Marijuana plant vs hemp plant

The Weird & Wonderful Differences Between Hemp and Marijuana

There’s more to these cannabis terms than meets the eye.

Hemp and marijuana are terms that get thrown around a lot — often incorrectly. People inside and out of the cannabis industry use these terms interchangeably to mean one singular type of cannabis. This is wildly inaccurate. 

You see, they’re both varieties of cannabis but with very different legal statuses, uses, and benefits. One is completely legal across the US, while the other is strictly limited to states with laws permitting its use. So, in order to clear up the confusion, we’ve compiled a simple yet rigorous guide to hemp and marijuana.

Hemp vs. Marijuana

Difference between hemp and marijuana
The difference between Hemp and Marijuana explained.

Hemp Oil vs. Marijuana Oil

Hempseed OilHemp CBD OilMarijuana Oil
0.012–0.018% CBD10–20% CBD0.5%–20%+ CBD
Almost no THC<0.3% THC10-35% THC
Non-intoxicating, no highNon-intoxicating, mild buzzIntoxicating, strong high
Federally legalFederally legalFederally illegal
Federally legalLegal in 34 states Legal in 35 states for medical use
Source of nutrition, supplementsTherapeutic benefits (anxiety, pain, sleep)Medicinal benefits, recreation
Sold onlineSold onlineSold via dispensaries

Common FAQs

What is the main difference between hemp and marijuana?

The main difference between hemp and marijuana is the quantity of delta-9 THC . Hemp is specially grown to carry less than 0.3% THC as per federal guidelines. If it carries more than 0.3% THC, it’s classified as marijuana, which is federally illegal (but legal in most states). 

What is hemp used for?

Historically, industrial hemp and its fibers have been used for clothes, rope, shoes, carpets, and paper. Specially grown high-CBD, low-THC hemp varieties are more commonly used to create CBD oil, CBD capsules, and CBD topicals for health and wellness. 

What is marijuana used for?

Marijuana is used for a variety of different medicinal and recreational purposes. It carries large quantities of THC, the compound known to cause a “high” or feeling of euphoria. Many medical cannabis users consume high-THC marijuana for pain, inflammation, anxiety, depression, epilepsy, appetite stimulation, and glaucoma. Recreational users enjoy the feeling of THC in social settings. 

What does marijuana plant look like?

Marijuana plants tend to be short, dense, and bushy with broad leaves situated all along the plant’s stalk. Marijuana plant height is dependent on strain. Indicas are short and unlikely to grow any taller than 6 ft, while Sativas can grow up to 20 ft. Hybrids can either be short or tall depending whether they’re Indica or Sativa-dominant. 

What does a hemp plant look like?

Hemp plants are slim and very tall, reaching a height of 18.22 ft. Hemp leaves are also very skinny and are commonly found nearer the top of the stalk alongside the trichome-rich buds. Hemp plant color varies. Some are a lighter green, while others have a greyish hue. 

Can you smoke hemp?

Yes. You can smoke hemp flowers (buds) and leaves, provided they’re cured and dried beforehand. Smoking hemp bud is a very popular choice among users wanting an instant hit of cannabidiol (CBD) and other valuable hemp plant compounds. 

Does hemp have buds?

Yes. Hemp has buds which are often referred to as flowers. They appear in bunches or clusters nearer the top of the stalk and are covered in fine, crystal-like growths called trichomes. These bunches or clusters are also known as colas. 

Do hemp seeds have THC?

Yes. Hemp seeds can carry THC but in very small, almost negligible, amounts. Consuming the seeds of hemp will not cause a high nor will it produce any euphoria. There is some immunoreactivity if consumed in substantially large doses. 

Does hemp have CBD?

Yes. Hemp does contain CBD. The quantity of CBD found in hemp depends entirely on the strain. Regular industrial hemp carries up to 4-6% CBD, while specially grown varieties of hemp can have up to 20-25% CBD. The specially grown varieties of hemp are commonly used for CBD oils. 

What’s the difference between Hemp CBD vs. Cannabis CBD?

There’s no difference between CBD found in hemp and CBD found in cannabis. They’re exactly the same compound no matter where you find it. The effects and benefits within your body are the same.


