Hemp vs Marijuana – What Are the Differences?

hemp vs marijuana

We’ve all probably heard a million different words that refer to cannabis: pot, weed, hemp, marijuana, dope, reefer… the list goes on.

That begs the question: is there a difference between all of these things? The short answer is: yes. There are differences between many of these terms, and these differences have huge implications for consumers and manufacturers (and lawyers!) alike.

With the growing popularity of the recreational & medical marijuana industry alongside the immense growth of CBD products, the different and specific terms can be confusing. “Confused” is not how you want to feel when buying & consuming cannabis-connected products.

That being said, we’re here to help. We’re going to break down the differences between two of the major plants used in the industry: hemp vs marijuana. Let’s get started!

The Three Species of Cannabis

Before we get into hemp vs marijuana, we need to discuss cannabis.

Cannabis refers to the genus of a family of flowering plants called the “Cannabacae family” of plants. The cannabis genus then diversified into three distinct species of cannabis:

  1. Cannabis sativa
  2. Cannabis indica
  3. Cannabis ruderalis

The differences between hemp and marijuana are found in the different species. The differences between hemp and marijuana also depend on the chemical composition of the plant and their uses as a result of these chemical compositions.

Let’s look at this a bit closer.

What Is Hemp?

The general definition of “hemp” is a Cannabis sativa plant that has 0.3 percent or less tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). 

Yes: hemp by definition can only be a Cannabis sativa plant and neither of the other two cannabis species.

It also contains 0.3 percent or less THC, the major psychoactive chemical compound found in certain types of cannabis. This extremely low concentration of THC means that you cannot get “high” from hemp.

While the euphoric “high” from hemp isn’t possible, hemp has many other uses. It’s been used for over 10,000 years by civilizations all over the world (we’ll discuss these uses later).

What Is Marijuana?

The definition of “marijuana” is a plant that’s either Cannabis indica or Cannabis sativa that contains more than 0.3 percent THC.

Because Cannabis ruderalis is usually grown in the wild and has naturally low THC levels, it isn’t usually considered to be marijuana on its own. In fact, some scientists consider C. ruderalis a subspecies instead of its own species.

That being said, hybrids between Cannabis Indica and Cannabis ruderalis plants do exist, and these hybrids would be considered marijuana.

These types of cannabis plants can induce euphoric “high” due to the higher THC concentrations.

Similarities Between Hemp and Marijuana

Before we get into the differences between these two terms, let’s talk about some similarities.

First of all, both hemp and marijuana are members of the same plant genus “Cannabis.” These plants can also have very little physical differences.

Another similarity is the fact that hemp and marijuana can technically be the exact same species. While hemp by definition is always a Cannabis sativa plant, marijuana can be either Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica.

Differences Between Hemp vs Marijuana

Now that the few similarities are out of the way, here are the major differences between hemp and marijuana:

Chemical Composition

As we stated earlier, the major chemical difference between these two is the concentration of THC. In fact, this difference in chemical composition is what influences the legality, uses, and production of these different plants.

To reiterate, all hemp contains 0.3 percent or less of THC while all marijuana contains more than 0.3 percent of THC. Marijuana usually contains a range between 4 percent and 30 percent THC depending on the specific strain and type of marijuana.

Both hemp and marijuana contain CBD.


Speaking of CBD, this other major chemical compound found in cannabis can be found in both hemp and marijuana plants.

CBD can be extracted from either type of plant with no significant difference in the composition of the CBD. However, while the chemical of CBD itself stays the same between hemp and marijuana, the legality of CBD is dependent on the plant.


Here’s where things get more interesting. CBD products are legal federally in the United States only if the CBD was extracted from hemp plants. Products that use CBD that was extracted from marijuana plants are not legal, even if they only contain CBD.

This distinction was detailed in the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp and hemp-derived products. The law isn’t referring to CBD itself, and instead is referring to legalizing products derived from hemp… which happen to include CBD.

CBD products derived from marijuana, on the other hand, are only legal in states that have legalized marijuana products medically or recreationally. Federally, CBD products derived from marijuana remain illegal.


Because of the difference in chemical composition and legality of these different plants, both hemp and marijuana have very different uses.

The entire hemp plant can be used in a number of industries… and it has been used for thousands of years! Everything from the leaves to the flowers to the roots and seeds is used in some way.

Hemp is commonly used for:

  • Deriving CBD (for oils, lotion, tinctures, salves, etc)
  • Making products (paper, rope, plastic, building materials, etc)
  • Food (hemp milk, hemp seeds, flour, hemp cooking oil, etc)
  • Flower (hemp flower can be smoked in pre-rolls and hemp joints)
  • Textiles (clothing, shoes, fabric, diapers, etc)

Marijuana is used for both recreational and therapeutic purposes. The THC in marijuana can give users a euphoric “high” that’s often used recreationally.

Recent studies have shown that marijuana’s effects from both THC and CBD extend to treating a number of health conditions, including:

  • Depression & anxiety
  • Cancer & chemo-related symptoms
  • Chronic pain
  • Appetite loss & gastrointestinal issues
  • Insomnia

CBD, derived from either plant, can also have a number of benefits and uses, including:

  • Chronic pain relief
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Potential heart health benefits
  • Improved mental health

Hemp vs Marijuana: Cannabis Species with Widely Different Uses

Hopefully this article has helped clear up any confusion or misinformation on hemp vs marijuana. It all comes down to the concentration of THC within the plant and the plant’s specific species.

Because of the legal stipulations on the differences between these plants, it’s important to understand the differences.

If you’d like more information on hemp, CBD, or any related topics, check out our blog. We also have a selection of high-quality hemp-derived CBD products that are safe and effective. Check those out here!

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