Hemp vs Marijuana: Is There a Difference?

The debate on hemp vs marijuana shouldn’t be sparked without ensuring that both sides know the differences between these two plants.

Many products on the market are vaguely advertised as cannabis, whether they’re made from hemp or marijuana.

There are plenty of names that cannabis consumers use to describe different cannabis products, but hemp and marijuana shouldn’t be used interchangeably.

Hemp isn’t marijuana — and vice versa.

Marijuana contains significant amounts of THC, with only traces of CBD. In hemp, these proportions are reversed.

However, this isn’t the only difference between hemp and marijuana.

In this article, we’re going to blow the doors behind these two species wide open. But first, let’s explain the difference between the three most often confused terms when it comes to describing cannabis products.

Cannabis, Hemp, and Marijuana: What’s the Difference?

A common misconception among cannabis consumers is identifying hemp as marijuana and vice versa. 

The truth is, one of the few things connecting these two is the same parent plant.

Here’s a clear explanation of the differences between cannabis, hemp, and marijuana.

  • Cannabis: this is a plant family that covers many species, including hemp and marijuana.
  • Hemp: hemp plants are members of the cannabis plant family. They’re cultivated for their sturdy stalks (industrial hemp) and flowers containing a unique cannabinoid profile with low concentrations of THC.
  • Marijuana: this plant comes with high levels of THC and negligible concentrations of CBD unless bred for specific purposes. Marijuana is grown for either recreational and medical use because of the high THC content.

By the same analogy, all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.

To sum up, marijuana and hemp aren’t the same plants — continue reading to gain a detailed insight into the differences between these two species.


1. Appearance

The best way to tell the difference between hemp and marijuana right away is to simply look at them.

Hemp can reach up to 15 feet in height and has long, sturdy stalks. Hemp plants can be grown closely together because they grow easily when next to each other. Their leaves are thin, with the majority of flowers on the top of the plant. Sometimes, hemp may look like ditchweed.

Marijuana has broad leaves, with tightly packed flowers that resemble  frosty nuggets with orange hairs (pistils). It rarely grows beyond 5 feet and leans outwards with more flowers than hemp. Marijuana plants are best cultivated separately.

2. Chemical Composition

The main difference between hemp and marijuana is in their chemical composition, specifically the ratio between the most abundant compounds — THC and CBD.

An average marijuana flower sports between 15–20% THC, with some cultivars reaching up to 30% due to cross-breeding of different strains. Most marijuana varieties have low CBD levels, usually between 0.1–2%. Some strains that are bred for medical purposes contain high CBD concentrations with lower THC levels, but they are less common than high-THC buds.

Hemp comes with a reversed ratio of these cannabinoids. Hemp plants can have up to 15% CBD with THC content below 0.3%

3. Effects

Because of the aforementioned ratio between CBD and THC, hemp plant’s aren’t psychoactive and thus won’t get you high. CBD is known for its anti-anxiety and stress-relieving properties but without intoxicating effects.

Marijuana, on the other hand, can does produce psychoactive effects due to its high THC content. When you consume too much marijuana at a time, you may experience increased heart rate, dizziness, and anxiety for a short period.

Nevertheless, the range of marijuana health benefits outweighs the potential minor side effects. People use weed to relieve pain, stress, inflammation, insomnia, eating disorders, mood swings, and more.

Growth Habits

4. Growth Habits

The growth environment for hemp marijuana are very different.

Hemp plants can be grown close together. The distance between each plant can be less than 5 inches — hemp is known for being grown on multi-acre fields. This variety of cannabis is also resistant to different climates and can grow virtually anywhere, so it offers higher versatility for farmers than weed. The growth cycle of hemp may last anywhere between 108 and 120 days.

Marijuana is a much more demanding plant in terms of cultivation. These plants need to be grown in a carefully controlled environment, with sufficient levels of humidity, warmth, and airflow to yield high-quality buds. Their growth cycle typically lasts 90 days; the plants shouldn’t be grown close to each other due to the risk of the pollination of female plants.

5. Legal Status

Hemp and hemp-derived products are legal in all 50 US states and over 50 countries across the world. They are widely available online as well as in many local specialty stores. 

Products such as CBD flowers, tinctures, oil drops, capsules, edibles, and vapes are generally considered health supplements and are very loosely regulated. Given this, there’s no shortage of mediocre companies that sell low-quality CBD oil made with cheap hemp. It’s important that consumers understand the features of high-quality CBD products before making a purchase.

Marijuana remains illegal in most countries. As of this article, Canada and Uruguay are the only two countries to have legalized marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. In the US, weed is legal in 11 states, with 37 states providing some sort of legal framework for medical marijuana. With European countries eagerly decriminalizing the use of marijuana and allowing patients to legally use their medicine, we may soon witness groundbreaking changes in policies towards cannabis on a global scale.

Legal Status

Final Thoughts on Hemp vs Marijuana: Can You Tell the Difference Now?

The growing body of scientific evidence supporting the benefits of marijuana and hemp reveals new information every day. The sooner you learn how to distinguish between these two plants, the better. 

By educating yourself on hemp and marijuana, you can reap the benefits from both species in a conscious way. 

Keep in mind that the fact hemp is not psychoactive doesn’t make it less beneficial than marijuana. Anyway, it’s not about hemp vs marijuana. Rather, let’s think about the concept as hemp AND marijuana — to get the best of both worlds.

What’s your take on the hemp vs marijuana debate? What’s your experience with both plants?

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