What Is The Difference Between Cannabis, Hemp and Marijuana?

Cannabis, Hemp and Marijuana: What’s the difference?

It’s remarkable how many names we have for one plant family: Cannabaceae. Cannabis, hemp, and marijuana are terms for plants in this family, but they carry their own botanical and cultural significance. In this article, we’ll break down the differences between them.

What is hemp?

Cannabis sativa L, more commonly known as hemp, is a specific type of cannabis. It has different chemistry and characteristics than marijuana, though they are both part of the same family. Hemp plants contain low levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the intoxicating phytocannabinoid, but high levels of the non-intoxicating Cannabidiol (CBD). 

So, what separates the two? THC levels. Plants under 0.3% are considered hemp, while plants exceeding this THC limit are defined as marijuana. According to the U.S. Controlled Substances Act (CSA), marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Hemp can be used for myriad purposes— from textiles to biofuels. Seeds can be eaten or turned to hemp seed oil, and the flowers can be used to extract CBD. This CBD extract is used for a wide array of products, from skincare to supplements.

What is cannabis?

Cannabis refers to a genus of flowering plants in the family Cannabaceae. Containing about 170 plant species, the genus can be divided into three species: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. Though its evolutionary origins are still not well understood, it’s likely that cannabis emerged around 27 million years ago.

Without getting too lost in the details, let’s summarize that “cannabis” is a broad term containing both hemp plants and marijuana plants.

What is marijuana?

Hemp’s intoxicating cousin is known as marijuana. Though they are members of the same species, legal and chemical differences make them distinct.

Marijuana is intoxicating when consumed, due to its high levels of THC. This is why marijuana remains federally illegal— the CSA designates it as a Schedule I substance. Many states have now rejected the prohibition on marijuana and have created programs for the cultivation and sale of marijuana for medical and/or recreational use.

Like hemp, marijuana is available in many forms. The most common is simply dried and cured flower, but cannabinoids in marijuana are often extracted to create products like edibles, topicals, and many others.

So, what’s the difference between hemp and marijuana?

The words “cannabis” and “marijuana” are often used interchangeably, causing plenty of confusion. Since “cannabis” refers to an entire genus of flowering plants, including both hemp and marijuana, this nomenclature is not accurate. Historically, it’s the THC content of a plant that distinguishes whether it is considered marijuana or hemp.

Though they are cousins, these chemical differences put these two species in different legal categories.