Before diving deeper into hemp and marijuana, let’s introduce the Cannabis family

Before we even begin with hemp and marijuana, it’s worth exploring the cannabis family. 

Every variety of cannabis belongs to a small family of flowering plants known as Cannabacae, which includes approximately 170 species across 11 individual genus types (a taxonomic rank sitting between family and species). Cannabis (hemp + marijuana) is a genus of the Cannabacae family, as is Humulus (the hop plant used for beer) and Celtis (a type of tree or shrub native to many parts of the northern hemisphere). 

There are three main species in the cannabis genus, two of which you’ve probably heard of before:

Three species of cannabis
The three main species in the cannabis genus include cannabis Sativa, cannabis Indica, and cannabis Ruderalis.

Cannabis sativa (C. sativa)

Cannabis sativa (we’ll simply refer to it as “Sativa”) is most likely one of two subspecies you recognize most. Originated in central and eastern Asia, specifically the Mongolian and southern Siberian regions, but was later introduced to many parts of Africa, Europe, and the Americas.

Of the 750+ cannabis strains in existence, roughly 450+ are Sativa varieties, each with varying levels of CBD and THC. Hemp, a Sativa variety, carries low amounts of THC but high percentages of CBD. Marijuana varieties are the opposite, carrying more THC than CBD. 

Cannabis indica (C. indica)

Cannabis indica (we’ll call it “Indica”) is the other subspecies you probably recognize already. First discovered and used widely across the Asian subcontinent, as well as in some parts of central Asia (Turkey, Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan). 

As mentioned, there are roughly 750+ cannabis strains. An estimated 500+ are Indica varieties, none of which are hemp, only marijuana with high percentages of THC. 

Cannabis ruderalis (C. ruderalis)

Cannabis ruderalis (“Ruderalis”) is the lesser-known cannabis subspecies, which sucks because it’s actually quite impressive. Originally discovered in the southern Siberian region. Adapted to very harsh climates, able to “auto-flower” without day-night cycles, and grows insanely quickly, making it very useful to cannabis breeders. 

As you can see, hemp and marijuana are very broad terms for varieties of cannabis and are often used incorrectly, so let’s take a look at both in more detail.

What is hemp?

Hemp plant at a farm
Hemp plant

Hemp (otherwise known as industrial hemp) is a term used frequently to describe a variety of cannabis with less than 0.3% THC by dry weight, as per the Agriculture Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018’s definition. 

However, this wasn’t always the case. The THC content was never factored into its definition. Hemp was simply a form of non-psychotropic cannabis used for industrial purposes (clothing, rope, textiles, etc) due to its incredibly strong and fibrous composition.

Today? Hemp is used not only for industrial purposes but also for CBD products available to you on the market. These products are marketed for their therapeutic value and physiological benefits (though not explicitly stated due to laws surrounding cannabis advertising). 

Hemp has a long and colorful history

Hemp can be traced back to roughly 8000 BCE (more than 10,000 years ago!). It was found in hemp cloth belonging to ancient Mesopotamia, a region we know now as Iran and Iraq. Archaeologists also discovered traces of it in certain parts of Asia, notably China and Taiwan. Hemp cultivation is thought to be the oldest established industry, beginning in the Chinese Sung Dynasty (500 AD).

However, the earliest written reference to cannabis use for medicinal use was back in 1500 BC in Ancient China. 

The Chinese Emperor Fu Si, a mythical emperor who came to life as a half-serpent being, often referenced the word “Ma”, a Chinese word for cannabis. He stated cannabis to be a very popular medicinal remedy and provided users with a yin and yang balance. 

What is marijuana?

Marijuana plant with flower bud
Marijuana plant

Marijuana is a term used by many to describe varieties of cannabis with over 0.3% THC. These varieties do cause intoxication or, rather, a whopping great “high” feeling, all thanks to the high THC content. Other terms for marijuana include weed, ganja, bud, green, pot, and grass. 

Unlike hemp, marijuana varieties have never been used for industrial purposes. 

There are 5 main differences between hemp and marijuana

  1. Composition
  2. Appearance
  3. Physical characteristics
  4. Legality
  5. Public perception

Composition 

One of the biggest differences between hemp and weed is its chemical composition (mainly how much CBD and THC they carry).

