Hemp Vs Cannabis – What Is The Difference?

hemp vs cannabis

The Differences Between Hemp & Cannabis Explained

Hemp Vs Cannabis has been a matter of contention since the recreational and medicinal use of cannabis became mainstream in the United States.

Hemp plants and cannabis plants are very similar in the eyes of those seeking the benefits of cannabis.

However, to the federal government, there is a drastic difference between the two. 

The CBD industry is in the midst of an explosion in terms of growth and demand. This legal industry has skyrocketed to unimaginable levels.

Comparably, cannabis, an industry closely related to CBD, is trying to work its way through a controversial reputation and murky legality. 

At a fundamental level, hemp and cannabis plants are both classified as cannabis. 

But while hemp is federally legal and allowed in all 50 states, cannabis remains illegal at a federal level with only 18 states and Washington D.C. allowing its use for recreational purposes

So, why are hemp and cannabis viewed so differently? 

This article breaks down the legality, anatomy, uses, and all other vital factors that distinguish hemp from marijuana.

Hemp Vs Cannabis

Generally, cannabis is a popular genus of flowering plants belonging to the family  Cannabaceae. 

The total number of plant species in this genus remains a topic for debate.  

But currently, there are three well-known species, including cannabis Indica, cannabis Sativa, and cannabis ruderalis

Most people assume that hemp and marijuana are different species of cannabis. But in reality, they are not different plants!

In fact, the two plants are taxonomically the same plant, meaning that they are both cannabis but with different names. 

However, while cannabis is a variety of Indica or Cannabis Sativa plants, hemp solely belongs to the Cannabis Sativa species. 

With the rise in both hemp and cannabis-derived products on the market right now, there’s a pressing need for recreational and medicinal cannabis consumers to understand the exact differences between the two plants. 

In the same breath, let’s dive into each of these terms and get to the heart of their relationship with cannabis. 

What Is Hemp?

Hemp is a plant that belongs to the species cannabis Sativa L. It is naturally dioecious, meaning that its male and female flowers are found on separate plants. 

Male plants only contain male flowers while female plants only contain female flowers. 

By legal definition, Hemp is any cannabis plant that contains nothing beyond 0.3% THC by dry weight. 

These trace amounts of THC are negligible and cannot deliver any mind-altering effects or get you high.

Hemp plants have been cultivated for many decades and were mainly planted for industrial uses in the fabric and textile industries. 

Hemp seeds are wildly popular in the health and wellness markets. 

They are mainly consumed as an oil (hemp seed oil) abundant with vitamins, vital minerals, and polyunsaturated omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. 

Hemp - the history

During the war on drugs in the early 1970s in the United States, hemp plants and hemp seeds were made illegal due to their close similarity to marijuana.

But in 2018, the then president of the United States signed the 2018 Farm Bill, essentially removing hemp (cannabis plants with less than 0.3 percent THC) and its derivatives from the classification of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. 

This move legalized the cultivation, production, possession, and consumption of hemp and its derivatives. 

Industrial hemp is popularly grown today for its fibre, seeds (hemp oil), and flower (CBD oil).

What Is Cannabis?

Cannabis is a term used in reference to a variety of plants that produce more than O.3% THC by dry weight. 

This amount of THC is potent enough to deliver psychoactive effects, trigger feelings of euphoria, and get you high. 

The history of cannabis is a turbulent one, and one that is associated with inequalities and prejudice against the minority and people of color. 

Cannabis - the history

In the late 19th century, cannabis was popularly used as a medicinal ingredient and was openly sold in pharmacies. 

During the Mexican revolution in 1910, Mexican immigrants introduced the simple act of smoking marihuana (recreational marijuana) to the U.S. 

Amid a growing anti-Mexican fear, hysterical claims about marijuana began to surface, such allegations that it caused violence, insanity, and a ‘lust for blood’.

Consequently, many states passed laws that banned pot.

In 1972 the Shafer Commission, which had been appointed by U.S. President Nixon, found that cannabis was as safe as alcohol and recommended that personal use of cannabis should be decriminalized in favor of a public health approach.  Nixon rejected this recommendation.

