What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

The world has a long-standing and complex relationship with hemp and cannabis. Both plants can trace their roots (no pun intended) back thousands of years to the ancient world and have hundreds of applications ranging from medicine to building materials. While there are distinct differences between hemp and cannabis, much of society is unable to differentiate between these two plant varieties. In this post, we’ll explore the differences between hemp and marijuana.


Hemp and cannabis (marijuana) both trace their lineage to the Cannabaceae family of plants. Because they share many similar visual characteristics, it is often difficult to differentiate between these plant varieties. But it’s important to note that they have distinctly different chemical makeups and vastly differing applications.

To add to the confusion, the primary differentiating factor as defined by the federal government pertains primarily to active THC content. Cannabaceae plants containing less than 0.3% THC by dry weight are classified as hemp, whereas higher THC concentrations are labeled as cannabis or “marijuana.”


Cannabis is a plant grown with the intent of producing budding flowers typically highly saturated with THC (up to 30%), a chemical compound accredited with a euphoric or otherwise sedating effect. Researchers have uncovered extensive evidence of cannabis use dating back more than 5 centuries in what is now Romania. Additional findings suggest its use as a medicine as early as 2,737 BCE.

Cannabis is commonly referred to as a variety of street names, such as pot, weed, and reefer. However, it was most famously nicknamed “marijuana” as a political attempt to negatively correlate the plant with Mexican migrants who were seeking refuge during the Mexican Revolution between 1910-1920. Thus began the era of “reefer madness” and eventual cannabis prohibition.


President Nixon declared a “War on Drugs” by signing the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, effectively outlawing and strictly regulating all forms of Cannabaceae in addition to many other substances. Despite its categorization as a schedule I controlled substance for nearly 50 years, a total of 33 different state governments (including Washington D.C.) have passed legislation that legalizes cannabis for medicinal use. Patients in these states can obtain a prescription for medical marijuana with a recommendation from a healthcare professional.


Hemp is commonly characterized as a variety of Cannabaceae containing less than 0.3% THC by dry weight and grown with an emphasis placed upon stalk, stem, and seed development. Perhaps the most versatile crop in existence, hemp has historically been utilized as an industrial commodity for centuries and is commonly employed in the making of a myriad of products, such as paper, canvas, rope, building materials, and textiles.

Hemp is additionally a common source of legally extracted cannabidiol (CBD). Accredited as one of the primary therapeutic compounds occurring naturally in the Cannabaceae family, CBD can provide research-backed symptom relief with no intoxicating effect.


The hemp plant was banned alongside cannabis with the signing of the U.S. Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Regarded as a schedule I controlled substance despite its non-intoxicating properties, hemp became heavily regulated by the newly established Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Hemp regained its status as an industrial commodity nearly 5 decades later with the passing of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018. Known more commonly as the U.S. Farm Bill, this law effectively restored hemp’s legal status and removed it from the list of federally controlled substances. Hemp-derived CBD is in fact legal in all 50 U.S. states.


  • Composition: Hemp is defined by federal law as containing less than 0.3% THC by dry weight. Alternatively, THC content in cannabis can currently reach a concentration of up to 30% and climbing.
  • Legality: The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 outlawed all Cannabaceae Regardless of the re-legalization of industrial hemp with the passing of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, cannabis remains illegal on a federal level for all intents and purposes. Cannabis can, however, be prescribed in 33 different states as a medical treatment.
  • Applications: Despite the recreational value of cannabis, its potential as a medical application is currently recognized in 33 different states and counting. Alternatively, while hemp is a common source of therapeutic and legal CBD, it has a myriad of other applications, including the making of products such as paper, canvas, rope, building materials, and textiles.


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