Hemp typically carries anywhere between 10-20% CBD and below 0.3% THC, alongside other major and minor cannabinoids such as cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), and cannabichromene (CBC). Marijuana generally carries anywhere between 10-25% THC but has been known to go up to 33-35%. Certain marijuana strains are bred to contain more CBD. When this happens, the scales tilt, and the THC content decreases. 

It’s also important to differentiate between hemp and CBD, and how they’re used. As mentioned previously, hemp’s uses surpass simply being a variety of cannabis. It’s an extremely fibrous and robust plant. Not only houses cannabinoids and other plant compounds but also for many industrial purposes such as textiles, clothing, rope, etc. The seeds of hemp (not the plant) can be used for oil (hempseed oil). Carries very little to no plant compounds. Only useful for cooking, skincare, or as a carrier oil for CBD products. 

CBD, as an isolated cannabinoid (plant compound), is just one part of the hemp plant (albeit a reasonably large one). Used primarily for its physiological and therapeutic benefits such as anti-anxiety, anti-stress, anti-inflammation, and pain relief. CBD is also found in marijuana as well. 

There are no plant compounds exclusive to either variety

CBD and other plant compounds in hemp and marijuana are not different from each other. The CBD you find in hemp is exactly the same as you would find in marijuana. There are also no “exclusive” plant compounds present in either variety. You’ll find (and experience) most, if not all plant compounds regardless of whether you consume hemp or marijuana. 

Appearance & physical characteristics

Hemp and weed strains look very similar, simply because they’re both Sativas. Both plants are very tall – the giants of the cannabis world. Taller than any other subspecies or variety (up to six meters tall). Long, thin, and sparse. Not particularly dense. 

However, there are differences between the two. 

During the growth process, you’ll notice marijuana has a higher population of thick and sticky resin, which looks like a bed of small white crystals on the flower buds. This resin houses all the valuable plant compounds (CBD, THC, etc). 

Hemp, on the other hand, doesn’t carry as much resin. Most of the beneficial plant compounds are in the plant’s leaves. In fact, the leaves carry an abundance of cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA).

Legality

The legality of cannabis varieties is complex but put simply: hemp is considered federally legal, while marijuana is deemed federally illegal. Why? It’s all down to their THC content. 

Both hemp and marijuana varieties carry THC, which is listed under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). However, under the Agriculture Improvement Act (2018 Farm Bill), hemp is perfectly legal provided it carries less than 0.3% THC. Any higher than this and it’s immediately classified as marijuana, making it federally illegal. 

State law, on the other hand, varies.

U.S. State law for hemp and hemp-derived CBD products

  • 44 states allow hemp-derived CBD in one form or another — six states don’t allow any hemp-derived CBD whatsoever
  • Legality of hemp CBD products in 16 states (incl. D.C.) varies 

U.S. State law for marijuana and marijuana-derived products

  • 16 states (incl. D.C.) allow medicinal and recreational marijuana
  • 35 states allow the use of medical cannabis in some form or another — 27 of these don’t allow recreational marijuana use and 7 only allow medicinal CBD oil

Public perception

Cannabis smoking area in public

When comparing weed and hemp, this is the least talked about. Despite both belonging to the cannabis family, hemp and hemp-derived CBD products are far more accepted now than marijuana, though the tide is beginning to turn for the latter. 

In my opinion, federal hemp legalization across the U.S. opened up the discussion surrounding cannabis benefits, both medicinally and therapeutically. This, in turn, has encouraged a more widespread cannabis-positive vibe, particularly when it comes to non-intoxicating plant compounds e.g. CBD, CBG, etc. 

Even THC is slowly gaining some acceptance, though the issue of being “high” still exists. Many still believe THC consumption is for stoners without any knowledge of how beneficial it can be. Marijuana, therefore, remains somewhat marginalized, especially among straight-laced individuals stuck believing everything the war on drugs told them. 