Following a serious battle against marijuana that heavily relied on racism, the Marijuana Tax Act was passed in 1937.

Essentially criminalizing cannabis throughout the United States. 

In 1972, however, the Shafer Commission, which had been appointed by U.S. President Nixon, found that cannabis was as safe as alcohol and recommended that personal use of cannabis should be decriminalized in favor of a public health approach. 

Though Nixon rejected this recommendation, many states began decriminalizing marijuana, and others reviewed their penalties.

There was a major shift in the view of marijuana, and many states started allowing the sale and consumption of medical marijuana by patients with AIDS, cancer, and other serious illnesses. 

In recent years, more states have been permitting cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes. 

However, cannabis and its derivatives remain illegal at a federal level.

The Main Differences Between Hemp Vs Cannabis

Because hemp and cannabis are the same species of plants, they share a boatload of similarities and can appear strikingly alike, at least to the naked eye. 

But while there is confusion surrounding hemp vs cannabis, the key differences between the two are relatively straightforward. 

The defining factor between hemp and cannabis boils down to one thing – the THC content in the plant.

Where cannabis contains more than o.3% THC while hemp produces much less THC (below 0.3%).

Based on these amounts of THC, cannabis plants will get you high, but no matter how much hemp flower you smoke, hemp cannot get you high.  

Considering that the legalities of hemp and cannabis vary greatly, and they deliver different effects, you definitely want to get your facts right before navigating the cannabis market. 

To better understand how this two compare, consider the main differences between hemp vs cannabis below:

The Chemical Composition of Hemp Vs Cannabis

Perhaps the main difference between hemp plants and cannabis plants is the concentration of THC and CBD chemical compounds

Both hemp and cannabis produce a wide variety of well known cannabinoids, with THC and CBD being the most prevalent in the two plants. 

Cannabidiol, often shortened as CBD, is the non-intoxicating cannabinoid in cannabis plants. 

Rigorous research into the health benefits of CBD,  supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has found that CBD can help with numerous symptoms.

Such as treating epilepsy and pain relief. Hemp and cannabis both contain high levels of CBD.

Tetrahydrocannabinol, aka THC, is the intoxicating compound in cannabis that gets you high. 

Anecdotally speaking, THC has been used widely for numerous medicinal purposes like reducing nausea and migraines. 

Recent clinical trials have backed THCs health claims to help with symptoms like insomnia, glaucoma, and anxiety. 

Marijuana plants possess very high levels of THC, between 5-30%. Comparably, hemp plants produce less THC, with nothing beyond 0.3% THC amount.

The Legality of Hemp Vs Cannabis

Hemp and cannabis have very contrasting legal statuses, thanks to their varying THC levels. 

The  Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 prohibited cannabis consumption and distribution throughout the United States. 

Years later, this Act was termed unconstitutional and replaced with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. 

This placed cannabis plants and cannabis products in Schedule 1, until the science of cannabis could be accessed.

The Shafer Commission doubted the classification of marijuana as an illicit substance and declared that it should not be listed as a schedule 1. 

But President Richard Nixon disregarded this recommendation, and marijuana remains a schedule 1 substance to date. 

Cannabis is still considered an illegal substance under federal law, but individual state laws allow its use as a recreational drug for adults.

The hemp agricultural act of 2018 was a proposed law aimed to eliminate hemp (cannabis plants with less than 0.3% THC) from Schedule 1 controlled substances. 

On 20th December 2018, the farm bill was signed into law, legalizing the cultivation and consumption of hemp throughout the U.S. 

However, cannabis and CBD laws vary across state lines, with some states restricting the type of CBD products to be produced and distributed.

The Cultivation of Hemp Vs Cannabis

Hemp and cannabis are relatively the same plants, but they are grown for different purposes. 

Cannabis plants are selectively bred for medicinal and recreational purposes, while hemp plants are grown for their fibre, nutritious seeds, and CBD. 

When growing hemp, farmers are looking for a high amount of CBD and other minor cannabinoids while maintaining the little THC (0.3% THC or less) legally required by the federal government. 

