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What's the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

Written by: AtoZ Botanicals Staff



Time to read 7 min


As the CBD and cannabis landscape continues to evolve, two terms frequently come to the forefront – Hemp and Marijuana. These terms often lead to several questions:

  • Are hemp and marijuana simply different names for the same thing?
  • What plant does hemp come from?
  • What is the legality of CBD products?

    Each has unique attributes, surprising uses, and significant differences in THC content. Understanding these key distinctions between hemp vs marijuana will empower you to make informed decisions about your health and select the most suitable product for your needs.

Hemp vs Marijuana: The Same Thing?

Hemp and marijuana are pretty similar at a glance. Both plants belong to the Cannabis family; both have a long history of medicinal purposes and industrial use. However, their different characteristics make them more like cousins than twins. 

The key differences between hemp and marijuana lie in their appearance, legality and chemical composition.

Hemp: A Closer Look

  • Hemp, a member of the Cannabis sativa family, is a versatile plant highly regarded for its numerous uses and benefits. It is distinct from marijuana, another member of the same family, primarily due to its THC level. While marijuana is known for its psychoactive properties caused by high THC content, hemp is rich in CBD, a non-psychoactive compound, and contains less than 0.3% THC, making it legal to grow in many regions worldwide.

  • The female hemp plants, specifically, are valued for their high CBD content, especially when they remain unpollinated. On the other hand, male hemp plants play a crucial role in cross-pollination, contributing to the genetic diversity of hemp varieties.

Marijuana's Lineage

  • While Hemp is primarily classified as Cannabis sativa, Marijuana can be either Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica. 
  • Marijuana is bushier than hemp, with more leaves on top. 
  • While marijuana also contains CBD, it tends to have higher levels of THC. Some CBD products are dervied from marijuana. These have varying THC concentrations, which can lead to the psychoactive effects. 
Hemp Marijuana Plant

THC vs. CBD: The Cannabinoid Clash

The cannabis flower is where the magic happens. It's the part of the plant that contains the influential compounds, including cannabinoids like THC and CBD.

THC in Marijuana

Tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC, is the principal psychoactive compound in cannabis. It's this chemical that gives marijuana its well-known "high." When you consume marijuana—whether through smoking, edibles, tinctures, or other forms of consumption—it's the THC content that interacts with your body's endocannabinoid system to produce various physical and mental effects. The term marijuana typically refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant. The plant contains more than 120 compounds, but THC stands out for its unique psychoactive properties. This means that it can alter your state of mind, affecting things like mood, behavior, perception, and cognition.

When consumed, THC binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and other parts of the body, mimicking naturally occurring neurotransmitters. This interaction triggers a series of reactions that lead to the euphoric feelings or the sense of relaxation often associated with marijuana use. The intensity of these effects can vary widely depending on the amount of THC present in the marijuana product consumed. The effects of THC are also not a "one size fits all". The psychoactive properties can affect people differently. 
It is important to note that the concentration of THC in marijuana has been increasing over the years. Historically, the average THC content in marijuana samples was less than 4%, but modern cultivation techniques have led to strains with THC concentrations above 15% and even reaching up to 30% in some cases. This means that today's marijuana products could potentially be significantly more potent than those available in previous decades.

CBD in Hemp

  • Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a naturally occurring compound found in hemp plants, particularly in the hemp flower. 
  • CBD oil is extracted from the flowers, leaves, and stems of the industrial hemp cannabis plant.
  • Unlike THC, CBD doesn't have psychoactive effects. Instead, it offers a range of health and wellness benefits without the associated euphoria or intoxication.
    Hemp flowers are the buds produced by female industrial hemp plants when they reach full bloom. These flowers are rich in CBD, but they can also contain other cannabinoids and have been praised for their various wellness advantages. Some of the potential therapeutic benefits offered include anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and anti-anxiety properties, among others. 

Person holding an hemp plant

"The groundwork for all happiness is good health."

Leigh Hunt

Legal Distinctions

Understanding the legal nuances surrounding Hemp and Marijuana is crucial.

Hemp's Legal Status

  • The legal definition of hemp, as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is
  •  a plant that is "high in fiber and low in THC," with a concentration of less than 0.3 percent THC on a dry weight basis. 

