Hemp vs. Marijuana: What’s the Difference?

Plants of Hemp and Marijuana

One of the most popular comparisons in the health and wellness sector has always been that of hemp vs marijuana. Both hemp and marijuana are well known for their therapeutic properties. Because they all come from the same genus and species, Cannabis Sativa, the difference between the two drugs is sometimes misunderstood.

However, it is paramount to highlight that there are fundamental differences between the two. These span from biology, usage, cultivation, and legality.
One of the most frequently asked questions on the subject is ‘Why is it important to know the difference?’

For a variety of reasons, people should be aware of the distinctions between hemp and marijuana. Firstly both hemp and marijuana are usually used for health and wellness purposes. It is against this background that users should be aware of how the two affect their bodily systems. It will help them make decisions that are sound from a health perspective view.

Also, it is critical to understand the difference between hemp and marijuana for legal purposes. Both operate in distinct legal settings, and users should be aware of the differences to avoid breaking federal or state laws. The details about hemp vs marijuana are described in detail below in the article.

Marijuana and Hemp Definition

When you intend to understand the answer  to the question ‘What is the difference between hemp and marijuana?’, the first port of call is certainly their respective definitions. The two are described below.

Hemp is a kind of cannabis known technically as Cannabis Sativa L. It contains low levels of the psychoactive Phytocannabinoids delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol. Furthermore, it features high quantities of a cannabinoid known as cannabidiol (CBD).

On the other hand, is marijuana. In simple terms, marijuana is the intoxicating counterpart of hemp. It includes a lot of delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol, which is a psychotropic chemical.

hemp and marijuana plants

Differences in Biology

The issues of hemp vs marijuana wouldn’t have been dealt without addressing their anatomical differences. It is crucial to highlight that the two carry significant biological differences that users should be aware of. These will be discussed in depth below.

Hemp plants have clear physical characteristics that distinguish them from marijuana plants. Generally, hemp plants grow significantly tall and slim. They develop large leaves, sort of palm-like, ranging from average-sized to large folioles. They also have longer spaces between nodes, which can even extend to 15cm in some instances.

The branches and trunks tend to be much denser and are characterized by a higher fiber count compared to marijuana plants. Also, it is paramount to highlight that hemp plant flowers are not as plentiful as those of marijuana. They are further apart.

Of course, the biological differences between hemp and marijuana would not be complete without pointing out the THC differences between the two plants. The hemp plant has a much lower content of delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol by dry weight compared to marijuana.

In fact, the federal legal limit for hemp categorization is 0.3% THC. On the other hand, marijuana plants can have a THC content that is as high as 30%.


The hemp vs marijuana comparison also spans to include how the two differ in terms of usage. Starting with the hemp plant, its stalk is used in the development of biofuels or the manufacture of textiles. It is also important to highlight that hemp fibers are also primary raw materials for paper, building materials, and other industrial products.

Raw materials that include shives or hurds are short wood fibers that are typically found inside the stalk. They are crucial in the manufacture of absorbents, bedding materials, particleboard, ceiling panels, and compost.

Bast fibers make up the outer section of the stalk and are usually divided into three groups, namely primary or line fiber, secondary, and tow. This categorization is based on cell strength and cell wall thickness. These help determine the fiber’s strength, durability, and possible uses.

From the plant’s seeds, oil is made for Hemp seed, which may be consumed. The flowers are used in the extraction of CBD, a chemical that is used to make a variety of goods such as gummies, topicals, vape pet treats, and so on.

In fact, in recent times, there has been a massive interest in CBD oil extracted from hemp plants for wellness benefits. As a result, CBD-focused cultivation has grown at an exponential rate.

On the other hand, marijuana is sold in various ways. The dried and cured blossoms of the marijuana plant are one of the most popular. In addition, marijuana, like hemp, may be extracted to produce powerful extracts that can be purchased separately or used as ingredients in edibles, topicals, and other products.


The cultivation techniques for marijuana and hemp are also distinct. Hemp is cultivated very closely together. They will be just 4 inches apart. It is also paramount to highlight that hemp is usually grown in multi-acre plots. Hemp can be grown in a variety of climates. Its maturity cycle ranges between 108 to 120 days. Hemp has numerous varieties, which can be grown for seed, CBD content, or fiber.

On the other hand, marijuana plants thrive in a strictly controlled, warm, and humid atmosphere. Marijuana plants are grown relatively further apart relative to hemp plants. They usually have grown about 6 feet apart. The growth cycle of marijuana ranges from 60 to 90 days.

It’s also worth noting that you can’t grow hemp and marijuana together. If this occurs, the pollen from hemp will adversely affect the marijuana plant. Marijuana’s psychoactive properties will be diluted, and both crops will become useless.

Issues of Legality

The issue of hemp and marijuana legality has always played a central role whenever the two substances are together. Fundamentally, people should be aware of the legal environment in which these two substances are so that they avoid falling out of line with regulatory authorities. The legal differences between the two substances are highlighted below.


The use of hemp is regulated by the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. This is also known as the Farm Bill. Under this act, the use of hemp is federally permitted but under airtight conditions. The bill legalized the use of hemp plants whose THC is less than 0.3% by dry weight.

The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 also regulates the hemp growing process through a set of guidelines. As a result, hemp plants that satisfy the THC limit but were produced by unlicensed growers are considered illegal.

It is also paramount to highlight that even though the use of hemp is federally legal, several states are still adjusting their laws so that they resonate with federal law. Hence, the best way to verify the legality of the substance in your state is to become up to speed with the local laws in your area.


Legally speaking, marijuana refers to cannabis whose THC content by dry weight is more than 0.3%. In marijuana, the levels of the psychoactive delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol can reach up to 30%, depending on the strain.
Before the 1930s, the legal environment around the use of marijuana was friendly.

Individuals were free to use it for various purposes. The prime uses of the substances included papermaking, clothing, rope making, recreation, and as a herbal remedy for a myriad of health conditions.

However, public opinion began to shift hostilely towards it, leading to the passing of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. A few decades later, the substance became illegal under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970. Marijuana falls under the category of a Schedule 1 drug. It implies that marijuana-derived products are illegal under federal law.

However, states can regulate the substance for medicinal and recreational purposes in their jurisdictions. It explains why some people in particular states have access to the health and therapeutic benefits of the substance while others do not.

Final Thoughts

Marijuana and hemp are very popular substances due to their touted medicinal and therapeutic properties. The two, however, are not the same, and it is paramount to be aware of their differences.

An action like this is in the public’s best interests and will help you avoid falling out of line with regulatory authorities. In the United States, the levels of delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the defining line that separates the two substances legally. Hemp is defined as Cannabis Sativa L. and contains 0.3% THC or less.

On the other hand, plants whose THC content exceeds 0.3% are classified as marijuana and are federally illegal as dictated by the United States Controlled Substances Act. The differences between the two also span to include agriculture, uses, anatomy, and even the legal environment in which they exist.

It’s also worth noting that these two are frequently seen in health and wellness goods. Therefore, if you are not sure about any aspect of them, you should consult a certified medical practitioner.

Arthur Scott

Arthur finds an interesting niche where he focuses all his energy in. CBD became his happiness, and he boasts of in-depth knowledge about CBD. He later started writing articles about CBD, and it did not take long before his talent was obvious.

He has now secured a permanent position as a writer and CBD consultant in one of the Giant hemp companies. Scott delivers quality and timely content that educates readers on the benefits, and the definition of the best CBD. He spends his leisure time giving hope to patients suffering from neurological conditions.

Endocannabinoid System and CBD: A Complete Guide

Previous article

A History of Cannabis in the United States

Next article

You may also like