Hemp vs Marijuana: Differences Explained

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Lawmakers and the public have long misunderstood the significant differences between marijuana and hemp. Today, these differences are beginning to become more well known, yet the question "Are hemp and marijuana the same or different?" is still widely asked.

Q: Are Hemp and Marijuana Different?
A: Yes!

First, it is important to understand that the two plants share a commonality in that they are both a species of plant called Cannabis Sativa L. This species of plant is well known for its 7 leaf pattern that is heavily associated with recreational marijuana use. Both hemp and marijuana feature this leaf pattern:

Cannabis Leaf

Comparing Hemp vs Marijuana

Looking beyond the species, the common traits between the two varieties begin to dwindle. Marijuana and hemp are different in their appearance, growing methods, chemical makeup, and potential uses. Each of these aspects contributes to the significant overall differences between the two plant varieties:

Chemical Makeup

Low-THC Hemp
Laws established in the USA and Canada have created a specific classification for hemp based on its chemical makeup. Today, the legal term industrial hemp is used to describe hemp classified as having less than 0.3% Tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-9 THC) on a dry weight basis. Because of the low THC content, hemp is non-psychoactive if smoked or consumed in an extracted form. These THC levels have been achieved in specific strains thanks to years of breeding low-THC plant varieties. Additionally, high-CBD hemp strains burst into the mainstream in 2013 thanks to the medicinal use of the extracted cannabinoids and other plant material.
High-THC Marijuana
Marijuana is a variety of cannabis well known for its high concentration of Delta-9 THC, the psychoactive high-producing compound. There are many strains of marijuana available featuring different cannabinoid and terpenoid makeups. Marijuana has been extensively bred to increase the amounts of THC present in order to maximize the psychoactive qualities of the plant. Some of the highest THC strains average a 20-25% THC content on a dry weight basis.


Hemp Appearance
Hemp is a fibrous plant thanks to the large stalk which can result in plants up to 20 feet tall. The 7-leaf pattern often shows skinnier leaves concentrated at the top of the stalks.


Marijuana Appearance
Marijuana is a shorter, stalkier plant than hemp. These plants feature broader leaves with an abundance of budding flowers growing around the stalks. These flowers are often covered in crystal-dusted hairs.

Growing Conditions

Outdoor Hemp Grow
Hemp can be grown in a wide variety of climates with minimal care. Often the plant is grown in large greenhouses or in outdoor farming operations.
Indoor Marijuana Grow
Marijuana is grown in precisely controlled indoor environments. Tight control of the growing enviroment means that grow operations are smaller in scale than hemp operations.

Use & Potential Applications

Hemp Uses
Hemp has long been known for its 25,000+ potential product uses thanks to its fibrous makeup and versatile seeds. More recently high-CBD strains have been used as an extract source to create CBD products known for their wide variety of potential medical benefits.
Marijuana Uses
Marijuana is commonly trimmed of its leaves and stalks down to the flowering buds which are then smoked or consumed as a recreational, medical, or spiritual psychoactive drug.

Legal Status & Government Confusion

Hemp, marijuana, and cannabis have long been confused by lawmakers and the public. In 1970 the Controlled Substances Act classified all forms of Cannabis Sativa L as Marijuana. This generalized grouping of hemp and marijuana caused the high-potential, non-psychoactive hemp plant to become a schedule 1 controlled substance. This classification still determines the legal status of hemp and its derivatives today.

Thanks to the 2014 Farm Bill and the FDA's approval of the first hemp-derived pharmaceutical CBD-based drug, hemp is beginning to separate in classification in the minds and laws of our politicians. Growing acceptance and lawmaking at the state level in both marijuana and hemp related fields has begun to lift a 45+ year prohibition.

Originally Published: July 24, 2018 | Last Updated: October 24, 2018

2 comments on “Hemp vs Marijuana: Differences Explained

  • Roberr Major says:

    I am glad to see more information on hemp and marijuana and the legal difference. I am still not clear on which plant gives more medical benefits. I am hearing that the full spectrum dosage is a better type to take and provides more benefits. Still being legal in the two different types hemp vs marijuana plants and keeping the amount of THC below the 5 level keeping the CBD oil legal gives the better health benefits. I am not talking about getting the high drug high but the medical . Lol hope you understand what I am trying to say

    • IntelliCBD says:

      Your question of which (hemp or marijuana) gives more medical benefits is really an interesting question to consider. The important thing to understand is that cannabis (incl both hemp and marijuana) can potentially contain a wide range of compounds that are showing benefit for humans through a growing body of research. Generally speaking, most cannabinoids have shown potential for therapeutic use, some more than others. What is generally agreed upon is that a full-spectrum extract's chemical profile, defined as a chemical profile that mirrors the original plant material as closely as possible, is better than stripping down the extract into isolated chemicals. Because the only significant difference between hemp and marijuana is the THC content. The question then really becomes is what level of THC is optimal for each specific case. This could then determine if marijuana or hemp is a 'better' therapeutic solution. Please understand that there is nothing natural about the separation or this 0.3% legal limit - it's all human applied legislation on nature which has many problems from a conceptual level, but I'll leave that alone for now.

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