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What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

  • Hemp and marijuana both belong to the Cannabis sativa species, but their uses, chemical makeup, and legal classifications set them apart from each other.
  • According to the federal government, hemp is any cannabis plant containing less than 0.3% THC, and marijuana is any plant with a greater percentage—the idea being that hemp can’t make you high, while marijuana can. Currently, at the federal level, hemp is legal while marijuana is not.
  • Hemp is used to make a variety of textiles and food products, as well as legal CBD products and not-so-legal delta-8 THC products. Marijuana is legal in many states for medical and/or recreational uses.

Hemp and marijuana share two sides of the same leaf: they’re both derived from the cannabis plant. Despite their common parent, hemp and marijuana are used to create different products and produce distinct effects.

Put simply: they’re siblings, not twins.

Hemp and marijuana are also separated according to the law. Hemp is now federally legal (under certain conditions), while only some states have legalized marijuana (also under certain conditions).

TeleLeaf is here to walk you through the cannabis family tree and show you the unique benefits hemp and marijuana have to offer. You’ll never accidentally call one by the wrong name again.

Understanding the Cannabis Plant

Species, varieties, cultivars, strains…there are a lot of words to describe the different forms of cannabis. Luckily, you don’t need to be an expert botanist to understand the differences between them.

Cannabis is a plant genus (not genius, though this super-plant may seem like a genius at relieving pain and other medical symptoms).

Some people disagree on which species fall under the cannabis genus; most often, it’s split into three:

  • Cannabis sativa
  • Cannabis indica
  • Cannabis ruderalis

These species are often bred together to combine and enhance their desirable properties, producing variations known as hybrids. From these species and hybrids, cannabis growers have created over 700 distinct cannabis strains, each with their own unique characteristics. Growers are constantly developing new strains, too, so this number is always climbing.

That’s a big family tree. Now, where do hemp and marijuana fit in?

A Quick Cannabis Chemistry Lesson

Both hemp and marijuana belong to the Cannabis sativa species. You might assume that this makes them practically the same plant, but they differ in one major aspect: their cannabinoid content.

Cannabis contains over one hundred different cannabinoids, as well as other chemical compounds like terpenes and flavonoids. These compounds are thought to interact with each other, enhancing their therapeutic effects (also known as the entourage effect theory).

Cannabis plants can be bred to have lower or greater amounts of certain cannabinoids, which changes how they affect you—and their legal classification.

The most well-known cannabinoids are:

  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – The main psychoactive component in cannabis, THC relieves pain, reduces nausea by promoting appetite, and can produce feelings of euphoria.
  • Cannabidiol (CBD) – CBD is non-psychoactive, but still provides soothing pain relief; it’s also used to manage mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.

Hemp and marijuana both contain some amounts of CBD and can be used to make CBD products, but only marijuana has enough THC to make you high.

Legally, in order to be considered hemp, a plant must contain less than 0.3% THC by dry weight. For any plant with a higher THC percentage, the law considers marijuana, even if it doesn’t have enough THC to make you high.

Hemp vs. Marijuana: Key Differences

There’s more to the hemp vs. marijuana conversation than chemistry—let’s unpack some of this pair’s major differences.

Physical Qualities and Uses

Hemp and marijuana plants look very similar. They’re practically the same plant, after all. Hemp stalks are grown to be a bit taller and more sparse, while the plants that yield marijuana are bushier.

Hemp is considered an industrial plant. While many manufacturers extract CBD from hemp to make CBD products like edibles and oils, they mainly grow it for its industrial uses.

Some hemp products include:

  • Hemp seed, hemp oil, and other food products
  • Paper
  • Plastic
  • Clothing and other textiles

Hemp is full of fiber and protein, making it a good addition to your diet. It also grows as fast as a weed (pun intended), which means it’s an environmentally friendly alternative to tree products.

Thanks to hemp’s new legal status, more people are exploring its CBD potential.

Hemp generally contains less CBD than other forms of cannabis, but more growers are now breeding hemp with higher CBD content that still falls under the 0.3% THC limit. That’s good news for CBD enthusiasts who need access to legal CBD products.

Marijuana, by contrast, is a medicinal plant. The marijuana flower is the main source of cannabinoids, and therefore the most important part of the plant. While growers harvest the entire hemp plant with a machine, they harvest and prepare the marijuana flower for consumption by hand.

You can smoke whole marijuana flower or try the wide variety of marijuana products available, including:

  • Edibles like candy and gummies
  • Oils and tinctures
  • Capsules

Effects

The varying THC and CBD contents of hemp and marijuana produce distinct effects when used.

Most people tend to focus on marijuana’s psychoactive effects, but its properties can vary significantly based on strain.

Generally, strains are divided into three categories—sativa, indica, and hybrids—though there is plenty of overlap.

