You may find it difficult to differentiate between hemp and marijuana, their related products. This is because of how related they are. Some even confuse them together while others use the names interchangeably. Although they are different, you can be excused if you are one of those who think otherwise. That is because the differences require that you look a little closer at both of them.

Technically, both marijuana and hemp are gotten from the same Cannabis sativa plant. However, it is worthy of note that one of the major products derived from hemp is CBD. CBD or cannabidiol is a compound extracted from the CBD flowers of hemp plants. While CBD has become very popular in the recent past with it being a component of many health, beauty, and recreational products, marijuana and its products have not enjoyed similar freedom.

You can find CBD products on shelves when you walk into the stores. It is now available in different forms, such as oil, capsules, tinctures, edibles, vapes, and topical. CBD is also a component of many products, including creams, lotions, balms, and gummies. Marijuana, on the other hand, remains banned in many states in the US except for medical purposes. Even in states that allow you to buy or sell for medical purposes, you still need to obtain the proper license before you’re allowed to trade.

What then are the differences between these two plants? Why are they treated so differently? The main difference may be the high derived from one of them. However, there are other reasons that you will be finding out below.

The Differences Between Hemp and Marijuana

What are they?

Before going ahead to list the other differences between the two, it’s important to state what they are basically, and that provides a great basis for differentiating them.

The Cannabis sativa plant has hundreds of compounds, with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabinol) being the most popular ones. THC is an intoxicating compound that gives psychoactive effects when consumed. THC is available in different concentrations in different strains of the Cannabis plants.

While a concentration as much as 0.4% qualifies any strain as marijuana, hemp is a strain of Cannabis sativa plant that has 0.3% concentration or lower. That is because 0.4% or higher THC levels are known for getting you “high” when you consume them. However, the level of psychoactive effect you experience depends on how much you consume.

Where do they come from?

The cannabis plant has three different species. The most common ones are Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica, while there is also a less commonly known species, Cannabis ruderalis. The Cannabis ruderalis species do not contain any valuable fiber content, and they are usually produced in low yields. It is only notable for its ability to flowers regardless of the day length, unlike others.

While hemp and marijuana are among the hundreds of components contained in the Cannabis sativa species, marijuana can also be gotten from a species of cannabis known as Cannabis indica, both. Therefore, Cannabis indica is strictly related to marijuana. Only the Cannabis sativa species has different strains that can either be regarded as hemp or marijuana.

How do they look?

Both strains, hemp and marijuana, grow in the same way; they have thin leaves and tall stalks. Meanwhile, marijuana from other strains is shorter, with thick bushy leaves. However, the difference between them is in the flower that is available on both strains.

Marijuana has stickier and thicker resins on their flower buds that contain the compounds, especially THC. But then, hemp strains do not have many resins on its CBD flower. Instead, it stores most of its compounds in its leaves.

Which is legal, and which isn’t?

As a result of their different chemical compositions, hemp and marijuana are classified differently under the law. As stated earlier, marijuana produces psychoactive effects, while hemp does not. Therefore, the cultivation and trade of hemp are fully legal. Farmers who were subject to strict scrutinizing, supervision and taxation, can now freely cultivate hemp since 2018 when the Farm Bill was passed into law.

The only thing they need is to make sure the cannabis strains qualifies as hemp by producing not more than 0.3% THC. Accordingly, manufacturers are free to produce CBD related products since they are made with hemp, which is legal, and you can buy CBD them without any legal consequence.

On the other hand, marijuana, including medical marijuana, is still subject to very strict laws. For instance, in Washington, those above 21 years of age cannot possess more than 2 ounces of marijuana, while those below 21 cannot even keep it. It also must not be sold or bought but can be gifted. Other states have different laws, and the legality would be dependent on which state or country you are in.


While hemp and marijuana are very similar in many ways, they are not the same thing. Their composition, the effects they have on the body, and legality are different. While marijuana is used for medical purposes due to its therapeutic effects, hemp is used for producing food, industrial and medicinal products. Therefore, it is important to note their peculiarities before purchasing, cultivating, or doing anything with them.

Image by M. Maggs from Pixabay

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