Difference between hemp oil, CBD oil, marijuana oil

Cannabis flower oil for vaping
Vape oil extracted from marijuana flower
Hemp OilHemp CBD OilMarijuana Oil
AKA hempseed oilAKA CBD oil AKA THC oil, cannabis oil, or hash oil
Made from hemp seedsMade from stalks, leaves, flowers of hemp plantsMade from the leaves and flower of marijuana plants
0% THCLess than 0.3% THCMore than 0.3% THC
0% CBDUp to 90% CBD1-20%+ CBD
Non-intoxicatingNon-intoxicating but psychoactiveIntoxicating, psychoactive
Used for cooking, skincare, and as a CBD oil carrierUsed for health benefits Same as hemp CBD oil + specific conditions = appetite stimulation, insomnia, muscle spasticity 

Is hemp or cannabis better medicinally?

Marijuana plant grown outdoor
Trimming a sun-grown marijuana plant. Photo / Papa & Barkley

Whether hemp or cannabis is better medicinally is really up for debate, though we believe it depends entirely on the condition being treated.

Speaking with Weedmaps, Dr. Adie Rae, PhD who has treated patients with hemp-derived and marijuana-based treatments believes neither is superior to the other, though CBD-rich marijuana extracts are potentially better for specific conditions. 

“I treat patients with both hemp and marijuana CBD products and I couldn’t say one is more effective than the other. I can concur that most of my patients find that having THC, even the 0.3% found in hemp-derived CBD products, more effective than products with 0% THC”, adding, “I do believe, however, that CBD-rich marijuana extracts offer greater therapeutic value than full-spectrum hemp CBD, as it pertains to specific medical conditions”. 

We agree on pretty much every level here. 

Both hemp-derived full-spectrum CBD products and marijuana-derived products, on the whole, are incredibly beneficial, simply because they carry a whole arsenal of plant compounds, including CBD, THC, minor cannabinoids (CBN, CBC, CBG), terpenes (linalool, limonene, etc), and flavonoids.

Is hemp, CBD or marijuana better for sleep, anxiety or pain?

For Pain

Cannabis topical salve for pain relief
Applying a high-THC cannabis salve for pain relief. Photo / Papa & Barkley

Marijuana is generally considered better for pain than hemp-derived CBD, simply because the “high” associated with THC can mentally mask how you respond to pain — almost like not caring about it. That’s not to say CBD isn’t useful. It’s very useful, particularly when combined with THC. 

For Anxiety

Marijuana (especially high-THC marijuana) is less helpful for anxiety than CBD. Large amounts of THC can actually increase anxiety symptoms by over-stimulating brain regions responsible for fear and fear perception, typically via CB1 receptors. CBD can counteract this THC-related fear response by altering the shape and size of CB1 receptors, which prevents THC from properly binding. 

For Sleep

There’s a common misconception that THC-rich marijuana consumption can result in better sleep. This isn’t strictly true. THC can cause drowsiness, sure, but it can also cause restlessness, racing thoughts, and energy (10mg+ doses), which isn’t conducive to a good night’s sleep. We recommend a mixture of CBD and THC here (high-CBD marijuana). CBD is soothing and may reduce racing thoughts and restlessness. 

These plant compounds work together in synergy to create what’s known as the entourage effect 

The entourage effect is a still theorized phenomenon whereby all plant compounds work together in synergy to produce enhanced benefits within your body. Researchers believe there are two different types of entourage effect:

1. Intra-entourage = An interaction among cannabinoids or terpenes e.g. CBD + THC + CBG interaction or linalool + caryohphyllene + limonene interaction.

Intra-entourage example: 

CBD reduces a THC high and its associated side-effects via blocking cannabinoid receptors (mainly CB1). In this case, high-CBD marijuana consumption may produce a more balanced and well-rounded high by preventing THC from fully binding to these receptors. 

2. Inter-entourage = An interaction between cannabinoid and terpenes e.g. CBD + THC + linalool + pinene + caryophyllene

Inter-entourage example:

Hemp-derived or marijuana-derived CBD products may produce mood-stabilizing effects via interactions between terpenes (myrcene + limonene) by somehow interacting with CBD and THC. 

There are many other examples of intra and inter-entourage effect benefits but most, if not all are still being researched as we speak. 

We recommend experimenting with hemp and marijuana to find out which one suits you best.

There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to hemp and marijuana benefits. We believe the best way to figure out which one suits you best is to experiment with both.

