Hemp vs. Marijuana: What’s the Difference?
What is the difference between hemp plants and marijuana plants? The one-line answer is: hemp and marijuana are taxonomic names for different kinds of Cannabis sativa plants. This legal distinction refers solely to the THC levels in the plant.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- The basics of what hemp and marijuana plants are and uses for both;
- Chemical compounds in hemp and marijuana plants;
And a lot more information, that together will give you a clear idea of the differences between hemp and marijuana. Let’s go!
Hemp plants are cannabis plants with less than 0.3% Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Hemp fibers are mainly used for industrial purposes.
The marijuana plant is also a type of cannabis plant, but one that contains more than than 0.3% THC, and usually significantly higher levels of this psychoactive compound. Marijuana is mainly used for recreational or medicinal purposes.
What is Hemp?
Hemp is what varieties of the Cannabis sativa plant are called when:
- They are grown specifically for industrial use; and
- They contain less than 0.3% THC.
The hemp plant has been used by humans throughout recorded history for industrial purposes such as textiles, fabric, rope, paper, food-grade oils, and many other types of things.
Hemp is known for its durability, strength and fast growing ability. Additionally, hemp provides a higher yield of usable fiber per acre than any other plant used for fiber production. In fact, Thomas Jefferson was one of the early hemp farmers of the United States.
In recent years, hemp has become increasingly popular in the wellness industry due to its high levels of Cannabidiol (CBD). Hemp oil is often used as a natural moisturizer, while CBD oils and tinctures are typically taken orally for overall relaxation or wellness.
CBD products such as CBD oil are derived from hemp and may not produce any psychoactive effects at all, unlike marijuana-derived products which contain THC. This makes hemp an attractive option for people who want to experience the therapeutic benefits of cannabis without the psychoactive effects of THC.
However, each strain of Cannabis sativa (hemp and marijuana) contains different combinations of phytochemicals like terpenes and cannabinoids, along with other compounds like flavonoids and fiber. Though hemp seed oil and other products contain a low amount of THC compared to marijuana, it may have psychoactive properties when consumed in large amounts or combined with other psychoactive strains.
What is Marijuana?
Marijuana, sometimes called weed, hash, or ganja, is what Cannabis sativa plants are called when:
- They are grown specifically for recreational or medicinal purposes; and
- They contain over 0.3% THC.
Marijuana is known for its characteristic pungent smell. This aroma comes from the molecules called terpenes found in the resin secreted by the female flowers.
Marijuana plants are also noted for their wide range of colors and shapes, ranging from bright green to dark purple. In fact, certain plants change color dramatically based on ambient temperature in an interesting way.
It is usually consumed by smoking flower, either in a bong or in joint or blunt form. You can also inhale vaporized extracts, or eat edibles like gummies.
Differences Between Hemp and Marijuana
Hemp and marijuana are really the same Cannabis genus of plants.
Hemp is classified as Cannabis sativa, and bred to contain a low level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound found in marijuana. It also usually has more minor cannabinoids such as Cannabidiol (CBD) and Cannabinol (CBN).
Marijuana plants can be Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, a landrace form called Cannabis ruderalis, or a hybrid. The difference is the THC levels.
Within hemp plants, concentrations of THC are almost nonexistent while CBD can make up around 40% of the plant extract’s content.
These components interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which helps regulate mood, appetite, and more.
Marijuana, however, contains high amounts of THC and low amounts of CBD, generally no more than 20%. THC is mostly present in the flowers, with very little present in the leaves, stem and seeds.
This factor makes hemp plants ideal for producing CBD products as users have no fear of adverse side effects from THC consumption.
In addition to differing levels of CBD and THC content, hemp and marijuana plants can vary based on geography and growing conditions. Differences in soil composition, altitude and climate all play a role in affecting the cannabinoid content within each cannabis strain, and in some cases, from plant to plant.
In contrast to their botanical statuses, the legal statuses of hemp and marijuana plants are quite distinct. As explained above, while both hemp and marijuana are derived from Cannabis sativa, industrial hemp must contain no more than 0.3 percent THC in order to be considered legal under the Farm Bill. Likewise, it must also contain no more than 0.3 percent delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol acid (THCA). Anything that exceeds this amount will be classified as marijuana instead.
Marijuana remains illegal in most parts of the United States and is classified as a controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act. This means whatever its status locally, marijuana is illegal under federal law due to its high THC content. This includes cannabis seeds, as well.
On the other hand, hemp is legal for cultivation and sale in all 50 states due to its low THC content. As a result, hemp is widely used in many products such as fabrics, paper, rope, fuel, health supplements, beauty products, and even food items.
In contrast, most forms of marijuana are heavily regulated by federal and state laws. For example, even medical research labs developing medicine have to source their marijuana for study from the right places approved by the government.
Hemp and Marijuana Cultivation Methods
Hemp and marijuana cultivation methods can vary greatly. Hemp is generally regarded as an easily managed crop that requires minimal inputs such as water and chemical fertilizer, while marijuana plants need more care and attention. Hemp can be grown outdoors, often in fields and hedgerows, or indoors in controlled environments like greenhouses.
Marijuana plants usually require indoor cultivation with carefully monitored temperature control, airflow, light intensity, and humidity levels to produce high-grade buds. Marijuana growers require a high level of skill and experience to produce medical-grade crops for a high-end product, and there are truly many experts in this space. And of course since marijuana grows are subject to regulation, this is another important part of these careers.
Final Thoughts on the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana
We hope this deep dive into what is essentially a difference between one legal term and another has been informative!
The road toward legalization has always been a rocky one. It’s not surprising that our country would first fall back on hemp, ending its prohibition before marijuana, given the history. Hemp has always been a money crop for the US, and as evidence and interest mounts in favor of new uses, we expect to see marijuana turn into one.
Responses to FAQ
How are hemp and marijuana similar?
Hemp and marijuana are both species of Cannabis, making them similar in many ways. Both contain the psychoactive component delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), but marijuana typically has higher concentrations of THC than hemp. Visually, there may be no real way to tell the difference and there is a huge variety of both hemp and cannabis strains.
Both hemp and marijuana are subject to strict regulations. However, another difference between hemp and marijuana is usage, which is determined by legality: hemp is widely used to create food products, paper, fabrics and clothing, construction materials, biofuel, and even pharmaceuticals because of its lack of psychoactivity–and these hemp products are generally not heavily regulated. (Even hemp-based supplements, like vitamins, are on the market but not regulated by the FDA.)
Meanwhile, recreational use of marijuana is legal in some U.S. States, but still remains largely illegal across the country.
Written by Diet Smoke Staff Writers
The staff writers for Diet Smoke have been researching and writing about premium hemp-derived THC and CBD products for more than 3 years. The team has a keen understanding of the topic, remain current on all FDA and industry news, and use their expertise to generate engaging and informative content to help educate consumers on Diet Smoke’s products. Each article is fact-checked and includes sources to scientific data to ensure readers receive the most up-to-date and accurate information possible.
Reviewed By Colby Wohlleb
Colby Wohlleb, editor of Diet Smoke, reviews and approves all content before releasing it for posting on the Diet Smoke website. As a tireless advocate for the benefits of premium hemp-derived THC and CBD products, Colby ensures that all content is accurate, engaging, and informative. He also works directly with a trusted source to ensure the purity of the products we sell and performs rigorous lab testing to ensure that Diet Smoke’s products are of the highest quality and safety standards.