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Hemp vs Marijuana: What’s the Difference?

There is a common misconception that hemp and marijuana are different terms, referring to the same plant. To be clear – hemp and marijuana are not the same thing. While they are both members of the cannabis family, they vary through their own specific characteristics and effects.

Hemp is completely different from marijuana in its function, cultivation, and application. Negative stigma of the plants caused political leaders to group all cannabis plant species as Schedule 1 Drugs. Ultimately, marijuana faced a ban in 1970 under the Controlled Substances Act. 44 years later in 2014, the U.S. government passed the Farm Bill, which provides a clear definition of the legality of industrial hemp. Although legislation is being made, progress has been quite slow.

Hemp and marijuana serve completely opposite purposes. Marijuana, as it is well and widely known, is used for medicinal and/or recreational purposes. Hemp, on the other hand, is used in a variety of other applications, such as dietary supplements, skin products, clothing and more. Overall, hemp is known to have over 25,000 possible applications. Some of these applications can benefit the environment, as hemp has potential to be a green alternative to fuel and building material.

Here is a simplified breakdown of the different characteristics of hemp and marijuana, their chemical makeup, how they are grown, and their most common uses:

  • Hemp is low in THC (<0.3%), is non-psychoactive, requires minimal care, is adaptable to grow in most climates, and it can be applied to automobiles, skin care, clothing, construction, food, plastic, and many other everyday materials
  • Marijuana is high in THC (5-35%), is psychoactive, and is grown carefully in a controlled atmosphere. Usually used for medical and recreational human consumption.

Since both contain beneficial cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), hemp and marijuana have both been found to be effective in improving a wide range of bodily functions. According to a report published in the Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, cannabinoids can help reduce pain, inflammation, anxiety, and supplement help for the symptoms of many diseases, including multiple sclerosis, asthma, cardiovascular disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and many others.

Besides having markedly different appearances, hemp and marijuana also differ in terms of chemical composition, cultivation method, uses, legal status, and health effects. Before getting into the comprehensive comparison between hemp and marijuana, let us first define what cannabis is, as that is the plant in which both hemp and marijuana are derived from.

What is Cannabis?

Cannabis is believed to be one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world. It belongs to a group of flowering plants called Cannabaceae. It is wind-pollinated and dioecious, meaning that it grows as a distinct male or female plant. This plant is mostly found in tropical and temperate regions, but can also be cultivated indoors with proper conditions and equipment. There are three main types of cannabis: sativa, indica, and ruderalis. Among these, sativa is the most common and has the widest range of application.

A bit of cannabis history: Throughout history, humans have grown different varieties of cannabis for industrial, medical, and recreational purposes. Tall, sturdy plants were grown by early civilizations to make a variety of foods, oil, and textiles, like rope and fabrics. These plants were bred with other plants containing similar characteristics. This led to the types of cannabis we now consider marijuana and hemp.

Acting as a medicine and a recreational substance, cannabis is the most popular illicit drug in the world. Today, the legal system, which has prohibited marijuana for much of the 20th century, is in the process of possibly decriminalizing the plant.

Although marijuana is re-emerging as an important cultural, social, and political force, full knowledge about the plant is inconsistent and plagued by false information. As a result, the demand for trustworthy and 100% accurate information about cannabis is higher than it has ever been.

Hemp and marijuana can be differentiated by looking at appearance, makeup, and natural adaptability. Below we show you the noticeable and contrasting differences between the two.

Differences between Hemp and Marijuana


Hemp looks noticeably different from marijuana. A hemp plant is skinny and tall with narrow, skinnier leaves concentrated at the top of the plant. It can reach a maximum height of 20 feet. There are few leaves or branches below the top portion of the plant, and it overall resembles a ditchweed.

Marijuana, on the other hand, is a short plant with dense, broad leaves, often resembling a tight bud or nugget. Marijuana plants do not grow past five feet, and often look like a short, fat bush from afar.

When comparing hemp from marijuana by appearance alone, there is quite a noticeable difference.

Chemical Composition

The main difference between hemp and marijuana is their chemical compositions. More specifically, there are variances in their concentration of THC (the chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects). An average batch of marijuana contains anywhere from 5-20 percent THC content, whereas some premium marijuana strains can have upwards of 35 percent THC.

