Difference between cannabis and marijuana seeds
Fueled by widespread acceptance and removal of regulations, the hemp and cannabis industries are growing rapidly across the globe. They may technically be the same plant from a scientific standpoint, but in lawmakers’ eyes, two classifications exist with their own set of rules and regulations. Understanding the difference between hemp and cannabis seeds is a critical step for anyone involved in these industries – from seed to sale.
Hemp seeds can be used for a variety of everyday purposes and have been for years. The seeds of the Cannabis sativa plant are highly nutritious and can be found on the shelves of your local health food store. These seeds can be added to smoothies, salads, granola, and any other kitchen concoction you can scheme up in their processed form.
Recent developments regarding hemp and cannabis regulations have expanded hemp from grocery shelves to alternative health clinics and corner stores across the country and beyond. Hemp oil has various uses and benefits (which is why people use cbd lotion, take it as a tincture, and use it in cooking, to name a few), while being the fuel behind the recent boom in the CBD market.
The main distinction that separates hemp seeds from cannabis seeds sits in the amounts of certain compounds, called cannabinoids, present within them. The 2018 Farm Bill established a limit of 0.3 percent THC content for any Cannabis sativa plant to be classified as hemp in the US – seeds included. Some local jurisdictions on the state level (and other regions of the world) have their own definition of what distinguishes hemp from cannabis. Still, this 0.3% THC content threshold is quickly becoming an accepted standard.
Cannabis seeds, while again technically from the same plant as hemp seeds, are more often associated with the legal cannabis market for medicinal and recreational consumption. Anyone involved within the cannabis industry knows that the key to a high-quality cannabis product starts with the seeds used for production.
These seeds are essential both to the businesses and farmers who grow the cannabis crops and the consumers who use the many different varieties of cannabis products currently available. And while there are numerous methods to growing and producing the plant itself, the entire industry relies on the ability to use viable cannabis seeds obtained from a reputable and reliable source.
Another big difference between cannabis seeds and hemp seeds is cost. Since cannabis seeds are most often sold for purposes of growing cannabis plants, their seeds will typically cost you more than what you’d pay for hemp seeds at the grocery store. The rise of legal hemp and the CBD market has increased the value of hemp seeds a bit, but cannabis seeds will almost always cost considerably more.
Again, established regulations are what legally create the differences between hemp and cannabis in their many forms. Cannabis seeds in the US are classified as such if they grow plants with a THC content of 0.3% or higher. If you wonder whether the seeds you have are hemp or cannabis, you may have to wait until you can get the end crop tested to find out.
A guide to buying cannabis seeds
The first couple months of the year is a great time to start planning your cannabis garden to get a head start on the outdoor growing season, which roughly runs from March to November, depending on where you live.
Navigating the cannabis seed market can be challenging when states have different degrees of legality. This guide will answer your questions on buying seeds so you can be on your way to growing your own cannabis.
Is it legal to buy marijuana seeds?
Marijuana seeds are considered a cannabis product just like flower, edibles, and concentrates. Their legality depends on which state you live in. People living in states with adult-use legalization can buy, produce, and sell seeds within their own state, but seeds can’t cross state lines. People living in states with medical marijuana legalization can only buy seeds if they have a medical card.
Seed banks exist outside of the US and can sell them for “souvenir purposes,” but it is illegal to bring seeds into the US and Customs will seize any cannabis seeds they find in packages or on a person.
Where can I buy cannabis seeds?
Many world-renowned seed banks are overseas in the Netherlands, the UK, Spain, and other countries where cannabis laws are less restricted. Seed banks provide seeds from a variety of different breeders.
In states with adult-use legalization or a medical marijuana program, you can buy seeds within your own state, either at a dispensary or through a specific seed company’s website.
Can you buy cannabis seeds online?
Before you purchase seeds online, you’ll need to figure out what strain you want to grow and what breeder you want to buy from.
Because US federal law still prohibits cannabis, it can be hard to find information on seed banks and breeders. Breeders who have a long history and positive reputation are usually a good place to start.
Check out our explainer and buying guide to cannabis seed banks for more info on buying seeds.
