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What’s the Difference Between Hemp & Cannabis?

Laura Henry
What’s the Difference Between Hemp & Cannabis?

It can be difficult and often confusing to understand the difference between hemp and cannabis. It’s a common misconception that they’re the same thing. While they do both derive from the same plant, hemp and cannabis differ significantly. With various products available in the market for use, it is important to understand the effects, uses, and legality of hemp and cannabis.

The Same Species of Cannabis

Especially in a scientific or health setting, conversations tend to center on medical marijuana facts and the effects of cannabis on the body. In this regard, hemp-based CBD has similar potential benefits. Hemp and marijuana both derive from the same plant, Cannabis sativa. It’s accurate to say that “cannabis” is the bigger category that hemp and marijuana belong to. So hemp is cannabis, but when people talk about cannabis, they don’t always mean hemp. In other words, hemp is a specific variety of C. sativa. Marijuana can come from a variety of cannabis strains or even be a hybrid of different strains.

The Biggest Difference: THC Levels

Despite both commonly belonging to the Cannabis sativa species, there is a critical difference between hemp and marijuana cannabis. That difference is the level of the psychoactive compound, tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC. Hemp contains less THC than cannabis—legally, hemp has less than 0.3% THC. Practically, this isn’t enough THC to produce the “high” that is typically associated with marijuana. What’s commonly referred to as cannabis, on the other hand, contains more than 0.3% of THC and is known for its psychoactive effects. Recreational or medicinal marijuana exceeds that 0.3% threshold of THC.

CBD: Uses and Benefits

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The cannabis plant contains hundreds of cannabinoids, compounds that interact with receptors in the body that are involved with functions such as anxiety and pain sensation. THC is a cannabinoid, as is cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is a compound found in both hemp and cannabis. CBD-dominant strains of cannabis can have little to no THC. Hemp-derived CBD and medical marijuana with low THC levels are often prescribed for medicinal purposes. While research is ongoing, studies have found that CBD may be effective for pain control and inducing relaxation.

Research has also shown that CBD can often be effective in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), multiple sclerosis (MS), glaucoma, symptoms of HIV/AIDS, and many more health conditions in patients. For these reasons, the past decade has seen significant changes in both public opinion and the legality of CBD.


Another main difference between cannabis and hemp is their legal classifications. While hemp is legal, recreational cannabis is considered illegal in some states and is illegal under federal law in the United States. Why the difference in legality? It comes down to the levels of THC. Under federal law, hemp CBD and derivatives of cannabis with concentrations of THC under 0.3% are permissible. In most states, low THC cannabis may be prescribed for medicinal purposes. For those in a state where cannabis is illegal, hemp is the most fitting option for use. A hemp-based CBD guide can help you figure out which hemp products would work best for your personal needs.

Summary: The Right Choice for You

Though hemp and cannabis are often thought of as being the same, the two differ significantly. The two largest differences are their levels of THC and their legality. Finding the right choice for you comes down to laws and to your medical purpose for use. Consult a physician or medical professional to discuss your options and eligibility and to determine the form of cannabis for you.

Laura Henry
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