Hemp vs. Marijuana

Hemp vs. Marijuana

Chapter 1

Hemp and marijuana are not the same things. However, they are members of the same family, which explains why people sometimes mix them up. 

Both hemp and marijuana fall under the Cannabis plant genus. So while hemp and marijuana are two types of the same species, they not only look different, but they have different chemical compositions, effects, and legal statuses. Most importantly, they have different uses. 


It doesn’t take a botanist to tell the difference between the two plants, as they look strikingly different. Hemp is tall with skinny leaves concentrated at the top of the stalk. Marijuana has wide leaves and is more bush-like.  


Because they are related, hemp and marijuana have some of the same chemicals, but in vastly varying degrees. The two major compounds at play are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD).

THC is the psychoactive substance that induces the “high” associated with marijuana. Marijuana has high concentrations of THC (normally between 15 and 40 percent) while hemp contains very low levels (.3 percent or less), an amount so minute it has no psychoactive effects. 

The other key substance both plants share in common is CBD. CBD does not contain any psychoactive properties and studies indicate it can actually help protect against THC’s adverse psychoactive effects1. Put simply, CBD will not make you high, THC will make you high


Hemp was one of the first plants to be cultivated by humans who spun it into a fiber. Today, it has countless industrial applications including medicinal, clothing, textiles, paper, paint, cosmetics, food, building materials, rope, and biofuel.

Marijuana, on the other hand, has only two uses: recreational or medicinal.


Industrial hemp is legal in 30 countries and counting, with the US recently legalizing its cultivation. It had been banned in some countries largely (and many say unfairly) because of its association with marijuana. To be grown legally, the industrial hemp must have THC levels below a 0.3 percent threshold. In fact, on December 20th, 2018, the US farm bill of 2018 officially distinguishes between marijuana and Hemp removing hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and legalizes on the federal level the cultivation and sale of hemp. (Read more about the legality of CBD here.) In addition, the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2018 removed CBD from its banned substances list. 

Marijuana, on the other hand, is a controlled substance whose legal status depends on the country. Within the US, it is banned federally but is legal in some states. Places that have legalized marijuana permit it to be used either medicinally, recreationally, or both.  

Exploding Popularity of CBD

CBD has exploded in popularity because it is believed to have many of the medicinal benefits of marijuana but without being intoxicating. The numerous potential benefits of CBD include its potential to relieve inflammation2, pain,3 anxiety4, sleeplessness5, and other disorders, as well as benefits for the skin6.

While some make claims about its medicinal benefits, those have not yet been scientifically proven, perhaps due to the insufficient number of clinical studies, since cannabis research was forbidden until recently in most countries around the world. The US Food & Drug Administration, however, recently approved the first CBD-based drug to treat epilepsy and the federal legalization of hemp under the Farm Bill.

CBD from Hemp Products

Because hemp contains less than 0.3% THC it is legal federally and therefore it’s the best source of CBD, making the extraction process is simpler, which means more of the beneficial compounds remain in the product.

So now you understand why you’ve been seeing so many products containing hemp CBD. It’s because they’re made from hemp. And as you now know, hemp is legal, is non-intoxicating and has a multitude of potential uses and benefits. 

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