To get an idea of what well-established breeders look like, check out:
- Sensi Seeds
- DNA Genetics
- Green House Seeds
- Southern Humboldt Seed Collective
- Exotic Genetix
You can also do some research and find an online grow journal that details the whole growing process of a specific strain from a particular breeder. Through these, you’ll be able to look over another grower’s specific notes and see pictures of the final results.
If you grow some seeds and like the results, try growing another strain from that same breeder and see how it goes.
Do dispensaries sell cannabis seeds?
Some dispensaries in medical and adult-use states sell seeds, but not all. Be sure to check or call ahead to see if they sell seeds. Buying marijuana seeds at the dispensary is far more straightforward, however, your options will be more limited than shopping online.
Dispensary staff should be able to give you information on the seeds they’re selling, but keep in mind that a lot of dispensaries focus on selling flower and end-products. It’s a good idea to call ahead and talk to staff to see if they are knowledgeable about seeds and can give you specific information on growing.
How to look for quality genetics when buying marijuana seeds
Breeders talk about “unstable genetics,” meaning that a seed’s origin is unknown. Make sure that when you buy a packet of seeds that it or the breeder who produced them can list where the seeds came from and how they were crossed and/or backcrossed to get the seed that you hold in your hand. If you can’t get a seed’s history, it could be anything and the result of poor breeding practices.
An inexperienced breeder might cross a male and a female one time and sell the resulting seeds as a new hybrid strain, but professional breeders usually put their strains through several rounds of backcrossing to stabilize the genetics and ensure consistent plants that reflect those genetics.
Which strain should I grow?
Even one weed plant can produce a lot of buds come harvest time, so make sure you grow a strain you like. Note strains you enjoy when you pick something up at the dispensary or smoke with friends, and look for seeds of it when you want to start growing.
Some strains are easier to grow than others because they are more resistant to mold and pests, so if you’re new to growing, you may want to try an easier strain to start.
Some strains also take longer to grow than others. Depending on whether you’re growing indoors or outdoors, you may want to grow a quicker marijuana strain if you live in a climate that get cold and wet early in the season. For example, indicas are known for having a shorter flowering time than sativas.
All of this information should be available to you when buying quality seeds.
What’s the difference between regular, feminized, and autoflower seeds?
If you buy a packet of regular seeds, they’ll come with a mix of males and females. A lot of cultivators prefer to grow these because they haven’t been backcrossed—essentially inbred—as much as feminized or autoflower seeds. You’ll need to sex out the seeds once their reproductive organs show during the flowering phase and discard the males—because they don’t produce buds and will pollenate females, resulting in seeded flowers.
Seeds can come feminized, meaning you can just put them in soil and start growing for buds. These seeds are guaranteed to be bud-producing females and growing them cuts out the step of having to sex out plants and discard the males.
It also reduces the risk of having a stray male sneak into your crop—just one male can pollinate a huge crop, causing your females to focus their energies on producing seeds instead of buds.
Autoflower plants change from the vegetative to flowering state with age, not the changing of their light cycle. They have a short grow-to-harvest time and can be ready to harvest in as little as 2 ½ to 3 months from when you put the seeds in the ground. The downside is that, typically, they are less potent, but autoflower seeds are great for people who want to grow cannabis but don’t want to spend a lot of time doing it.
How much do marijuana seeds cost?
Cannabis seeds usually come in a pack of 10 or 12 seeds and start at around $40 a pack and go up from there. Some high-end genetics can run between $200 to $500 a pack.
Feminized and autoflower seeds will cost more because more breeding work was put in to creating them and they take less time for the grower to get buds.
How many seeds should I buy? Are they all going to survive?
When you grow any amount of seeds, a percentage of them won’t germinate, even if you get them from a reputable breeder. Always count on a few not germinating or dying off, or roughly 1/4 of the total you put in the ground.
When growing regular seeds, some won’t germinate and some will have to be discarded because they’ll turn out to be males. With feminized seeds, some won’t germinate, but a higher percentage of them will turn into flowering plants because there won’t be any males.
If you want six total cannabis plants to harvest for buds and are growing from regular seeds, start with about 4 times as many, or 24 seeds. Some won’t germinate and some will turn out to be males, and then you’ll want to discard down to the six best phenotypes. If growing feminized seeds, you can probably start with about twice as many seeds in this case (about 12); a couple won’t germinate, and then discard down to the six best phenotypes.