Because hemp-derived CBD products don’t cause a high, we advise starting here first. A full-spectrum product is preferred. Perhaps try a 500-750 mg oil and place two or three drops under your tongue morning and night. The high-CBD content, along with all the other beneficial plant compounds. 

If hemp-derived CBD products aren’t working as well as you’d hoped and you live in a state with legalized adult-use marijuana, try a cannabis-derived product instead. 

If you’re new to higher levels of THC, find a product with a balance of CBD and THC. Something like a 1:1 CBD:THC oil or a 2.5-5 mg THC gummy. This balance won’t cause a whopping great high and will no doubt give you some physiological and therapeutic benefits.


Recommended Hemp and Marijuana Flowers 

Hemp and marijuana flower are arguably the “purest” cannabis products you can get on the market. You can either smoke or vape dried cannabis flower for best results but, remember, you’ll get completely different effects. 

Hemp flower won’t cause you to feel intoxicated but may produce slight euphoria due to brain and central nervous system stimulation via CBD and other plant compounds working synergistically with THC. Marijuana flower, on the other hand, will cause intoxication due to higher percentages of THC blooding your brain’s cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors. 

Hemp flower recommendations

Plain Jane Acid Rock Indoor

Plain Jane’s Acid Rock is one of our favorite hemp flower products currently on the market. A hybrid of River Rock and Suzy Q strains. Very high terpene count, notably pinene, giving it a very deep wood and wine smell. Very aromatic. Great when smoked. Carries 15-16% CBDA, along with small amounts of CBG, CBCB, and cannabidivarin (CBDV). 

Good for: Relaxation, subtle mood-enhancement, pain, inflammation  

Secret Nature CBD Secret OG

Secret Nature CBD’s Secret OG is special. VERY special. An Indica-dominant hybrid hemp flower with just over 17% total CBD content. Incredibly relaxing with some sedative qualities. Really good as a nighttime smoke or vape (either is perfectly fine). High caryophyllene content. Strong pepper and wood smell. Very pungent when smoked. Can be overwhelming. Best smoked outside, to be honest. 

Good for: Sedation, relaxation, pain relief, sleep improvement

CBD American Shaman John Snow CBG Hemp Flower

One of the best CBG/CBD hemp flowers out there. A rare hybrid of Jack The Ripper + Philly Sour Diesel. Carries nearly 21% CBG with just over 0.1% THC. Very citrusy and sour flavor, and a diesel-like aroma. Definitely a daytime smoke to boost your mood, focus, and creativity. 

Good for: Mood enhancement, focus, concentration, creativity, pain relief, inflammation 

Marijuana flower recommendations

Marijuana flower isn’t readily available online for nationwide purchase. You have to live in a legalized state in order to purchase it, either from a dedicated web store or via a licensed dispensary. Below is a list of our favorite marijuana flower strains for you to look out for. 

Zkittlez 

Zkittlez (otherwise known as Skittles or Island Zkittlez) is a lesser-known marijuana flower that packs quite a punch. An Indica-dominant blend of Grapefruit and Grape Ape cross-bred with an unknown mystery strain. Carries over 19% THC with very little CBD. Packs an almighty punch. Very strong euphoric body high with sedation. Not suited to beginners. Best-used for nighttime relaxation and sleep.

Good for: Sleep, relaxation, calm, pain relief 

OG Kush

OG Kush is an obvious one. Quite possibly the most famous hybrid strain in existence. It’s a hybrid fusion of a northern Californian strain and a Dutch Hindu Kush strain. Incredibly skunky and pungent with spicy and woody notes when smoked or vaped. Very unique and well-rounded experience. Contains 18-19% THC. Not a particularly good choice for newbies but seasoned cannabis vets will surely get something out of this. A winning choice, for sure. 

Good for: Mood-enhancement, relaxation, some anxiety and stress

Ringo’s Gift

Ringo’s Gift is one for the beginners. A mix of Harle-Tsu and ACDC, both high-CBD marijuana strains on their own. Incredibly balanced at 10-12% CBD and 7-8% THC (on average). Provides you with a really nice high without being too overwhelming. Contains an abundance of linalool, an aromatic terpene known for its spicy and floral aroma. We recommend this to any inexperienced cannabis user looking for a mild high. 

Good for: Relaxation, mild euphoria, mild pain and inflammation