In the eyes of federal law, hemp and marijuana have long been one and the same. But now that hemp and its derivatives are legal in the United States, thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, those tasked with enforcing the rules need a way to tell the difference. And Digipath, a data and media firm working in the cannabis industry, says it has a device capable of doing just that. In collaboration with VSSL, Digipath just filed a provisional patent for a portable device that can test for the difference between hemp and marijuana.
Portable Field Test Can Tell Difference Between Hemp and Weed DNA
Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis plants, of course. They look and smell very similarly, they grow best in similar conditions, which makes sense, considering they’re the same species. Despite popular confusion, both hemp and marijuana are members of the plant species Cannabis sativa L. So to get to know what really makes them different, you have to look at their genes.
Hemp and marijuana have different genes, different DNA, because humans bred them that way over centuries. Hemp is a variety of cannabis with genes that tell the story of how humans bred it to produce strong fibers for clothing and other material, seeds, oils and food. So hemp is hardy, leafy, stalky. It doesn’t have the delicate, intricate floral structures of its cousin.
Weed is just another variety, but with its own unique genetic story. That story tells the tale of how humans cultivated cannabis for its medicinal and psychoactive effects. Hence the preponderance of sticky, wet buds and glistening trichomes.
DNA Testing Device is Like 23 and Me for Cannabis Plants
Those genetic differences make it super easy to tell hemp from weed, so long as you have a device capable of testing DNA. And that’s exactly what Digipath’s “Field Testing Kit” can do. Digipath CEO Todd Denkin described the test as a cross between ’23 and Me’ and a paternity test for plants.
“Within minutes, our test can determine the nature of the plant sample and which drug-type it belongs to,” Denkin said.
This isn’t a drug test for humans. It doesn’t determine whether you’ve recently consumed THC or hemp CBD. Instead, its a drug test for plants themselves. Under new federal hemp industry regulations, hemp products must contain no more than 0.3 percent THC. (For the record, that 0.3 percent cutoff is an arbitrary number the Canadian research scientist Ernest Small came up with in 1971 to distinguish psychoactive cannabis from non.)
So the portable device analyzes a cannabis plant sample and shows, using a DNA-assay, whether it is a hemp plant with negligible THC or a weed plant above the legal limit. Digipath says the device works with plants at any stage of growth.
If it works, the device is likely to become a staple among law enforcement agencies, regulators and hemp farmers themselves. As the U.S. hemp industry gets underway in earnest, and hemp products start flowing across state lines, police will need to be able to tell the difference between hemp and weed. And that’s something they’re not very adept at currently.