Make sure to always stay within your state’s legal limit of growing plants.
How do I buy strain-specific cannabis seeds?
Strains like Blue Dream, Gelato, and Original Glue have gained in popularity in recent years. Check out these resources on how to buy these types of cannabis seeds:
Cannabis seeds are ready to plant and grow once they successfully germinate or once the root has broken through the protective outer shell of the seed. Cannabis seeds are available in regular, feminized, and auto-flowering forms. Home growers of cannabis often choose feminized seeds to ensure that the adult plant will be a flowering female.
Cannabis seeds are brown and about the size of a peppercorn. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
More about marijuana seeds
As with all angiosperms, or flowering plants, cannabis produces seeds that contain all of the genetic information needed for growth and reproduction. When a seed is planted, the translation of this genetic material dictates each unique physical characteristic the mature plant will have. If these are desirable traits, like potency, smell, vigor, etc., a breeder can select for these through a long process of genetic stabilization through generations, which eventually leads to the creation of a cultivar, or strain.
Anatomy of a cannabis seed
Cannabis seeds are about the size of a peppercorn, ovular in form, and pointed on each end with a ridge that transverses longitudinally on only one side from tip to tip. It is this ridge that opens up during germination. The opposite side is rounded. The body of the seed is brown, but underdeveloped and unfertilized seeds can have an off-white color and are typically smaller in size.
Photo by: Illustration by Weedmaps
The body of a marijuana seed is spotted or striped, most commonly with light brown specks, but some varieties of cannabis can have red or yellow markings. Plant embryos are contained within seeds and house all cells that will eventually differentiate into leaves, roots, and stems. Embryos, found within the reproductive organs, are protected by an outer envelope called the pericarp. Crucial components of the plant embryo are the cotyledons, the first leaves to appear from the seed, and the radicle, which develops into the primary root. Once the seed germinates and begins its growth into a mature plant, special structures called root caps protect the growing tips of the plant.
Today’s commercially cultivated cannabis does not contain seeds. The cultivation practices that have made this widespread are rooted in fundamental biological concepts. Cannabis is a dioecious plant, meaning it has separate male and female organisms, just like humans. If a female plant matures in the presence of a male plant, pollen from the male will fertilize the female, and its bracts will contain seeds at the end of the flowering cycle. Seedless cannabis is commonplace even when it originates from mass-produced outdoor cultivation, but not too long ago, this was not the case.
Around the middle of the 20th century, growers discovered that culling male plants as soon as they display their sexed traits would result in a crop containing exclusively unfertilized females, yielding cannabis flowers higher in THC that don’t require the removal of seeds before smoking. This seedless cannabis was from then on dubbed sinsemilla, which translates to “without seed” in Spanish. It is also commonly spelled sensimilla.
How cannabis seeds are produced
Commercial growers who produce cannabis flower desire seedless plants but there are also cultivators interested in selling seed to the growing home-cultivation market. Cannabis seed production begins with the pollen grain of a male plant. From this grain, a pollen tube grows, producing male generative cells that disperse in the form of pollen. The migration of pollen into a female plant ovule triggers pistils to fall off and seed production to begin. The bracts, which contain the ovule, will then fill with seeds. Since seeded plants are a natural outcome of pollen fertilizing eggs, producing cannabis seeds is a matter of letting nature take its course.
What’s the difference between feminized, regular, and autoflower seeds?
There are a few differences to note between these cannabis seed types.
- Feminized seeds: The key difference between feminized cannabis seeds and regular cannabis seeds is that feminized seeds have been engineered to produce exclusively female plants. This matters for cultivation since smokable flowers are produced only by female plants. A male plant can potentially ruin a harvest if it pollinates nearby female plants, causing them to produce flowers full of seeds.
- Autoflowering seeds: Autoflowering seeds have been carefully bred to begin and complete the flowering process based on the plant’s maturity rather than how much light the plant receives each day. Autoflowering seeds tend to be simpler to grow and don’t require as much light, making them perfect for places where the growing season is short or for indoor grows.
Is it illegal to buy marijuana seeds?
