For a very long time hemp and marijuana were both illegal. They were lumped together as similar strands of the same plant. This caused confusion.
Today, more and more people, states, and legislators are beginning to separate the two for their distinct properties and advantages. Education about the differences between hemp and marijuana has led to a boom for farmers, brands, and testing labs connected to the hemp industry.
Still, people use the two terms interchangeably, and cannabis has become a catch-all phrase for anything that looks like weed.
So what exactly are the differences between hemp and weed?
Let's talk about them here.
Hemp and Marijuana are both Cannabis
Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis, yes. But cannabis is divided into two different varieties . Cannabis includes Indica and Sativa. Marijuana can be both Indica or Sativa. If you visit a marijuana dispensary you'll be presented a menu of strains and you can pick between the two or try combinations of the two, or hybrids. Industrial hemp is different. Some like to call hemp and marijuana cousins, as they are related, they look similar, and smell like one other. But they are very different.
Hemp vs Marijuana: How they look
Marijuana has broader leaves and thick, dense buds. The plants grow shorter, more like bushes. If you visit an industrial hemp field, you'll be struck by how tall the plants grow. (Hemp grows up, and pot grows out.) The leaves on a hemp plant are also skinnier.
From afar they are very similar, but the closer you look the more you can see distinctions. As you get down to a molecular level, the contrast between the two becomes even more stark.
Hemp vs Marijuana: What cannabinoids they contain
Hemp and marijuana both contain many cannabinoids. Cannabinoids, or phytocannabinoids in plants, are very similar to substance our own body makes called endocannabinoids. This is why the health potential of cannabis is so exciting. Phytocannabinoids interact with your body in a very natural way. They seem to empower our endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system controls many functions in our body, including our response to pain, our mood, and sleep.
Two of the most famous cannabinoids are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).
While similar in structure, THC and CBD products have very different impacts on the body.
THC has psychoactive effects. CBD does not get you high. Industrial hemp contains less than 0.3% THC by law. This means hemp, if properly grown and labeled, will not get you high.
Hemp vs Marijuana: Uses
Hemp has a long history as an industrial crop. Before it was outlawed in the United States it was used to make everything from paper to rope to clothing. In the last few years, hemp has received increased attention for its medical benefits. Many products are now sold online that offer the healing potential of hemp in oils, gummies, topicals, and beauty products.
People smoke, vape, drop, and eat marijuana for the health benefits of cannabis, but also to get high. Marijuana has medical applications, but the history of the drug in the United States is largely a recreational one. As marijuana has become more broadly legal, so too has grown the number of marijuana products. Dispensaries now sell oils, capsules, and flavored edibles.
Hemp vs Marijuana: Legal or not
Laws related to hemp and marijuana vary by state. Legality usually revolves around THC content. Under 0.3% means a cannabis product is legal to sell, while high-THC products are regulated like marijuana. The most recent Farm Bill in 2018 made hemp legal across the United States, though local regulations are still unclear.
Health without the High
People are interested in natural ways to feel better. They want to improve their health and they are increasingly skeptical of expensive synthetic drugs. That's why the conversation about hemp and marijuana has gone mainstream. It's also why awareness around the differences between the two plants is getting renewed attention. Just remember they both may offer benefits, but marijuana is the one that gets you high and hemp has no psychoactive effects.