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What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

Melissa Cox April 13, 2020 0 comments

Wondering what the difference between hemp and marijuana is? You’re not alone.

Words and phrases like CBD oil, hemp oil, cannabis sativa or cannabis indica, cannabidiol, THC, or marijuana are trending these days. With the advent of marijuana and hemp production on an industrial scale, we observe the rapid growth of the cannabis industry. For all newcomers or even some recreational users, the world of cannabis seeds, flowers, and products might be overwhelming.

It’s best to start with differentiating marijuana and hemp.

The words are often used interchangeably, but they aren’t the same thing. Almost a century of misinformation about the cannabis plants has led to quite a bit of confusion about them both.

To make things clear, Cannabis is a genus of flowering plants, but there are many different varieties, including two distinct ones: marijuana and hemp. While they are the same species, they are not one and the same.

Hemp vs. Marijuana: What’s the Difference?

Before we can understand the difference between marijuana and hemp, we need to know what each is. As we have already established, both hemp and marijuana are varieties of the same genus.

Hemp is a variety of cannabis that has been specifically bred to grow taller and sturdier than marijuana. The hemp plant has very little THC (the psychoactive component in cannabis) and high levels of CBD, which is a non-psychoactive component with many therapeutic properties that you can now easily find in the form of hemp oil, hemp extract, edibles, topicals, and more.

Marijuana, on the other hand, is a variety of cannabis plant that has been bred to have higher THC levels. The marijuana plants are shorter and bushier than hemp but still grow tall enough to be useful as a crop.

With this in mind, we can discuss the differences; these two cannabis plants can be differentiated by appearance, chemical composition, and cultivation.


Hemp and marijuana may look similar at first glance, but if you look closer, you will see significant differences, especially when looking at industrial plants.

A marijuana plant, for example, has broad leaves and is typically bushy in appearance. Moreover, it produces thick, resinous, aromatic flowers.

Hemp, on the other hand, contains thinner leaves that are more concentrated at the top of the plant; it is also much taller and skinnier than the marijuana plant. However, there are some hemp strains, such as the phytocannabinoid-rich kind Joy Organics uses, that are much harder to distinguish from marijuana.

Chemical Composition

Aside from the differences in appearance detectable by a trained eye, the two plant varieties vary in chemical composition as well.

Cannabis contains more than 500 chemical components. Of these, over 100 various cannabinoids have been identified. The most famous of these are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

Research has shown that THC and CBD can bring people a myriad of health and wellness benefits; however, THC is known to produce the psychoactive effects associated with the “high” that’s made marijuana famous, while CBD does not contain these psychoactive attributes.

Here’s where lies a HUGE difference between marijuana and hemp: hemp plants contain virtually no THC at all (0.3% or less), while marijuana is abundant in the psychoactive cannabinoid and can have here from 5-30% THC (or more).

As such, because hemp plants contain such a minute amount of THC, smoking hemp (or consuming it in any other way) doesn’t get you high, which makes hemp-derived CBD products highly popular among the regular public.


On top of appearance and chemical composition, hemp and marijuana also differ in how they are cultivated. Plus, the environment in which each thrives is not the same.

Industrial hemp cultivation requires growing plants very closely together (sometimes as close as 4-5 inches) outdoors, typically on multi-acre plots of land. Industrial hemp is relatively easy to grow and can be cultivated in a multitude of climates. However, PRC hemp must be given a little more space and care. Some may even grow it indoors.

Marijuana is grown a bit differently. When grown outdoors, plants are typically planted 6-8 feet apart from each other because of how big and bushy they can become. Marijuana that is cultivated for recreational or medicinal purposes, however, is typically grown indoors in a climate-controlled environment where temperature and humidity can be adjusted for optimal growth.

