It’s a common misconception that hemp and marijuana are two different species of plant.
In fact, they’re not distinct speciesTrusted Source at all. They’re just two different names for cannabis, a type of flowering plant in the Cannabaceae family.
While science doesn’t differentiate between “hemp” and “marijuana,” the law does.
Legally, the key difference between the two is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content.
THC is one of many cannabinoids, or chemicals found in the cannabis plant. It’s the one that’s primarily responsible for the “high” associated with cannabis.
The term “hemp” is used to mean cannabis that contains 0.3 percent or less THC content by dry weight.
Why 0.3 percent? This definition was first proposed in 1979, in a book called “The Species Problem in Cannabis: Science & Semantics.”
In the book, author Ernest Small addresses the fact that it’s difficult to distinguish hemp and cannabis because there’s no actual taxonomical difference between the two.
Small proposed the 0.3 percent rule as a possible solution, but he himself acknowledged that it’s an arbitrary number.
This number was used in the legal definition of hemp, as specified in the Agricultural Act of 2018 and other laws in the United States.
Because the THC level in hemp is so low, it’s unlikely to get you high.
Usually, when people say “marijuana,” they’re talking about cannabis that can get you high. The term is used interchangeably with “weed” and a number of other terms.
Legally, “marijuana” refers to cannabis that has more than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight. THC content can vary among cannabis plants. Some strains are bred to be higher in THC than others.
Cannabis plants have been designated as Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, or a hybrid. Each of these has its own purported characteristics and effects, although science has yet to verify this.
While cannabis seeds essentially contain no cannabinoids, cannabinoids are found in higher concentrations in cannabis flowers, leaves, and stalks.
Those looking to experience cannabis’s beneficial effects often turn to cannabis flower, which can be smoked or extracted into tinctures and edibles.
Cannabis strains high in THC may produce a high and may be used for medical purposes, like pain management. Strains low in THC but higher in other cannabinoids, like cannabidiol (CBD), may also produce beneficial effects but won’t get you high.
Hemp, or cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC, can also be grown to create other kinds of products, including:
Because hemp grows faster than trees and other crops, it’s considered to be a more sustainable way of making products like paper and textiles.
Hemp seed is quite nutritious, as it’s a complete protein that’s also high in fiber.
Other than the THC content, there’s one other difference between hemp and marijuana: legality.
The 2018 Farm Bill made it legal to grow hemp, or cannabis containing less than 0.3 percent THC, throughout the United States. It also made hemp-derived CBD products federally legal.
Marijuana, or cannabis containing more than 0.3 percent THC, isn’t federally legal.
State laws vary. In some states, it’s allowed to be used medically and recreationally. In other states, it may only be used medically. And in some states, it’s still completely illegal.
CBD is found in some amount in all cannabis plants. That means it can be derived from either hemp or marijuana.
However, CBD products are only federally legal if they’re derived from hemp and contain less than 0.3 percent THC.
Hemp plants and marijuana plants are both the same species.
Legally, hemp is defined as a cannabis plant that contains 0.3 percent or less THC, while marijuana is a cannabis plant that contains more than 0.3 percent THC.
CBD can be derived from both hemp and marijuana plants.
Last medically reviewed on August 27, 2020