What is the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

What is the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

March 25, 2019

With hemp legalization sweeping through the country and the world, do you know the difference between the varietals of the cannabis plant? Discover the difference between hemp and marijuana with myCBD.org!

Exploring the Differences Between Hemp and Marijuana

Thanks to decades of misinformation about Cannabis infusing the public discourse, most people don’t know that there are important distinctions among Cannabis species, specifically hemp and marijuana. With terms like cannabis, marijuana, hemp, and weed getting used interchangeably, it is unclear “what is what” for the millions of adults with access to some form of legal cannabis

While both cannabis and hemp deliver lifestyle and wellness benefits, it’s important to understand the differences between each species and how to use them.

Explaining the Terms ‘Cannabis,’ ‘Hemp,’ and ‘Marijuana’

While it may seem confusing at first, it’s important to realize that cannabis, hemp, and marijuana are not the same plant.

What is Cannabis?

Cannabis is the designation for a family of plants with different species and sub-species. One of the oldest crops cultivated by man, there are two primary classifications for cannabis: Indica and Sativa. There is also a third, lesser-known classification known as Cannabis ruderalis. While marijuana (which we will cover shortly) can have sativa or indica genetics (modern strains usually contain both) hemp is a member of the cannabis sativa family.

While both hemp and marijuana come from the Cannabis Sativa plant, due to each plant’s biological structure, they have several very distinct differences that have become crucial to our legal definitions of these plant varieties. When it comes to hemp and marijuana, the THC potency of a plant or crop can determine if it’s a legal substance or a scheduled narcotic.

The term ‘hemp’ typically refers to a sub-species of cannabis sativa bred specifically to produce strong fibers for use in manufacturing clothing and other goods, including seeds, oils, lotions, and paper. Hemp also contains minimal levels of THC, the psychoactive compound responsible for getting users ‘high.’

Marijuana is a term used to refer to a variety of cannabis sativa bred specifically for medicinal or psychoactive effects. While hemp varieties are grown for fuel and fiber, marijuana is consumed so users can experience its psychoactive effects.

The Difference Between Hemp vs Marijuana Anatomy

While hemp and marijuana can appear similar, if you know what to look for, each plant has very clear distinctions.

One of the easiest ways to identify the difference between hemp and cannabis is by looking at different crops. Bred with trichomes in mind, marijuana plants have bushy, broad leaves and are packed with sticky, dense buds called trichomes. The hemp plant, on the other hand, are not only taller and skinnier than marijuana, but they also have thinner leaves concentrated towards the top of the plant.

cannabis sativa plant

Hemp vs Marijuana: Chemical Composition

All varieties of the cannabis plant contain a variety of different chemical components. Two categories of these include terpenes and cannabinoids, both of which are produced in nature (terpenes) and by the human body (cannabinoids). Of the cannabinoids discovered in cannabis and hemp, the most well-known are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), Cannabidiol(CBD), and Cannabinol (CBD).

While cannabinoids have been found to deliver profound benefits to our bodies, THC induces psychoactive effects while CBN delivers mild psychoactive effects and CBD delivers none. Why is this important? When comparing Hemp vs Marijuana, hemp is classified as cannabis with a low concentration of THC (0.3% or less). Alternately, legal marijuana contains 15% to 40% THC. 

Using Hemp vs. Marijuana Use

Given its breeding for high THC levels, it is natural that marijuana is grown for psychoactive properties, which can have both medicinal and recreational uses. Prior to the legalization of cannabis, marijuana was usually smoked. Today, marijuana products can be smoked, vaporized, ingested or applied directly into the body. The development of THC extraction techniques has also opened up consumer options to include inhalers, capsules, edibles and more

Though not rich in THC, Hemp has a number of industrial applications and is capable of producing hundreds of critical resources including clothing, building materials, paper, biofuel, food products, oils, seeds, and more. Hemp is also rich in CBD meaning that crop can also be used to produce a number of CBD products sans THC.

Hemp vs Marijuana: Legality

The potency levels of THC found in Hemp vs Marijuana play such an imperative role in defining how each plant is used in addition to defining factor the legal status of each plant. While hemp has been federally legalized in the US, each state implements different laws based on the sales, usage, distribution, and cultivation of Hemp. In America, most states allow up to a 0.3% THC-content for cannabis to be classified as legal hemp. In Europe and other parts of the world, hemp is classified as cannabis with 0.2% THC or less.

While hemp is not considered dangerous because of its low levels of THC, the high THC-content of marijuana made it illegal in most of the world for decades. Thanks to the work of advocates, doctors, and patients, marijuana decriminalization began but there is still progress to make.

Discover the Difference Between Hemp CBD and Marijuana CBD

Now that you know the difference between cannabis and hemp, find out how terpenes can enhance your CBD routine!


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