Hemp vs. Marijuana: What’s the Difference?

Though hemp and marijuana come from the same plant species, known as “cannabis sativa”, they couldn’t be any more different from one another.

If you’re a newcomer to either the CBD or cannabis industry, you’ve most likely heard these two terms thrown around. If you had always assumed hemp and marijuana were the same, you’re not the only one.

When marijuana was criminalized back in the 1930’s, hemp was thrown into the same category as it. And as time went on, more and more people associated the two as one in the same.

Throughout this article, we clear up this confusion and offer an in-depth analysis on the differences between hemp and marijuana.

The Origin of These Differences

Cannabis plants are scientifically divided into three separate species:

  • Cannabis sativa
  • Cannabis indica
  • Cannabis ruderalis

As mentioned, hemp and marijuana are both cannabis sativa plants. There’s a lot of misinformation spreading that claims hemp and marijuana are each their own species of plants. However, this is anything but true.

In fact, hemp and marijuana are simply terms that our culture has embraced purely for convenience. Within the scientific community, hemp and marijuana are technically the same thing.

The differences come when we look into society’s outlook.

What is Marijuana?

Marijuana is used to define a variety of cannabis species that contain more than 0.3% THC (by dry weight) and hold the possibility of producing psychoactive/euphoric effects – or, in other words, a “high.”

The term marijuana wasn’t created until the 1910s when millions of Mexicans took refuge in the United States after the revolution. During this time, many Americans developed anti-Mexican attitudes and pushed for ways to discriminate against the refugees. ¹

This was when the term “marijuana” was invented. Many of the Mexican refugees were using cannabis and, since it wasn’t a popular drug in the U.S., many Americans saw cannabis as an opportunity to push their convictions.

Rumors started to spread through the country claiming “marijuana” made Mexicans dangerous and homicidal. As this negative perception began to take hold of the public, the government stepped in an outlawed it.

Due to all this, some people see the term “marijuana” as a misrepresentation of what cannabis actually is. Some even go as far as to consider it a racist slogan.

Still, it can’t be ignored that today’s society embraces the term “marijuana” differently than 1910’s society. To put it simply, marijuana is used when discussing a cannabis plant that gets you high.

What is Hemp?

Hemp is used to define a cannabis plant that contains less than 0.3% THC (by dry weight) and will not produce intoxicating effects.

The term “hemp” has been used throughout history for a multitude of different reasons and legally identified as we see it today until the Agricultural Act of 2018, which legalized hemp across the United States. ²

If you’ve been looking into the CBD industry, it’s important to note that all legal CBD products must be made from hemp. Still, beyond CBD, hemp has a number of other different uses, including (but not limited to): ³

  • Canvas
  • Cardboard
  • Clothing
  • Denim
  • Fine Fabrics
  • Food
  • Insulation
  • Netting
  • Oil paints
  • Paper
  • Rope
  • Shampoos
  • Soaps
  • Tarps

In fact, as of this time, hemp has over 25,000 different known uses!

The Main Differences in Hemp and Marijuana

The only true difference between hemp and marijuana is the amount of THC it has. Due to this, there’s been a lot of confusion deciphering the two.

Since hemp and marijuana have completely different legal regulations and overall effects, it’s in your best interest to understand the differences between the two.

The following is a basic guide informing of these differences:

1.) Cultivation

Since hemp and marijuana are used differently, they’re both also cultivated in distinct ways.

In order to grow marijuana that’s high in THC-count, it’s important to keep harvesting efforts in a controlled environment. Whether this is outside or indoors, all marijuana plants that eventually make it into your joint are female as they produce the most bud.

When it comes to growing marijuana, cultivators have a difficult challenge. Since the environment must be controlled, growers must always maintain the perfect conditions, such as the right temperature, lighting, and humidity.

On the other hand, hemp doesn’t require all this effort in order to get a good cultivation. Most hemp is grown outdoors as it’s highly adaptable to various conditions.

To take things a step further, fully yielded hemp and marijuana crops also have some physical differences. These include:

  • Hemp plants grow to be tall and skinny while marijuana plants grow to be short and bushy.
  • Hemp leaves are skinny while marijuana leaves are broad.
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2.) Chemical Composition

There’s no denying that only the trained eye is going to have an easy time deciphering a marijuana plant from a hemp plant.

In order for many people to truly see the difference, they must look at the chemical composition of these plants.

Under a microscope, it’ll be found that marijuana has high amounts of THC. While marijuana can also yield high amounts of CBD, it usually doesn’t contain as much as a hemp plant. ⁴

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3.) Legal Status

Currently, hemp is legalized on a nationwide level whereas marijuana is only legal in specific states. Both plants remain classified as a Schedule I controlled substance.

To better understand these legal differences:

  • Any cannabis plant with less than 0.3% THC is legal across the United States.
  • Any cannabis plant with more than 0.3% THC is medically and recreationally legal in specific states.

If you’re interested in the cannabis industry, it’s important to look into the laws surrounding your state. Even though hemp is legal nationwide, some states have stricter regulations than others.

Final Word

Hemp and marijuana may just be terms our culture coined to differentiate the various chemical structures of the cannabis plant. But in a society that allows one chemical structure and prohibits another, these terms are vital to understand.

At the end of the day, the biggest takeaway from this article is people who consume marijuana can expect to get high while those who consume hemp will not.

Your Questions

Still have questions concerning the differences between hemp and marijuana?

We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further information on the topic, we’d also love to hear from you.

Reference Sources

¹ Alexander Campbell King Law Library: Survey on Marijuana Law in the United States: History of Marijuana Regulation in the United States

² Congress.gov: H.R.5485 – Hemp Farming Act of 2018

³ Congressional Research Services: Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity

⁴ Dialogues in clinical neuroscience: Cannabinoids in health and disease

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