What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Cannabis?

WRITTEN by Caleb

 | Last revised

Nov, 2022

What exactly is the difference between hemp and cannabis? What about hemp and marijuana? 

Hemp AND marijuana are both varieties of the same plant – cannabis sativa – which is a herbaceous flowering plant that comes from the Cannabaceae family.

Each plant has distinctive characteristics from appearance to chemical breakdown.

Many people become confused about hemp-derived CBD and think they’re being scammed, but the majority of full-spectrum CBD products are produced using the hemp plant.

Hemp contains up to 0.3% THC and is most commonly used to produce full-spectrum CBD products that contain negligible amounts of THC. 

Industrial hemp is an excellent source of both seed and fibre and is used across a number of industries, including textiles, building, and food production.

Marijuana contains much higher concentrations of THC; while this cannabinoid can make us feel high after use, it also offers a range of therapeutic uses, including easing pain and improving sleep and appetite.

While CBD can also be extracted from marijuana, it’s often found in much lower doses than THC.

Marijuana is also used to produce high-THC medical cannabis products and is also used recreationally.

But there’s a lot more to know, we explain it all in this article.

Is Hemp Marijuana?

Is hemp marijuana? Is marijuana hemp? Let’s clear up the definitions first. Both are in the same cannabis sativa genus. Each contains hundreds of cannabinoid compounds like THC, CBD, CBN, CBG, etc.

Growers breed plants for specific traits; over time, these traits contain plant genetics that determines how the cannabis plant will grow.

For example, cannabis plants with hemp genetics can grow up to twenty feet. Hemp plants are also low in THC.

Growers usually breed hemp plants for industrial uses.

Sometimes, you’ll see them grown for medicinal purposes. When people refer to therapeutic or medicinal hemp, they often mean cannabis.

Or rather, marijuana. As in the small bushy plant that grows more like a THC-dominant strain than an industrial hemp plant.

It can be confusing.

Where does “hemp” end and “marijuana” begin? What makes one set of plant genetics more hemp than not?

Is the answer political?

Difference Between Hemp and Weed According to the Law

According to the law, the difference between hemp and cannabis is THC content. Because a cannabinoid makes you feel “stoned” or intoxicated, lawmakers worldwide have set the standard for when cannabis sativa becomes hemp.

In Australia, the THC concentration is no more than 0.3%. Or 300mg of THC per kilogram of cannabis.

The 0.3% dictum is a worldwide standard, but it’s entirely arbitrary. It originates from a 1976 report on cannabis taxonomy.[1]

Differences Between Hemp and Cannabis According to Common Sense

Yes, hemp is still cannabis sativa. And yes, it’s full of CBD and low in THC.

But farmers growing hemp for industrial purposes are far less concerned with the bioaccumulation of pesticides, fertilisers, and other environmental toxins.[2]

Whereas farmers growing hemp for medicinal purposes are far more concerned with the quality of the product.

If you want to try CBD, ensure your hemp source is clean and regulated. If you’re using the Australian green market, you can check out the brand information online to ensure it’s high-quality.

A graphic in two columns explaining the difference between marijuana and hemp

Identifying hemp and marijuana plants

From a medical perspective, Both hemp and marijuana are grown for their flowers or buds, each offering unique effects and benefits. However, you’ll find that each cannabis species has a unique appearance due to plant genetics.

It’s important to note this process has been going on for centuries. So if you find yourself with seeds and are unsure if it’s hemp or marijuana, it will be evident once it begins growing.

So let’s look at this hemp vs marijuana debate a little closer. What characteristics would identify whether a plant is hemp or marijuana?

That is if we define hemp as a plant low in THC and suitable for industrial or mass production. And if marijuana is a plant bred explicitly for its full-spectrum CBD or THC content.

A hemp plant:

  • Can grow up to twenty feet
  • Has tiny leaves and fewer branches
  • Long stalks rich in fibre
  • Very hardy, doesn’t require much care while growing
  • Has low concentrations of THC
  • Many uses, from commercial to medicinal purposes

A marijuana plant:

  • Bigger leaves with a lot of branches
  • A shorter, bushy scrub than hemp
  • Quality flowers require much care while growing, such as regulating the humidity, lighting, and food.
  • Can have high concentrations of THC but is not required
  • Uses are limited to medicinal and recreational purposes.

So, Is Hemp Marijuana?

Is hemp marijuana? Why brand something a “hemp flower” if it came from a CBD-rich flowering shrub?

Part of it’s cultural.

People who want to try medical cannabis but are afraid of getting stoned may prefer a product that says it’s derived from hemp.

As well it helps distinguish centuries of selective breeding. Some plants are colloquially known as “hemp,” others are “cannabis” or “marijuana.”

The growing process is a sound reason for the difference between hemp and cannabis. Selective breeding has resulted in two very different plants of the same cannabis genus.

One of them grows tall, and we call it hemp. We refine its flowers and biomass into products. The other is a little scrub that produces flowers people like to smoke, vape, or bake into food.

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1. Ernest Small, Arthur Cronquist, "A Practical and Natural Taxonomy for Cannabis".
2. Martin A. Lee, "Cannabis Oil vs. Hemp Oil".
Project CBD.


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Disclaimer. While we strive to relay the most factual education available, this shouldn’t replace official medical or legal consultation and recommendation. This is for educational and entertainment purposes only. Happy days.

Hinterland co. Byron Bay, Australia

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