Hemp vs Marijuana: What’s the Difference?

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The question seems pretty simple, right. Well the short answer is also quite simple. They are simply two different names for cannabis, a type of flower hailing from the Cannabaceae family.

This is the scientific explanation of hemp and marijuana, and while it does not dictate a difference between the two, the law does.

Confused? We get it. In fact, this is one of the most confusing subjects when we come to cannabis. And poor descriptions on the internet have not done anything to remove this confusion.

Which is why we are here today, and in this article, will be discussing what hemp and marijuana are, and the many ways in which they are different, and not so different from each other. 

What is Hemp?

The only difference that there is between hemp and marijuana is on the basis of a very specific cannabinoid – an active compound called tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. This compound is the psychoactive element found in the cannabis flower, and is what gets you high.

The term ‘hemp’ basically refers to cannabis with less than 0.3% THC content by dry weight.

Why 0.3%? 

Well, this definition was first proposed by Ernest Small in 1979. In his book “The Species Problem in Cannabis: Science & Semantics”, he argued that it’s difficult to distinguish between cannabis and hemp. So he proposed 0.3% THC content as a benchmark solution.

Since then, this definition has been adopted by the world, and is commonly used to distinguish between hemp and marijuana. 

A number of laws, including the 2018 Agricultural Act and the Controlled Substances Act define hemp as a non intoxicating cannabis substance, which can be legally grown in mass quantities and cultivated for industrial use.

Uses of Hemp

Since hemp does not contain a significant amount of THC, it will not get you high. But this does not mean that cannabis containing less than 0.3% THC is not useful.

You might be surprised to hear this, but there is evidence of it’s usage throughout history. Archeologists have even recovered hemp made items from over 10000 years ago, and today, many researchers believe that hemp may have been one of the first crops to be ever cultivated by human kind.

So what is hemp used for if it doesn’t have any medicinal or recreational value? 

Well, it has been used to create a large number of useful things. 

Let’s look at a few:

  • Textiles: Including clothes, diapers, handbags, denim, and shoes.
  • Industrial Textiles: Ropes, canvas, tarps, carpets and nets.
  • Paper: Newspaper, printing, cardboard and packaging.
  • Food: Hemp seed oil, hemp seed hearts, protein powder, and food supplements.
  • Body Care: Soaps, shampoos, lotions, balms, and cosmetics.
  • Industrial material:Oil Paint, varnishes, printing inks, fuel, solvents, coatings and acrylics.

What is Marijuana?

Now that we know what hemp is and what its uses are, it is now time to look at marijuana.

As you might be able to guess, marijuana is the name given to the varieties of cannabis which contain more than 0.3% THC content. 

While 0.3% may seem like a bit too much to the experienced weed lover, the government (and other regulatory organisations) wanted a figure to base their decisions on, and they took up the arbitrary number proposed by Ernest Small in 1979. 

But the real purpose behind this name was to simply separate non intoxicating flowers from the psychotropic, intoxicating and euphoric ones. But this too was somewhat idiotic, since there are different types of cannabis flowers. The three main categories of the cannabis flower include indica, sativa and hybrids, and all of them have different effects.

Additionally, as any weed lover would be able to tell you, different cannabis strains have different THC levels and effects, with some of the most potent ones reaching up to 30%.

But where did this term come from? If you don’t already know it, you’ll be truly surprised to learn of the history behind this name.

History and Racism

Even though you may not think of it today, the word “marijuana” is quite controversial, and has really racist terms. Let’s see how.

In the early 20th century, the Mexican Revolution forced many Mexicans to immigrate to the United States, leading to growing racist and anti-immigrant sentiments. At this point in time, cannabis was legally traded across the border.

The word “marijuana” wasn’t used a lot before then. Instead, the scientific name, “cannabis” was in common usage. However, between 1910 and 1920, the word “marijuana” came into being, and was used to describe the stereotype that Mexicans frequently used cannabis. 

By the 1930s, this term was in common usage, and had become a common racist slur. The US government had a big part in this, since they used the term “marijuana” in their anti cannabis propagandas, and further strengthened the association between cannabis and mexican immigrants. 

This propaganda was highly successful. Not only was it successful in making cannabis illegal, it also spread a number of myths around cannabis and resulted in a number of racist stereotypes as well.

Simply because of the words racist and anti-cannabis ties, today, many true weed lovers refuse to use the word “marijuana”, and prefer to use the word cannabis only. As a result, it becomes rather difficult for people to identify between hemp and marijuana, since both of them are included in marijuana.


While the major differentiating factor between hemp and marijuana is in fact THC, it is important to know about both THC and CBD.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and cannabidiol (CBD) are the two main active compounds found in the cannabis plant. THC has intoxicating, psychoactive properties which get you high, while CBD has analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-anxiety properties without any psychoactive ones. As a result, CBD is an extremely popular compound in the medical field, and is in fact legal in many states.

That’s all for now

As a cannabis grower or user, it is important to know what’s legal and what’s not. After reading everything that we have discussed so far, hopefully you will now be able to successfully distinguish between hemp and marijuana. 

Visit our blog to find out more about marijuana as well as the latest expert curated news, tips, recipes and entertainment from the world of cannabis! 

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