marijuana, it’s easy to see why the relatively recent trend of smoking hemp could be seen by some as a bland experience in comparison.
So What’s The Point of Smoking Hemp? Smoking hemp is a good option for those who’d like to access the therapeutic aspects of the cannabis plant without the potential downside of THC’s psychoactive properties. These include CBD’s potentially beneficial effects on chronic pain, anxiety, mood and inflammatory disorders. For individuals residing in localities where recreational marijuana is not yet legal — or simply concerned about a red flag on their next workplace drug test — smoking hemp can be a worthwhile alternative to smoking marijuana, albeit less flavorful.