What is the Difference between Hemp and Marijuana?

hemp vs marijuana 2

When it comes to the cannabis plant, you have probably heard many different words used to describe it. People frequently use terms such as marijuana, hemp, and slang such as pot, weed, or grass interchangeably. But in reality, these terms have origins that are supposed to indicate very different concepts.

Because the many different terminologies associated with the cannabis plant have been so frequently misused, knowing what they are actually supposed to be used for can sometimes be quite difficult. Fortunately, the differences between hemp and marijuana are almost immediately apparent. This article will help you understand these differences and when these terms can be used most appropriately.

hemp vs marijuana 2

THC Content

The most immediate difference between hemp and marijuana is the levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) that can be found in each plant. Within the cannabis plant itself, you will find over 100 different cannabinoids which each have very distinctive properties. THC is among the most well-known of these cannabinoids, but these unique, naturally occurring compounds, also include CBD, CBN, and numerous others.

THC is the cannabinoid—the chemically active compounds that can be found in the cannabis plant—that is recognized for being what makes consumers of the cannabis plant feel “high.” Naturally, individuals who plan on consuming cannabis for recreational or certain wellness purposes may have a substantial interest in buying varieties of cannabis that have the highest THC levels available. But sometimes, this particular compound is considered undesirable. This is the exact reason why cannabis farmers and geneticists have worked diligently to create distinctively different forms of the cannabis plant.

Essentially, the primary difference between marijuana and hemp is that—while both products are derived from the same genetic family (cannabis)—marijuana is high in THC content while hemp is not. Because THC is among the most powerful types of cannabinoids, its presence in a given plant will have a major impact on what the product is actually used for.

Genetic History

The history of humans using cannabis is believed to date back at least 5,000 years. Along with corn, wheat, and other essential cereals, cannabis is considered to be one of the oldest domesticated plants in the world. Whether you are interested in purchasing industrial hemp or recreational marijuana, the cannabis you will find on the market today is significantly different than the kind you would find in the Himalayan wild several millennia ago. Years of selective breeding, research, and painstaking trials and errors have allowed humans to develop new forms of the plant that can be fit for selected uses.

In the (very) early days of hemp domestication, these plants were not necessarily bred to be THC-free, but the presence of THC was certainly not a priority. Instead, farmers focused on finding the plants that would grow the tallest and were proven to be the sturdiest. These carefully executed breeding programs made it possible for hemp to be used for a variety of different industrial purposes—including rope, textiles, and even certain foods—in a way that very few crops have been able to do.

Eventually, the psychoactive properties of cannabis were discovered by humans as well. Several different civilizations began using cannabis for spiritual, medical, and religious purposes. The plants that were proven to be the most “spiritually potent” were set aside and used for the purpose of breeding future generations.

Even from an early point in time, hemp and marijuana have functioned as distinctively different embodiments of the cannabis plant. While hemp farmers have focused on breeding plants that can be most useful for industry, marijuana farmers have focused on breeding plants that have idealized levels of psychoactive properties. Though both of these products have the same genetic origin—which is likely why they are frequently (though fallaciously) equated with one another—history has undoubtedly found a way to make them distinct.


Naturally, both hemp and marijuana currently have very different uses. Depending on what you are hoping to accomplish, there will certainly be one variety of the cannabis plant that is more objectively useful than the other.

Marijuana farmers generally focus on maximizing THC content. Though many strains of marijuana can be found to be high in THC as well as other cannabinoids, these plants are undoubtedly grown with the pure intention of being consumed. THC-rich marijuana can be used for both recreational and medical purposes. But the presence of THC is something that, by definition, will always be found in a marijuana plant.

Hemp can also be used for certain medical purposes, though the absence of high THC levels will change the range of concerns it can help address. Hemp that is grown for wellness purposes will instead focus on cannabinoids such as CBD, CBN, and others. Many people prefer hemp over marijuana because consuming it does not create the sort of “high” that makes them feel uneasy. But in addition to consumption purposes, hemp can also be used for an abundance of products that can be found in everyday life. These include paper, rope, textiles, plastics, and countless others. The fibers of hemp are quite strong and are considered to be very durable.

Cultivation Process

Because hemp and marijuana are grown with different uses in mind, the cultivation processes that are used for these products will naturally be quite different. Though both products certainly require a firm understanding of agriculture in order to successfully grow, generally speaking, growing hemp is considered to be significantly easier than growing marijuana.

Marijuana cultivation requires a rigid attention to detail and very specific growing conditions. Variables such as temperature, lighting, humidity, and oxygen levels are all very important. Even the slightest adulteration of the ideal conditions can result in a crop that has less than optimal levels of THC. The best marijuana plants are almost always grown indoors where conditions can be most easily stabilized.

Hemp, on the other hand, is often grown outdoors where farmers can maximize their yield per acre. Because hemp cultivation is not THC-intensive, growing hemp has a much wider range of the conditions that will be considered acceptable. Growing a high-quality hemp crop will still require attention to soil conditions, nutrients, and many other important details. But in general, growing hemp is something that is considered quite accessible.


Lastly, another major difference between marijuana and hemp is legality. Though there are many federal laws affecting both industries, the most relevant laws are typically made at the state level. Because hemp does not have the same levels of THC as marijuana, its use for commercial purposes is permitted in a much wider variety of states.

Currently (as of May 2018), recreational marijuana use is only permitted in nine states. These states are AK, WA, OR, CA, NV, CO, MA, ME, and VT. There are also several states that allow the use of medical marijuana but not recreational marijuana. On the other hand, commercial hemp cultivation is legal in each of these nine states in addition to 26 others (35 total). These additional states include HI, UT, MT, WY, ND, NE, MN, WI, IL, IN, MI, KY, TN, AL, FL, SC, NC, VA, WV, MD, DE, PA, NY, NH, and RI.

Though both hemp and marijuana are derived from the same original plant, the vast amount of differences that can be found between is quite apparent. To learn more about Industrial Hemp or Hemp farming, contact the experts at Blue Forest Farms today.