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Hemp vs. Marijuana: What’s the Difference?

Wondering what the difference between hemp and marijuana is? You’re not alone.

Hemp and marijuana are often used interchangeably, but they aren’t the same thing. Almost a century of misinformation about the plants has led to quite a bit of confusion about them both.

To make things clear, cannabis is a species of plant, known as Cannabis sativa L. Of this plant species, there are two distinct subspecies: hemp and marijuana. While hemp and marijuana come from the same species, there are vast differences between the two.

Hemp vs. Marijuana: What’s the Difference?

Hemp and marijuana are from the same family of plant. There are distinct differences, however, between these two subspecies.

Making the distinction between hemp and cannabis can be done in a few different ways. These include appearance, chemical composition and cultivation.


Hemp and marijuana look similar, but there are noticeable differences between the two. A marijuana plant, for example, has broad leaves and is typically bushy in appearance and produces thick, resinous, pungent flowers. Hemp, on the other hand, contains skinnier leaves that are more concentrated at the top of the plant and is much taller and skinnier than the marijuana plant. 

Chemical Composition

Aside from the differences in appearance detectable by a trained eye, the chemical composition of hemp and marijuana is also different.

Cannabis contains more than 500 chemical components. Of these, over 100 various cannabinoids have been identified. The most famous of these are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

Research has shown that both THC and CBD contain a myriad of different health and wellness benefits; however, THC is known to produce the psychoactive effects that are associated with the “high” that’s made marijuana famous, while CBD does not contain these psychoactive attributes.

Here’s where there is a HUGE difference between hemp and marijuana. Hemp plants contain virtually no THC at all (0.3% or less), while marijuana is abundant in the psychoactive cannabinoid and can contain anywhere from 5-30% THC (or more). Because hemp plants contain such a minute amount of THC, hemp doesn’t get you high.


Hemp and marijuana are also cultivated differently, and the environment in which each grows is markedly different.

Hemp is grown very closely together (sometimes as close as 4-5 inches) outdoors, typically on multi-acre plots of land. Hemp is relatively easy to grow and can be cultivated in a multitude of climates.

Marijuana is grown a bit differently. When grown outdoors, plants are typically grown 6-8 feet apart from each other because of how big and bushy they can become. Marijuana that is cultivated for recreational or medicinal purposes, however, is typically grown indoors in a climate-controlled environment where temperature and humidity can be adjusted for optimal growth.

While marijuana is cultivated for the psychoactive properties it contains, hemp is grown mainly for industrial purposes, where it is used to make countless different products including food, paper, clothing, building materials, fuel and more. Due to the low content of THC, hemp is also used to make the multitude of CBD products available on the market today.

The Big Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana: THC vs. CBD

With the rapidly growing popularity of CBD, perhaps the biggest difference of all is their chemical composition. Unlike marijuana, hemp doesn’t contain enough THC to produce any psychoactive effects, and it isn’t cultivated to get people high.

While hemp does have trace amounts of THC naturally present as part of its chemical composition, these trace amounts are incapable of producing the high associated with marijuana.

What hemp lacks in THC, it makes up for in CBD. Hemp is naturally rich in CBD, which is why its used to produce the plethora of CBD products that are now available almost everywhere across the country.

There have been several studies that highlight the therapeutic benefits of CBD, something that has led to increasing interest and acceptance of this cannabis compound derived from hemp that doesn’t contain psychoactive effects.

Marijuana, on the other hand, is typically cultivated specifically for the high levels of THC it contains. Because research shows that THC has several therapeutic benefits of its own, marijuana is cultivated for both medicinal purposes and for recreational use in states that have established medical marijuana and/or recreational laws.

Let’s Talk Legality: Hemp vs. Marijuana

CBD and THC are compounds found in both hemp and marijuana.  Both contain varying concentrations of both cannabinoids. The amount of CBD and THC present in both hemp and marijuana plays a large role in its legality.


Hemp is cultivated to make a variety of different products, including CBD oil. Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is completely legal, but it must contain less than 0.3% THC to be considered legal in the U.S. In some other parts of the world, CBD can only contain 0.2% THC.


Marijuana is a whole different story.  Cultivated for both medical and recreational purposes, marijuana contains anywhere from 5–30% THC and varying amounts of CBD (some marijuana strains contain higher concentrations of CBD than others). CBD that is sourced from marijuana plants is only legal in states with medical or recreational laws.

Because of the THC content it contains, marijuana is illegal in most of the U.S. (aside from the states that have passed medical and recreational marijuana laws) and other parts of the world. Recreational marijuana is currently legal in 10 states across the U.S. and Washington DC. Medical marijuana laws have been passed in 32 states and Washington D.C.

The Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana In Short

We hope this article has cleared up any confusion you might’ve had about the difference between hemp and marijuana. Yes, they’re from the same family, but they couldn’t be more different! Think of hemp and marijuana like distant cousins that lead completely different lives.

Not only do they look different (yet sort of similar), but they’ve got a completely different genetic makeup and naturally grow differently than the other. Oh, then there’s the fact that marijuana gets you high, and hemp contains zero psychoactive properties. Although laws are rapidly changing, marijuana might be considered the “black sheep” of the Cannabis sativa species while hemp is on the more conservative side.