Hemp cultivation doesn’t require any special equipment or manipulation of conditions as it grows naturally outdoors.

Here, farmers mainly look to maximize the quality and quantity of the harvest. 

Unlike hemp, cannabis growers are looking to produce very high concentrations of THC and CBD

Different cannabis strains are bred in controlled environments where conditions like lighting, humidity, and temperature are manipulated at different stages of the plant growth.

This achieves specific characteristics, tastes and effects.

Cannabis is still deemed federally illegal. Though some states allow patients to grow their medical marijuana at home, you want to avoid falling on the wrong side of the law.

Having a cannabis cultivation licence allows you to produce cannabis legally. 

The Usages of Hemp Vs Cannabis

Hemp and cannabis both provide users with medicinal benefits thanks to their THC and CBD chemical composition

When you consume marijuana products, either as an edible, tincture, or even smoking flower, the THC delivers its effects by interacting with the receptors in your endocannabinoid system (ECS). 

The ECS plays a large role in regulating pain sensation, appetite, mood, metabolism, and more.  

By binding directly to the CB1 and CB2 receptors, THC stimulates a range of body and mind effects like a euphoric high.

THC has also been found to alleviate chronic pain and boost appetite. 

When you consume hemp, say CBD oil or tinctures, the CBD does not interact with the ECS the same way THC does. 

It does not bind directly with the CB1 and CB2 receptors; instead, experts believe that it stops the breakdown of endocannabinoids (our bodies’ natural cannabinoids) so that they have a more effect on the body.

CBD has been found to provide heart health benefits like lowering blood pressure and heart rate

Currently, cannabis is mainly being cultivated for recreational and medical use

On the flip side, hemp is being cultivated for many different purposes. 

Such as medicinal products to boost the immune system, beauty products to enhance skin health, food products, and industrial purposes like paper and textile making, and more. 

Comparing Hemp Oil vs CBD Oil Vs Cannabis Oil


Legal cannabidiol or CBD oil is sourced from industrial hemp plants, and because it contains very little THC, it can’t get you high.  

The CBD market has exploded in popularity, thanks to its unparalleled therapeutic effects with minimal reversible side effects

There is a wide range of products infused with CBD oil, like CBD tinctures and oils. 

These products are consumed sublingually (placing a few drops of the oil/tincture under the tongue), delivering near-instant effects.

Comparably, products like CBD gummies and capsules must first pass through the digestive tract and liver before being absorbed into the bloodstream, hence a delayed onset of effects. 

While on the market, you will come across varying types of CBD oil, including CBD isolate, Full-spectrum, and Broad-spectrum CBD

As its name suggests, isolate CBD contains only pure CBD molecules without any traces of terpenes, flavonoids, or other compounds. 

Full-spectrum CBD is believed to be the most potent type of CBD due to the entourage effect.

It possesses all compounds of the hemp plant, including less than 0.3% THC. 

On the other hand, broad-spectrum CBD contains all the hemp plant compounds but without any amount of THC

When buying CBD products, you can confirm their purity (absence of heavy metals and insecticides) and potency by going through its certificate of analysis (COA).

Hemp Oil

Hemp oil is also commonly referred to as hemp seed oil. 

It is obtained by a process where Cannabis sativa seeds are thoroughly cleaned, de-shelled, and then cold-pressed. 

The final product is a nutritious oil (hemp oil). Its enthusiasts have nicknamed it a superfood as it is highly nutritious, with essential fatty acids

Note that hemp does not contain any amounts of THC.

Cannabis Oil

Cannabis oil is an oil sourced from cannabis plants. 

Though its composition can vary, cannabis oil often has significant amounts of THC, CBD, minor cannabinoids, terpenes, and other beneficial compounds of the marijuana plant.

What Does The Future Of Cannabis Look Like?

As more states continue to legalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes, the stigma that previously surrounded the plant is quickly fading. 

In fact, the cannabis industry is growing at a rapid rate, with its annual market value projected to hit the $30 billion mark by 2025. 

But even with the legal sale of cannabis products soaring, its future legal status remains unclear, and the industry will likely continue to face many legal challenges.