What Makes Hops and Cannabis So Similar?

cannabis-infused beer

As the cannabis industry continues to gain traction as a legal market, it is slowly seeping into other industries. The alcohol industry, in particular, is beginning to find their piece within this world of marijuana. From wine and cannabis tastings to hemp beers, hops and cannabis are beginning to blend. As the pairing of the two traditional crops has increased in popularity, people are becoming curious about why they pair so well together. Surprisingly, hops and cannabis share quite a few similar traits.

The History Between Hops and Cannabis

While cannabis has been around a fair amount longer than hops, our society is much more comfortable with the production of hops. Even though cannabis dates as far back as B.C., it is not a prevalent plant in our world today. Granted, the tides are turning quite a bit, and cannabis production is taking hold. Nevertheless, the use of hops still dates back to 77 to 79 AD. The use of hops in brewing was unheard of until around 822 AD.  The history of hops is very similar to the journey of cannabis, and both are still gaining popularity in our society today.

Structural Similarities

  • Both of the plant’s leaves are “palmately lobed,” which is when its veins all meet at a common point.
  • Both always have stipules.
  • Both always have cystoliths, which are calcium carbonate crystals found in special organelles within the cell.

Aside from having similar journeys to get to where they are today, hops and cannabis are a part of the same plant family, Cannabinaceae. When discussing hops in the sense of brewing beer, which is what we are familiar with, it is only referring to the hop species, Humulus lupulus. When botanists began classifying plants, they initially started grouping plants with similar structural appearances. It is no question, hops and cannabis plants look very comparable. It was not until the 1990’s did biologists start performing research on plant DNA. In 2002, biologists confirmed hops and cannabis share specific molecular structures; meaning, the similarities between these two plants go far beyond its looks.

A Deeper Look

Ask a random person what they think the similarities are between hops and cannabis. Odds are they compared the taste and smell of the two plants. This answer is correct, but we now understand why hops and cannabis secret similar flavors and aromas; it’s all in the terpenes! Terpenes are a molecular compound produced by base molecules called isoprene. Terpenes are found in a multitude of plants and fruit, and provide the tastes and smell we all adore. Both hops and cannabis are known for having unique terpene profiles which consumers have grown to love. Cannabis varieties do tend to have a broader terpene profile than hops, but they do share comparable profiles.

Common Hop Terpenes

  • Myrcene
  • Beta-Pinene
  • Alpha-Humulene

Common Cannabis Terpenes

  • Myrcene
  • Beta-Pinene
  • Alpha-Humulene
  • Limonene
  • Borneol
  • Linalool
  • Eucalyptol

We now know terpenes have a synergistic effect with certain compounds. We notice this when consuming cannabis as well as when drinking a beer. Terpenes combine with receptors in our bodies and produce specific reactions. Like cannabis, hops have been useful in the medical field for quite some time. They both have relatively similar medicinal applications, but cannabis is taking the lead in this realm. There is a rumor certain hop varieties may contain cannabinoid-like compounds, and a recent rumor went around about hops containing trace amounts of CBD. It’s a myth, the hops we deal with are Humulus lupulus, and CBD is not present in its genetics. Nevertheless, the terpenes are why a sip of a delicious IPA and a puff of cannabis go so well together. Granted, a peppery and earthy cannabis strain may not go so well with a fruity IPA; to each their own though!

Hop Production vs. Cannabis Production

It is crazy how comparable these two plants are and just how much of a role they play in our society. While cannabis production is much more regulated than hop production, the cultivation methods are quite similar. When growing both hops and cannabis, maximizing the flower’s resin glands and natural oils, are done by mass producing female flowers. In particular, the quality of hops depends on the amount of resin and oils available. The concentration of hop oils is a similar process to extracting cannabis concentrates.

Due to the understanding of terpene profiles and extraction methods, utilizing specific hops and cannabis varieties to produce particular experiences is becoming the norm. Like cannabis, there are different strains of hops with unique flavors and aromas. The cultivation of hop varieties has taken off with the rise of craft brewers. Similar to how we have seen a drastic increase in cannabis strains with state legalization spreading.

Common Hop Strains

  • Amarillo – Ales and IPA’s
  • Cascade – Pale Ales, IPA’s, Porters
  • Centennial – Ales, IPA’s
  • Crystal – Ales, Lagers, Pilsners
  • CTZ – American IPA’s, Stout, Lager
  • Fuggle – English-Style Beers
  • Simcoe – Pale Ales, IPA’s, Red Ales, Strong Ales

It will be interesting to see how the relationship between hops and cannabis continues to grow. Hemp beers are gaining popularity every year, and we may even start seeing cannabis-infused beer as the market keeps growing.

Check out available hemp beers, here!