Here are the main characteristics of each:

  • Sativa strains – These strains produce the stereotypical, euphoric high most people associate with marijuana, also called a “cerebral high.” It energizes and boosts mood and can even help with concentration.
  • Indica strains – If you want a natural and holistic sleep aid, opt for an Indica strain. Indica products relieve pain and help you relax by producing what some call a “body high.”
  • Hybrid strains – These strains are called “hybrids” because they embody both sativa and indica properties. The exact effects will depend on which properties are more dominant.

Since hemp-derived products have very low, almost negligible levels of THC, they can’t make you high like marijuana can. Instead, the soothing and non-psychoactive properties of CBD dominate.

There is an exception to this, however. Manufacturers discovered a way to synthesize THC variants from hemp-derived CBD, such as delta-8 THC. These variants are less potent than “normal,” cannabis-derived THC (AKA delta-9 THC) but they still have noticeable psychoactive effects. This is a big topic—learn more in one of our many delta-8 guides.

Legality

Hemp and marijuana differ most in the eyes of federal and state laws.

Currently, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, making it illegal to grow, sell, possess, and use at the federal level. The federal government claims it has “no medical uses,” however, more and more states are recognizing its therapeutic benefits.

38 states have now passed their own laws to legalize medical marijuana, and 24 have legalized it for recreational use.

In states where marijuana use is only allowed for medical purposes, you need:

  • A qualifying condition that’s recognized by the state program (for example, chronic pain, cancer, or anxiety)
  • A medical recommendation from a state-licensed healthcare provider

Not all state programs are the same, though; some allow the use of THC marijuana products, while others only allow for low THC, high CBD products.

Hemp legality is a completely different story.

The federal government effectively legalized hemp production and distribution via the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, also referred to as the 2018 Farm Bill. While growers and manufacturers must adhere to certain regulations, they can now make and sell hemp-derived CBD products, as long as they contain less than 0.3% THC.

After hemp was legalized, manufacturers were curious to extract other compounds from hemp, which led to the increased popularity of delta-8 THC products.

While delta-8 THC and other variants are synthesized from legal hemp-derived CBD, they exist in a heavily disputed legal gray area. Many states now have laws banning or restricting delta-8 products because they’re made in a lab, not naturally derived from hemp.

TeleLeaf Opens the Door for Holistic Healing with Medical Cannabis

Want to experience the healing effects of both marijuana and hemp-derived products yourself? Your path to pain relief begins by applying for a medical marijuana card online with TeleLeaf.

Hemp may be federally legal, but there are some states where you can only obtain marijuana with a medical card. TeleLeaf simplifies the recommendation process for faster, easier access to life-saving medication. We connect you to experienced, licensed providers who can determine your medical eligibility and offer the next steps, all from the comfort of your own home.

Schedule your virtual appointment today and learn if medical marijuana is the right treatment for you. You’ll be approved the same day as your appointment or get your money back, guaranteed.


Sources:

Brookings. The Farm Bill, hemp legalization and the status of CBD: An explainer.
https://www.brookings.edu/articles/the-farm-bill-hemp-and-cbd-explainer/

National Library of Medicine. An Overview of Products and Bias in Research.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4604179/

Journal of Cannabis Research. Methods for quantification of cannabinoids: a narrative review.
https://jcannabisresearch.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s42238-020-00040-2

Open Access Government. What is the ‘entourage effect’ of cannabis and how can it relieve pain?
https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/entourage-effect-cannabis-relieve-pain-cannaboids-terpenes/154305/

Healthline. CBD vs. THC: What’s the Difference?
https://www.healthline.com/health/cbd-vs-thc

Project CBD. Cannabis vs. hemp: what’s the difference?
https://projectcbd.org/what-is-cbd/cannabis-vs-hemp/

Healthline. Hemp vs. Marijuana: What’s the Difference?
https://www.healthline.com/health/hemp-vs-marijuana

RISE Cannabis. Indica vs. Sativa vs. Hybrid.
https://risecannabis.com/cannabis-101/indica-vs-sativa/

The Conversation. Cannabis-derived products like delta-8 THC and delta-10 THC have flooded the US market – two immunologists explain the medicinal benefits and potential risks.
https://theconversation.com/cannabis-derived-products-like-delta-8-thc-and-delta-10-thc-have-flooded-the-us-market-two-immunologists-explain-the-medicinal-benefits-and-potential-risks-204171

National Conference of State Legislatures. State Medical Cannabis Laws.
https://www.ncsl.org/health/state-medical-cannabis-laws

National Cannabis Industry Association. Where Is Delta-8 THC Legal and Where Is It Banned? CBD Oracle’s Map Has the Answers.
https://thecannabisindustry.org/member-blog-where-is-delta-8-thc-legal-and-where-is-it-banned-cbd-oracles-map-has-the-answers/

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