Hemp is a hot topic lately, with discussions about its legality taking place in almost every state. The legal status of the hemp plant is so hotly contested because it is a member of the cannabis family – just like marijuana. People often get confused about the distinction between the two, including lawmakers!

If you have been wondering about hemp vs. marijuana and what the differences are, then you’ve come to the right place. Today, we are looking into the distinctions between industrial hemp plants and marijuana, and why the two deserve separate legal statuses.

What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

Hemp and marijuana both belong to the ‘cannabis’ genus of plants. Contrary to popular belief, there are multiple types of cannabis that can have profoundly different effects. It’s a good idea to read up on different types of cannabis to know what you’re dealing with when it comes to hemp.

Cannabis sativa is what people are often referring to when they talk about cannabis. It grows naturally in and around tropical regions, such as Central America, Africa, and Asia. It was first described by Karl Linnaeus, who named it Cannabis sativa L, with the L referring to his surname. Sativa is the tallest known type, often reaching 2-4 meters in height.

Cannabis indica was discovered later. It flourishes in arid, mountainous regions, such as the hills of Afghanistan and parts of India. Indicas are much shorter and bushier than sativas; some say they resemble a small Christmas tree.

Finally, there is Cannabis ruderalis. It grows predominantly in the northern hemisphere in China, Russia, and Poland. Ruderalis is well adapted to surviving harsh environments and climates. It is a reasonably small and hardy plant. In the past, humans used ruderalis plants for fibers and nutrition.

Over time, these three subspecies of cannabis have been bred together repeatedly. It’s now hard to make a clear distinction between them. Ruderalis plants are the rarest. Both sativa and indica plants can be found in the recreational and medicinal marijuana community. But what about hemp? The industrial hemp we grow today is actually a variety of Cannabis sativa. In other words, it’s closely related to marijuana. However, the two are not quite the same thing.

What Is Hemp?

Hemp is a word that’s thrown about a lot these days. With a rise in the use of cannabidiol products, people often search for hemp CBD, as they are told that it is of the highest quality. But what actually is hemp?

Although industrial hemp is a member of the Cannabis sativa species, it is not a plant that can be used recreationally as a drug. Currently, it is used for extracting CBD to make food supplements. Even though hemp contains a fair quantity of CBD, it is really low in the psychoactive, intoxicating compound THC.

Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is renowned for causing the high associated with marijuana use. It is produced in cannabis plants, including hemp – but hemp only contains low quantities. Federal law currently defines industrial hemp as cannabis plants containing less than 0.3% THC by dry weight. This quantity is nowhere near enough to get a user high.

What Is Marijuana?

If hemp is a cannabis plant that contains low quantities of THC, then marijuana is one that includes much more of the intoxicating compound. Marijuana plants can actually contain up to 30% THC, making them pretty potent.

Marijuana has been used as a drug, perhaps for centuries. The high levels of THC allow marijuana to cause an intoxicating ‘high,’ including effects such as euphoria and relaxation. It is also used medicinally in several states where it is legal to do so.

Marijuana comes in many forms, including sativa and indica varieties. Each strain has different effects, often depending on whether it is sativa-dominant or indica-dominant. Unlike hemp, which is always a sativa, marijuana can be a cross-bred mixture of anything.

Differences Between Hemp and Marijuana

Now that you have a better understanding of hemp vs. marijuana, you can learn the distinct differences. Later, we will talk about CBD from hemp as opposed to CBD from pot, but let’s cover some of the most fundamental differences first.


As members of the cannabis species, both hemp and marijuana contain cannabinoids. However, the levels of different cannabinoids in each type are vastly different.

While hemp contains less than 0.3% THC by definition, marijuana contains 5-20% THC on average. Some strains can pack up to 30%+ THC, making them extremely potent! In contrast, hemp contains much higher levels of CBD, while it is not uncommon for marijuana plants to test at less than 1% CBD.

With this cannabinoid composition, it’s impossible to get high using hemp. This is what leads to the differences in usage and laws between the two.


At one time, both hemp and marijuana were illegal. Since the plants are related, the government (perhaps mistakenly) outlawed hemp at the same time as it made marijuana illegal. This is really unfortunate, as hemp used to be widespread and used for a considerable number of things.

Marijuana remains illegal on a federal level. Each state has its own laws on marijuana. Some states allow for medicinal usage by certain patients, and a fewer number also allows adults to use high-THC marijuana for recreational purposes. Nevertheless, it remains a controlled substance by the federal government.

As for hemp, it recently lost its status as a controlled substance. The 2018 Farm bill removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, allowing people to access hemp easily for the first time in decades. Bear in mind that a small number of states have reacted by outlawing hemp at state level, so don’t believe that hemp is legal everywhere!


Despite both being cannabis, marijuana and hemp are grown very differently. Marijuana cultivators have to be extremely careful, cautiously monitoring temperature and humidity throughout every stage of growth. The plants are grown in separate parts or spread far apart, and nutrient intake is meticulously controlled.

Hemp, on the other hand, is simple to grow. Plants can be grown very close together in pretty much any conditions. Hemp is a hardy plant I=in the wild and does not require much care. Cultivators can quickly grow hemp without the use of any chemicals or fertilizers, allowing most hemp crops to be grown organically.


Marijuana is reasonably limited in its usage. Users can smoke marijuana recreationally, to get high, or use it medicinally for potential therapeutic benefits. This, of course, depends on the state where you live.

Hemp has a vast number of uses. Before it was outlawed, the cellulose-rich fibers of the hemp plant were used to make sails for ships. The fibers are also ideal for producing cloth and clothes, and can even be used in the construction industry. Bio-concrete and bioplastics are both possibilities when using hemp. Furthermore, the seeds can be used for nutrition.

As you might know, both plants can be used for CBD.

Hemp-Derived CBD vs. Marijuana-Derived CBD

Cannabidiol is produced in both hemp and marijuana. It appears in much higher quantities in hemp, though. Technically, a CBD-infused oil produced from marijuana would be called a ‘cannabis oil,’ as it contains a high amount of THC as well.

Generally, users opt for hemp-derived CBD. CBD from industrial hemp, containing less than 0.3% THC, has been removed from the Controlled Substances Act. Although each state has slightly different laws, hemp-derived CBD is widely accepted and indeed widely used.

It is possible to use marijuana-derived CBD if you live in a legal state. Dispensaries, both medical and recreational, sometimes stock marijuana-derived CBD oils. However, to access this, you will need to be an adult residing in one of these states, and possibly receive a recommendation from a practicing physician.