While marijuana is cultivated primarily for the psychoactive properties it induces, hemp is grown for a variety of industrial purposes to be later included in the manufacturing process of numerous products, including food, paper, clothing, building materials, fuel, and more. Due to the low content of THC, hemp is also used to make the multitude of CBD products available on the market today, with hemp-derived CBD oil leading in the market.

The Big Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana: THC vs. CBD

Perhaps the biggest difference between marijuana and hemp plants is their chemical composition, which significantly contributes to the rapidly growing popularity of CBD. Unlike marijuana, growers don’t grow hemp to provide people with psychoactive effects. While hemp does have trace amounts of THC naturally present as part of its chemical composition, it is way too little to produce the high associated with consuming marijuana.

Hemp may lack THC, but many people grow industrial hemp that is incredibly rich in CBD to later use it or sell to manufacturers who produce the plethora of CBD products that are now available almost everywhere across the country; especially the hemp-derived cannabis oil is conquering the international markets.

Marijuana, on the other hand, is typically cultivated specifically for the high levels of THC it contains. As research shows that THC has several therapeutic benefits of its own, marijuana is cultivated for both medicinal purposes and for recreational use in states that have established medical marijuana and/or recreational laws.

Let’s Talk Legality: Hemp vs. Marijuana

Both hemp and marijuana contain varying concentrations of CBD and THC. The amount of these cannabinoids present in a plant plays a prominent role in its legality.


Hemp is cultivated to make a variety of different products, including CBD oil. Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, growing hemp is completely legal, but it must contain less than 0.3% THC to be considered legal in the U.S. In some other parts of the world, hemp CBD products can only contain 0.2% THC.


Marijuana is a whole different story. Cultivated for both medical and recreational purposes, marijuana contains anywhere from 5–30% THC and varying amounts of CBD (some marijuana strains contain higher concentrations of CBD than others). CBD sourced from marijuana plants is only legal in states with medical or recreational laws.

Because of its THC content, marijuana is illegal in many U.S. states (aside from the states that have passed medical and recreational marijuana laws) and other parts of the world. Recreational marijuana is currently legal in 10 states across the U.S. and Washington DC. Medical marijuana laws have been passed in 32 states and Washington D.C.

The legality of any controlled substances is included in the 1971 Controlled Substances Act and the 2018 Farm Bill.

Marijuana vs. Hemp: Products & Uses

There are many products available on the market that have been made from either marijuana or hemp, and right now, CBD products are the hottest trend. CBD oil is a big part of the industrial hemp craze because the cannabinoid itself has been shown to provide people with a plethora of health and wellness benefits.

For example, CBD-infused topicals are quite popular among athletes and people who work out regularly because of how CBD can help soothe sore muscles and reduce post-workout aches and pains.

Eating hemp seeds is also incredibly beneficial for one’s overall health. They can be made into hemp seed oil and hemp protein powder, but they can also be consumed raw. This is another way that people can get the necessary nutrients their bodies require each day.

The plants can also be turned into a myriad of other things. Hemp seeds are used to make cereal, flour, and hemp seed butter. Hemp fibers are often used to produce paper, textiles, rope, wood products, and even building materials.

Marijuana is commonly used as a recreational drug, but it can also be used as medicine to treat chronic pain and other ailments. It can be used to make marijuana oil and wax, tinctures and salves, edibles, and vaporizers, as well as marijuana-derived CBD oil and other CBD products.

The Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana in Short

We hope this article has cleared up any confusion you might’ve had about the difference between marijuana and hemp. Yes, they’re from the same family, but they couldn’t be more different! Think of hemp and marijuana as distant cousins that lead completely different lives.

Not only do they look different (yet sort of similar), but they’ve got various genetic makeups and naturally grow differently than the other. Oh, then there’s the fact that marijuana gets you high, and hemp contains zero psychoactive properties. Although laws are rapidly changing, marijuana might be considered the “black sheep” of the Cannabis genus, while hemp is on the more conservative side.

Have any further questions about the difference between marijuana and hemp? Leave a comment below, or get in touch today!

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