Hemp and marijuana are closely related and the terms are often used interchangeably, and despite having a practically identical physical appearance, there are key differences between hemp vs “weed”. Properly distinguishing the difference between hemp and marijuana requires an examination of the types of cannabis, their chemical profile, their uses and legality.
Types of Cannabis Plants
There are three main cannabis subspecies that differ in physical and chemical characteristics.
Cannabis Sativa plants are tall, have narrow leaflets, and generally produce low levels of THC.
Cannabis Indica plants are typically shorter, have both wide and narrow leaflet variations, and have high to moderate amounts of THC.
Cannabis Ruderalis plants are essentially wild cannabis variations that are only 1-2 feet tall, have short flowering periods, and produce minimal amounts of THC.
Differences Between Hemp and Marijuana
Hemp is derived from the cannabis sativa plant and was originally cultivated in China. Mostly used for industrial purposes, hemp is utilized for a myriad of purposes around the world. Hemp is one of the oldest and most widely-used forms of cannabis.
Marijuana strains are typically referred to as either “Sativa” or “Indica” depending on their effects, but most marijuana is actually derived from variations of the cannabis Indica plant. Marijuana has been used recreationally, and for its medicinal properties for thousands of years.
1. Chemical Profile
We are often asked, “Does hemp have THC?” or “Is hemp a drug?”… This is the key element that differentiates hemp vs marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are both derived from the cannabis plant, but each has unique genetics and its own chemical profile.
The main distinguishing characteristic of hemp vs marijuana is hemp’s lower THC content. Hemp contains less than 0.3% THC while marijuana contains 10-30% THC on average.
Hemp fibers are used in fabrics and textiles, yarns, paper, carpeting, and even furniture, while hemp seeds and hemp seed oil are used as ingredients in food and beverages.
According to the U.S. government, cannabis is designated “marijuana” if it is used as a recreational drug or for therapeutic purposes and contains more than 0.3% THC. By this definition, any cannabis product that produces a psychoactive effect is considered marijuana.
Furthermore, hemp and marijuana both differ in how they are treated legally. Since both are derived from the cannabis plant and are hard to distinguish visually, hemp and marijuana were both considered controlled substances until recently.
Since the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp has been reclassified as an agricultural product, and is legal under certain restrictions.
The U.S. government defines hemp as cannabis with less than .3% THC content, and any product exceeding that threshold is deemed illegal. A primary reason for this change in legality was that industrial hemp is very promising for both the agriculture industry and for consumers.
What about CBD?
CBD (cannabidiol) is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid present in the cannabis plant, and the second most abundant cannabinoid after THC. CBD has been shown to reduce or amplify the effects of THC, but it also provides numerous benefits on its own. It has proved effective in treating pain, inflammation, anxiety, and a wide range of disorders with little to no side effects.
CBD is present in both hemp and marijuana, but it can exist in particularly higher amounts within hemp, with maintaining a THC content below 0.3%.
CBD derived from hemp is considered legal according to the 2018 Farm Bill, while CBD derived from marijuana is still considered illegal.
Furthermore, CBD derived from marijuana will trigger a positive result on a drug test due to the higher THC content, while CBD derived from hemp should not be detected on a drug test.
- There are three strains of cannabis plants; Sativa, Indica and Ruderalis.
- Hemp and marijuana come from the same plant species and are closely related, but there are differences in their chemical makeup, uses, and legal treatment.
- The key difference is that hemp contains less than 0.3% THC, while marijuana contains 10-30% THC.
- CBD can be derived from both hemp and marijuana, but only hemp-derived CBD is legal in the US.
- CBD derived from hemp should not show up on a drug test due to the low/no THC content.