  • This definition is critical to understanding hemp's legal status under federal law, as it differentiates hemp from marijuana, which typically contains higher levels of the psychoactive compound THC. This legal distinction was formally established in the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, better known as the 2018 Farm Bill. The bill effectively legalized the cultivation of hemp at the federal level and removed it from the list of controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act.
    Included in the 2018 Farm Bill was the Hemp Farming Act, which focuses on regulating and promoting the cultivation of hemp as a distinct agricultural commodity. This legislation was instrumental in clarifying the legal status of hemp and setting the stage for the expansion of the hemp industry across the country.
    The federal legalization of hemp has been embraced by many states, resulting in an increasing number of farmers legally cultivating hemp for various uses, including the production of CBD. It's important to note, however, that while hemp cultivation is federally legal, state laws can vary, and some states still have restrictions on hemp cultivation and CBD production.

Marijuana's Legal Landscape

  • In legal terms, the differentiation between hemp and marijuana was established by the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. According to this act, and subsequent definitions by various drug administrations, the legal definition of marijuana refers to any part of the Cannabis sativa plant that has a THC concentration greater than 0.3 percent.

  • The term 'medical marijuana' refers to the use of the whole, unprocessed marijuana plant or its basic extracts to treat symptoms of illness and other conditions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not recognized or approved the marijuana plant as medicine. However, scientific study of the chemicals in marijuana, called cannabinoids (CBD), has led to FDA-approved medications that contain cannabinoid chemicals in pill form.

  • While medical use of these plants focuses on symptom relief, recreational use often seeks to exploit the psychoactive properties of the plant, mainly due to its high THC concentration. Though the legal status varies by state and country, the cultivation, sale, and use of marijuana for recreational purposes are becoming increasingly accepted and regulated around the world.

  • In the U.S., marijuana remains illegal at a federal level. However, various states have legalized marijuana for recreational and medicinal use.

Researcher observing hemp plant

Diverse Applications

The Versatile World of Hemp

Hemp, a member of the cannabis family, is an industrial plant prized for its variety of uses that extend well beyond CBD production.
The robust stalks of the hemp plant are utilized to manufacture durable fabrics suitable for clothing items, demonstrating hemp's significant role in the textile industry. In the realm of construction, these sturdy hemp fibers are transformed into building materials like insulation, exemplifying hemp's versatility as an eco-friendly alternative to traditional resources.
Moreover, the cannabis seeds produced by the hemp plant are nutritional powerhouses. They are densely packed with protein, healthy fats, and an array of vitamins, making them popular in health food products and nutritional supplements. Many people incorporate these nutrient-rich hemp seeds into their diet by sprinkling them over salads or yogurt, or blending them into smoothies.
One major product derived from these seeds is hemp oil (or hemp seed oil), which is beloved for its distinctive flavor and nutritional benefits. It is particularly rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, essential nutrients known for their numerous health benefits.
But the uses of hemp don't stop there. In the paper industry, hemp emerges as an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional sources. It also has applications in the production of biofuels and plastics, thus supporting cleaner and greener energy solutions.
Hemp production encompasses a wide spectrum, from personal care products to industrial applications. Its fibers, oil, and seeds are used in countless ways, proving that hemp truly is a jack-of-all-trades.

“To keep the body in good health is a duty…otherwise we shall not be able to keep the mind strong and clear.”

- Buddha

Marijuana in Medicine and Recreation

Marijuana has found medical applications due to its THC and CBD content. 

It is utilized for pain management, nausea relief during treatments like chemotherapy, appetite stimulation, and addressing neurological conditions.

On the recreational front, marijuana is sought for its psychoactive effects, providing euphoria and relaxation, enhancing social interactions, and serving as an intoxicating alternative to alcohol. 

Happy healthy people active

Final Thoughts: Empower your Choice with Knowledge

Understanding the difference between hemp and marijuana is essential to making informed decisions about your wellness. Both plants stem from the Cannabis sativa family but differ significantly in their chemical composition and uses. Marijuana is known for its psychoactive properties due to high THC levels, while hemp, with its low THC and high CBD content, is recognized for its potential health benefits.

CBD, derived predominantly from hemp, has been lauded for its possible therapeutic effects on a range of conditions from anxiety to chronic pain. It's important to remember that not all cannabis products are created equal, and the source matters. Hemp-based CBD products can offer the benefits of CBD without the 'high' associated with marijuana.

As you navigate your wellness journey, make informed choices. Knowledge is power, and understanding the differences between hemp and marijuana can empower you to select products that align with your wellness goals.

At AtoZ Botanicals, we are committed to providing high-quality, hemp-derived CBD products. We invite you to explore our wide range of offerings and discover the potential benefits of CBD for yourself. Make an informed choice for your wellness today with A to Z's hemp-based CBD products

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