Hemp bag with a tag that reads "hemp"

What is Hemp & How is It Different From Marijuana?

In many ways, hemp looks the same as marijuana. It smells the same as marijuana. Yet for some reason, hemp is legal and marijuana isn’t. Why is that? Well, in this guide, we’re going to dive into just what hemp is, and isn’t, and what distinguishes hemp from its cannabis cousin.

  • What is Hemp?
  • Hemp vs Marijuana vs Cannabis: What’s the Difference?
  • Hemp CBD vs Marijuana CBD: What’s the Difference?
  • Hemp THC vs Marijuana THC: What’s the Difference?
  • Is Hemp Legal?
  • Answering FAQs About Hemp

What is Hemp?

Hemp is a type of cannabis plant that is bred specifically to have less than 0.3% THC. However, there’s a lot more to say about this ancient crop.

Hemp has been grown for thousands of years, dating as far back as China in 2700 BCE. It has been used for everything from clothing fiber to foods and medicines. This prolific plant made its way to the United States, becoming a commodity fiber crop in the mid-18th century. However, when the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act was passed, hemp was classified as “marijuana,” and it became all but impossible for farmers to grow this plant. 

Sentiments around hemp have yo-yoed over the last century, especially when the United States has needed other sources of fiber during war times. However, industrial hemp–cannabis plants with less than 0.3% THC–was finally federally legalized in the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018.

Why less than 0.3% THC? In 1979, an author named Ernest Small wrote a book called “The Species Problem in Cannabis: Science & Semantics.” In it, he sought ways to tell the difference between hemp and marijuana, but ultimately was unable to because they are the same species: Cannabis sativa L. So, Small suggested that we classify hemp as any cannabis plant with no more than 0.3% THC.  

Later, in 2018, when the Agricultural Improvement Act was passed, that number was adopted to distinguish between the marijuana you consume for psychoactive effects and the hemp we use for a whole host of products. 

Hemp vs Marijuana vs Cannabis: What’s the Difference?

The short answer is…not much! Both hemp and marijuana are types of cannabis plants, which means they are the same species. That being said, when people talk about “cannabis,” they are most likely referring to marijuana, not hemp.

The marijuana vs hemp conversation is a bit more complicated. There are two major distinctions between hemp and marijuana:

  • THC Percentage: Hemp can have no more than 0.3% THC, a restriction that is not placed on marijuana.

  • Legality: Hemp is federally legal, and marijuana is only legal on a state-by-state basis.

An additional difference is that there is much more research around hemp because it is federally legal. Medical research on marijuana is limited due to heavy restrictions around funding and testing.

Hemp CBD vs Marijuana CBD: What’s the Difference?

The cannabinoid CBD is the same, regardless of which plant it came from. The biggest difference between hemp-derived CBD and marijuana-derived CBD is the legality of the source. If you’re purchasing a CBD product outside of a dispensary, the CBD came from a hemp plant. If you purchase a full-spectrum CBD product from a state-licensed dispensary, you’re getting CBD from the marijuana plant. That means if you’re living in a state that does not offer any cannabis program, you are unable to purchase full-spectrum CBD products.

Hemp THC vs Marijuana THC: What’s the Difference?

Similar to CBD, the actual cannabinoid THC is the same no matter its plant of origin. The difference here is the quantity of THC. Industrial hemp is required by federal law to have 0.3% or less of THC. As long as it has that, it can be used to make a plethora of products, including the CBD sold at your local store. Marijuana, on the other hand, has no regulation on the amount of THC it can contain, but it is not federally legal. Therefore, marijuana THC can only be sold in states that have legalized cannabis consumption.

Is Hemp Legal?

Yes-ish. Hemp’s legality is a bit fuzzy. Regulated (and licensed) farms are able to grow and sell hemp that contains less than 0.3% of THC. However, that doesn’t guarantee you can buy hemp-derived CBD products in that state. In some states, CBD is viewed the same way as marijuana: an illegal, Schedule 1 drug. Because hemp regulation varies from state to state, you should always check the rules in your area before making a purchase. 

Answering FAQs About Hemp

Curious about this cannabis plant? You’re not alone. Here are just a handful of questions we’ve answered about hemp:

Is hemp cannabis?
Yes, hemp is cannabis that has 0.3% or less of THC.

Does hemp have THC?
Yes. Hemp must have 0.3% or less of THC to be considered hemp. Above that amount, it is classified as marijuana.

Can you smoke hemp?
Yes, definitely. Plenty of people around the country smoke hemp for the other cannabinoids contained in the plant. That said, it’s important to remind you that you cannot get intoxicated with hemp.

Is hemp oil and CBD oil the same thing?
Not exactly and here’s why. A lot of hemp enthusiasts use the terms interchangeably. So for some, hemp oil and CBD oil are the same thing—an oil made from the hemp plant that contains CBD. For other fans of hemp, hemp oil is a reference to hemp seed oil, an oil extracted from hemp seeds that contains a variety of nutrients, like vitamin D, and compounds, like omega-3 fatty acids, but no CBD.

Understanding Hemp

Hemp plants provide countless products to people around the world, including plastic, clothing, flour, cosmetics, and more. Because it’s technically legal, it also helps move certain cannabinoid research forward, allowing us to continue to study the various compounds contained in this fascinating plant. Like with all things cannabis, we hope to see this plant thrive, legally, once more.   

Recreational cannabis is not available in all states. Cannabis is for medical use only and may only be used by certified patients in Ohio and Pennsylvania. State laws impact what dispensaries can and can’t sell to recreational customers and certified patients. Not every type of product, consumption method, dosage form, or potency mentioned on this blog will be permitted in all locations.