Hemp Vs Marijuana – What’s The Difference?

hemp vs marijuana

Hemp vs Marijuana - Everything You Need To Know

Finding yourself confused about the differences between hemp vs marijuana?

Don’t worry, you aren’t the only one!

With the explosion of the CBD industry over the past decade, a number of new terms, state laws, and medical claims for the use of cannabis have been made.

Often you will see CBD products marketed as containing hemp oil or cannabis oil, so are they the same thing? 

Well yes and no!

The story starts with the humble but versatile cannabis plant and continues with a multi-billion dollar industry.

Keep reading to find out more.

Cannabis - An Origin Story

Cannabis is one of humanity’s oldest crops, with records of use dating back over 6000 years. 

The evolution and domestication of the cannabis plant is unknown but we do know that humans have been closely associated with it since prehistory.

Cannabis is a genus of flowering plants in the family Cannabaceae.

The number of plant species within the genus is disputed but there are three recognised varieties of cannabis: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis.

There is an alternative viewpoint that Cannabis Sativa is the only species of plant and all others including indica and ruderalis are strains of it.

Scientists are split on this which might explain why the internet offers both explanations.

Each strain has different qualities, they differ in appearance, where they can grow, and their effects when consumed.

A common misconception when we talk about hemp vs marijuana is that we’re talking about two different types of cannabis sativa plant.

Whereas in actual fact, both plants are cannabis plants and could even be from the same origin of the strain.

However, there are subtle differences which we’ll come on to next.

What is Hemp?

Ok, so if marijuana and hemp are the same things then why don’t we smoke hemp?

Let’s take a look at exactly what hemp is, and you may be surprised to know that our association with what we now call hemp goes back a very long time!

Hemp is what we describe as a cannabis plant containing less than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive compound that gives users euphoric effects.

But we’ve been using hemp for thousands of years, how did we know what its THC percentage was?

The simple answer is that we didn’t.

Much of what we previously used as industrial hemp may have now been defined as marijuana.

The new definition was brought in at a federal level when President Donald Trump signed the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, also known as the Farm Bill.

Since its classification and removal from the controlled substances act in 2015, hemp cultivation and demand have been on the rise.

According to CNN, the hemp production industry could be worth 1.8billion by 2022.

What is Marijuana?

By contrast, then, we define marijuana as any cannabis plant containing more than 0.3% THC.

This tends to mostly encompass recreational marijuana and some full-spectrum CBD products that are marketed for alternative medicinal use.

Marijuana in its full spectrum form contains all of its natural cannabinoids, although sometimes bred to unnatural levels in some strains!

Marijuana growers have interbred strains of cannabis, creating new hybrid forms which elicit different effects on the user. 

Some strains that have high levels of THC will be cultivated purely to bring a feeling of euphoria for recreational purposes.

Other strains will contain different compounds that are grown to ease chronic pain for example.

Uses of hemp vs Uses of marijuana

Cannabis is an extremely versatile plant and has a range of uses aside from the obvious.

The key difference between hemp and marijuana, other than their legal status, is in what they are used for.

We should essentially view the cannabis industry in two parts. The CBD industry and the hemp industry. 

Hemp strains are grown to maximize their use in industrial products.

Traditional uses for the manufacture of rope and paper have now been overshadowed by a whole host of different purposes, such as building materials and carpets.

Canvas was originally woven with hemp instead of cotton, and the word 'canvas' ultimately derives from the latin word “cannabis”, which means “made of hemp.”

The use of marijuana plants differs from their hemp counterparts, mainly due to the amount of THC and other cannabinoids that they contain.

The obvious use of marijuana is as a recreational drug. 

Various states across the United States and countries in Europe continue to campaign to legalize it, with mixed results across the board.

With the negative health effects of smoking becoming more prominent in recent years, cannabis has had to reinvent itself to appeal to a broader market.

The CBD industry was born!

A rebranding of cannabis as medical marijuana has come to the fore.

With the global use of the internet and social media, products like CBD oil and CBD extract have exploded into popular culture.

Claims that cannabis use can tackle cancer, boost your mood, and calm ADHD have been well-publicized.

The science behind hemp vs marijauna

A study examining the genotypes of 43 hemp samples and 81 marijuana samples identified a consistent difference between hemp and marijuana. 

Hemp is genetically more similar to Cannabis indica and marijuana to Cannabis Sativa.

However, this same study revealed that marijuana and hemp plants still “share a common pool of genetic variation.” 

Marijuana strains exist that are more similar genetically to hemp and vice versa.

This confusing genetic mix is thanks to thousands of years of human travel with cannabis seeds and selective breeding.

It is usually easy to spot the difference between industrial hemp and illegal marijuana plants.

Hemp plants tend to be taller and skinnier than their illegal counterparts.

This is because the psychoactive compounds which have no use in industry are usually found in the flower.

Cannabis plants that are grown for their THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids are usually shorter and bushier.

Hemp Vs Marijuana - Are They legal?

The difference between marijuana and hemp plants has considerable legal implications in many countries. 

Most of the studies into hemp vs marijuana have largely focused on determining whether a plant should be classified as drug (narcotic) or non-drug.

Before the 1930s, there were few regulations on the sale and use of cannabis in the United States. 

Major U.S. pharmaceutical firms were importing cannabis from India, in a format that was “ideal for smoking purposes.”

However in 1937, Congress used its taxing power to make marijuana de facto illegal.

They did this by making it very expensive to possess or transfer pot. 

There was a wave of anti-Mexican sentiment following the film ‘reefer madness.’

The film supported a myth that the drug brought out the devil in slum towns where mainly Spanish-speaking civilians lived. 

Ironically, it was Mexico that had prohibited the sale of cannabis before this.

The term ‘marijuana’ was introduced by the press to associate Mexicans with the negative connotations of smoking cannabis.

Today in the United States, “industrial hemp” is classified by the federal government as cannabis containing no more than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight. 

This classification was established in the 2018 Farm Bill by the Food and Drug Administration.

It was refined to include hemp-sourced extracts, cannabinoids, and derivatives in the definition of hemp.

Hemp products according to this definition are legal across the United States and similar laws exist worldwide. 

The leaves of hemp plants contain little or no CBD, and the seeds of the hemp plant have zero CBD content.

CBD is mostly concentrated in the flower (the female plants) commonly referred to as the ‘bud’.

Legal CBD-rich hemp flowers can reach levels near 10% CBD or higher as long as the THC levels remain below 0.3%.

All hemp, therefore, is legal hemp.

The legal definition of marijuana is any cannabis plant that contains more than 0.3% THC.

Marijuana, produced for recreational use tends to contain high levels of THC as this is the cannabinoid that produces psychoactive effects making you feel high.

So whilst science doesn’t differentiate between the two hemps and marijuana, the government definitely does.

What are the differences between Cannabis Oil, Hemp Oil & CBD Oil

If you’re interested in understanding more about CBD then check out our in depth article on cbd oil vs hemp seed oil to find out more.