Hemp has a max THC level of 0.3 percent, making it nearly impossible for users to feel any psychoactive effects. This 0.3 percent threshold is heavily regulated in countries that have legalized hemp. Hemp is also richer in CBD than marijuana. Besides providing many health benefits, a crucial fact about CBD is that it can significantly reduce the mind-altering effects of THC.

Cultivation Method

For proper growth of each plant, hemp and marijuana require strikingly different environments. Hemp are hearty plants usually cultivated closely together (as close as four inches apart), and are typically grown in large, multi-acre lots. Perhaps the main distinguishing factor between how hemp and marijuana is cultivated is that hemp can grow in a variety of climates, with a growth cycle of 108-120 days.

Sativa is the preferred type of cannabis for cultivating hemp because of its low THC and high CBD and fiber levels. Indica and ruderalis, which contain more THC, are usually transformed into marijuana plants for recreational purposes. Certain strains of ruderalis are suitable for hemp cultivation.

Unlike hemp, marijuana requires a carefully controlled, warm and humid atmosphere for proper growth, with a growth cycle of only 60-90 days. Because of this, marijuana plants cannot be grown too close to each other.


Hemp has far wider application than marijuana. Due to its high fiber content, it has been used to manufacture many products including clothes, plastic, automobile components, construction materials, paper, body care products, fuel, food, and others. Additionally, studies found that hemp may help certain health conditions (possibly due to its high CBD content). Due to its lack of psychoactive effects, hemp products can be sold in the form of health supplements.

Similar to hemp, marijuana has been found to be an effective healing agent and sees significant use in medical settings. Marijuana is (most commonly) a very popular recreational substance, even though it is illegal in most countries.

Legal Status

In most countries, THC content is the main determining factor in the permissibility of industrial cannabis. In 2014, the U.S. government passed the Federal Farm Bill, or Agricultural Act of 2014, to impose a clearly-defined legal requirement for cannabis cultivation. According to this act, only hemp cannabis plants containing 0.3 percent THC or less are considered legal. Since hemp meets this federal requirement, it is legal in the U.S. as well as many other countries around the world.

Marijuana, in contrast, may be illegal under federal law, but is now legal for both medical and recreational use in Colorado, California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Maine, Massachusetts, Alaska, and Washington D.C. Meanwhile, 20 other states allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes only.

Health Effects

For a long period of time, hemp seeds were ignored for their nutritional benefits because of hemp’s botanical relationship to medicinal varieties of cannabis. Because hemp does not cause any psychotropic reactions and provides significant health benefits instead, hemp is now regarded as an efficient and unique nutritional element.

Both hemp and marijuana possess healing properties, but their health effects may differ due to the different CBD and THC levels in them. According to leading expert Dr. Mercola, hemp can help with many health conditions, including:

In an article published in, it is said that marijuana can alleviate symptoms and conditions such as:

Hemp CBD vs Marijuana CBD

According to Franjo Grotenhermen from the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines, CBD is still CBD, regardless of where it comes from. This means that hemp CBD and marijuana CBD are the same. While they both provide the same health effects, hemp is a safer option simply because of its legality. It is important to take into account the presence of other compounds when choosing CBD products. These compounds include terpenes, fatty acids, flavonoids, vitamins, minerals, and other cannabinoids. They work with CBD and THC to produce effects that are greater than the sum of all parts. This phenomenon is known as the entourage effect.

If you wish to get maximum health benefits from the cannabis plant, it is recommended that you purchase hemp-based CBD products. These products are legal, non-psychoactive, and loaded with beneficial compounds. They can be used for treating specific conditions and improving general health.


  • The main difference between hemp and marijuana is that you cannot get “high” from hemp; you can get “high” from marijuana
  • Hemp seeds are completely safe, healthy, and legal to consume
  • Hemp has numerous other applicable uses
  • Cannabis plants containing 0.3 percent THC or less are considered legal in the United States: Both hemp and marijuana are currently still classified as Schedule 1 drugs under the Controlled Substances Act
  • The strict laws surrounding both forms of cannabis (hemp and marijuana) makes research difficult, but more educational information is coming out daily

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