Marijuana seeds are a cannabis product, so if you live in a place where cannabis is illegal, then seeds are also illegal. However, some people who live in places where weed is not yet legal purchase marijuana seeds from marijuana seed banks as a “souvenir.” Either way, if you want to buy marijuana seeds and cannabis is illegal where you live, then you face some degree of risk. On the other hand, if you live in a state where cannabis is legal, especially one where home cultivation is allowed, then you should be able to purchase seeds legally. Remember, even in states where cannabis is legal, it’s still illegal nationally in the US. To cut your risk as much as possible, purchase cannabis seeds from in-state or local providers so they don’t have to cross state lines or be transported by mail.
Where to buy marijuana seeds
Seeds are sold in brick-and-mortar locations legally in many countries across Europe and are often traded online. As cannabis legalization expands in North America, more retail locations are carrying seeds as well. Feminized seeds are the most popular, but providers likely have access to many strains of mixed male and female seeds. Carefully sifting through cannabis flower before using the grinder will usually turn up a few seeds, too. Professionally sourced seeds assure quality genetics and viability, but saved seeds can be a cheap source of cannabis genetics for the hobbyist grower.
Do dispensaries sell seeds?
If you live in a state or country where cannabis is legal, and where individuals are allowed to grow their own plants at home, then you should be able to buy seeds at most legal dispensaries. This might not be the case if you’re in a location that does not allow home growing. The best thing to do is simply check your local laws and ask your local budtender.
How much do marijuana seeds cost?
A pack of marijuana seeds—typically containing around ten or so seeds—will run you anywhere from around $40 on the low end and as much as $400 or $500 on the upper end. The price of marijuana seeds depends on a number of variables including:
- Quality of genetics
- The reputation of the breeder who produced the seeds
- How rare or potent the strain is
- Whether they’re regular, feminized, or autoflowering (feminized and autoflowering marijuana seeds tend to cost more)
How many seeds should I buy?
If you’re trying to grow just a handful of plants for your own private consumption, then you can get away with purchasing one or two packs at a time. Since most commercially sold marijuana seeds come in packages of 10 or so seeds, 10 to 20 seeds should be enough to ensure a good harvest even if a few seeds fail. This is a baseline for a small, private crop andany larger operations should scale up accordingly.
How to store cannabis seeds
Seed providers sometimes vacuum-seal and freeze seeds for long-term storage, but commercially-available seeds in Dutch headshops are sold in small, plastic vials at room temperature and low humidity (6-12%).
Humidity and light is the main enemy of seed storage. Beyond that, seeds can remain viable for up to two years when stored in even the most haphazard conditions. Marijuana seeds swept up off the floor or found in the bottom of a drawer have been known to grow into vigorous young plants.
Germinating cannabis seeds
Germination is the process of beginning the vegetative growth of the new cannabis plant. Sometimes referred to colloquially as “popping,” this process starts when the seed is exposed to water and light. The seed abandons its state of dormancy, or quiescence, and resumes essential metabolic processes that feed on energy stores to delicately rupture open the shell and grow its first root. This root will elongate until it has taken hold of the medium, after which it will pull two small embryonic leaves (cotyledons) from the seed shell. Cotyledons are in the seed before germination and are not considered “true” leaves. The cotyledons will grow until they are about one centimeter long, and once the stem below this is around five centimeters tall, another set up true leaves will grow out of the top and the stem between the true leaves and cotyledons will continue to elongate.
Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Generally speaking, cannabis is a hardy plant that will grow and even thrive in a diversity of environments. However, to assure germination, several steps can be taken. One method calls for a moist paper towel inserted into a plastic bag. Once the first root appears, the seedling must be carefully transferred to some soil before the root takes hold to the paper towel.
Cannabis seeds can also be germinated in a peat pellet. Plant the seed only just below the surface. Once the seedling has taken hold in the pellet, directly transfer it to a pot; the roots will grow right through the soft fabric that encases the peat, at which point the pellet can be directly placed into soil. Whichever method is used, keep the temperature between 70 -90 degrees Fahrenheit (21-32 degrees Celsius), ideally at 78 degrees Fahrenheit (about 26 degrees Celsius), keeping seedlings covered to maintain humidity. Seedlings and young cuttings require photosynthetically active radiation that is more heavily weighted in the blue portion spectrum; a common fluorescent desk lamp will suffice until they are about 5 inches, or about 13 centimeters, tall.