Marijuana and beer are two of the most beloved intoxicants in the world, and both are becoming increasingly popular.
Now that cannabis legalization is sweeping across the U.S., more and more people are using weed to relax after a long day, as well as enjoying its many medicinal benefits.
Beer is another popular way to chill out in the evening, and one where there is now more choice than ever. Local microbreweries and craft beers have become extremely commonplace, and quality is constantly improving as well as variety.
But the link between cannabis and beer goes even deeper than their shared relaxing properties. This is due to a common brewing ingredient, hops.
As it turns out, marijuana and hops are actually related. Let’s look at what this means for weed and beer lovers worldwide, and how this relationship could lead us into a brand-new era of cannabis-free CBD.
The Relationship Between Marijuana and Hops
Both cannabis and hops are members of the Cannabaceae family, along with another species known as Celtis, or hackberries. However, this is not all that these two species have in common.
Cannabis can be divided into three subspecies: Sativa, indica, and ruderalis.
Sativa cannabis plants tend to be tall and slender with delicate leaves. They are native to hot, sunny regions such as South Africa and Mexico.
Indica plants are generally shorter and bushier with broader leaves. They originated in cooler, mountainous areas such as the foothills of the Himalayas.
Finally, ruderalis, the least-known cannabis subspecies, is native to Russia. It has a low THC content but is useful for its ability to flower automatically without changes in its light-dark cycle.
Hops also have three main subspecies: Humulus lupulus, Humulus japonicus, and Humulus yunnanensis. These species are native to Asia, Europe, and parts of North America. Humulus lupulus is the variety used in brewing, and it is prized for its distinctive aroma and flavor.
Cannabis plants and hops plants have a somewhat similar appearance. Both have lobed and serrated leaves, although hops also have hooked hairs on their stems which they use for climbing. Cannabis, on the other hand, grows upright on a woody stem.
Both plants are dioecious, meaning that they produce both male and female plants, and the wind pollinates both species. Both plants also produce resinous glands which contain their active compounds. In hops plants, these are known as lupulin glands, and in cannabis, they are known as trichomes.
And the similarities between marijuana and hops do not end there. The two plants share many of their traditional uses, not to mention their effects on human health.
Traditional Uses of Cannabis and Hops
Cannabis has been used for millennia as an herbal medicine and a recreational drug. Its popularity spanned many continents until it was demonized and outlawed in the early 20th century. We now know that much of the anti-marijuana propaganda of that time was based on lies and prejudice, but the plant’s reputation suffered greatly because of it.
Only now are we finally starting to realize the errors of our ways. As scientific research highlights the potential benefits of cannabis, support for the herb is growing and laws are steadily changing for the better.
The Farm Bill of 2018 means that it is now legal to grow industrial hemp from which the popular cannabis-based remedy CBD can be extracted. Hemp fibers are also extremely strong and can be used to manufacture textiles, paper, and even an environmentally-friendly alternative to plastic.
Hops fibers were also traditionally used to make cloth and paper. Other historical uses of hops include as a medicine, a preservative, and a dye. It has even been suggested that hops may have once been eaten as a vegetable.
Of course, the most well-known use of hops is in brewing, although this is actually a relatively modern practice. Hops contain chemicals known as alpha acids, which give beer its bitter taste, as well as aromatic compounds known as terpenes (more on these later). Hops also have antibacterial properties, helping beer to keep longer, and enhance yeast growth to help create the perfect ale.
Although both cannabis and hops are versatile plants with a multitude of uses, arguably the most important is their medicinal benefits. It will probably not shock you to discover that the two species are similar in that respect too!
Medicinal Uses of Cannabis and Hops
Multiple research studies have shown how marijuana can relieve the symptoms of a wide range of conditions including pain, nausea, mood disorders, and seizures, to name just a few. The plant gets most of its medicinal properties from a combination of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids.
These compounds work together to influence the body’s endocannabinoid system, which is responsible for regulating many of our biological processes.
Perhaps one of the most notable effects of marijuana is its ability to induce a sense of euphoria and relaxation. This is due to its influence on receptors in the brain known as CB1 receptors. When the molecules in cannabis, especially THC, bind with these receptors, this has a profound effect on our neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals produced by our bodies which are responsible for controlling everything from our emotions to our appetite. By changing the way that our nervous systems release these neurotransmitters, cannabis can have a dramatic effect on our perception of the world while we are under the influence.
The exact balance of cannabinoids and terpenes in a particular marijuana strain determines the kind of high it will induce. Some strains are known for their uplifting, cerebral effects, while others provide a more sedating ‘body high.’
Like some varieties of cannabis, hops also have a sedative effect. They are traditionally used as an herbal sleep remedy and can be taken orally or sewn into ‘hops pillows.’ These pillows release their aroma into your bedroom and are thought to help you drift off to sleep more easily.
Hops’ sedative effects are partly due to a particular alpha acid with the name 2-methyl-3-buten-2-ol. This chemical increases the activity of a neurotransmitter called GABA. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning that it has the effect of calming the nervous system and reducing excitement or anxiety.
Although hops generally do not contain cannabinoids, and cannabis does not contain alpha acids, they do both provide some of the same terpenes which add to their relaxing effects. Both plants contain high levels of myrcene, a terpene with sedating and muscle relaxant effects, as well as humulene, caryophyllene, and farnesene.
These shared terpenes could be one more reason why both weed and hops have a calming effect and are often used to promote a good night’s sleep.
Can You Get CBD from Hops?
Although hops do not usually contain cannabinoids, there is one subspecies which breaks the mold.
Humulus yunnanensis is a subspecies of hops which is native to South-West China and North-East India. In this area, both hops and cannabis grow wild, and one scientist, Dr. Bomi Joseph, theorized that this could allow cross-pollination to occur.
Indeed, the similarities between Humulus yunnanensis and cannabis are immediately apparent. The leaves are a very similar shape, far more similar than marijuana and the Humulus lupulus used in beer making.
But could this subspecies of hops really contain cannabinoids? Dr. Joseph decided there was one way to find out.
He traveled to northern India and tested various hops plants for cannabinoids. Here, he discovered that his theory was correct. He found hops plants containing THC, THC and CBD, and CBD alone.
It was the CBD plants that Dr. Joseph was really interested in studying. He believed that they could provide an alternative source of the compound for those wanting to benefit from CBD without using cannabis itself.
He took some seeds back to the town of Ooty in India, where he worked on developing the species. The result was a new variety of hops known as Humulus yunnanensis var. kriya, or simply Humulus kriya for short.
Through careful cross-breeding, Dr. Joseph managed to produce a variety of hops containing as much as 18% CBD. He patented his new creation, and Medical Marijuana Inc. made this cannabis-free CBD product available to the public. The rest is history!
Marijuana and Hops: Final Thoughts
Cannabis and hops are two different plants with a great deal in common.
Both have been used medicinally and recreationally by man for centuries, and both have similar, psychoactive effects.
These plants also have similar anatomy, providing resinous glands which are packed with terpenes and other beneficial compounds. It is even possible to get CBD from certain hops plants!
So, the next time you sit down with a joint and a beer, think about where cannabis and hops originated. They are far more closely related than you might think!