As medical marijuana becomes legal statewide and CBD spreads in popularity, so does the confusion surrounding the Cannabis plant itself. Most people are still confused by the difference between hemp and marijuana. They both come from the Cannabis genus, and for the most part, they appear to be identical.

However, they are not identical.

It also doesn't help clear up any confusion that all the different terms for the plant have become interchangeable over the years. Even now as you get your information via google searches, you'll still come across inaccurate information about the plant, its species, and varieties. For example, you may have read somewhere that "marijuana" is the female species while "hemp" is the male species. This is 100 percent wrong.

In this article, we're going to give you the breakdown of hemp vs marijuana so you get the correct information once and for all. 

The Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana

First things first—hemp and marijuana are not proper names for any species of the Cannabis plant. They're technically not a classification for the plant at all. At best, we can refer to them as varieties. The genus of Cannabis refers to the flowering plants of the Cannabaceae family. The three primary species are the Cannabis Sativa, the Cannabis Indica, and the Cannabis Ruderalis

Now, it's important to note that all of these species contain concentrations of both THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids and terpenes. You're probably already familiar with the strains of Indica and Sativa, which have higher concentrations of THC. Ruderalis, however, has naturally lower concentrations of THC. It also refers to a species of auto-flowering and wild Cannabis, but that's a story for another day.

Does Hemp Have THC?

At this point, you may be wondering if all the plants contain the same cannabinoids, is hemp marijuana and visa-versa? The short answer is no. In the case of hemp vs cannabis—note the interchangeability of terminology—what it comes down to are the concentrations of THC vs CBD, how they're cultivated, how they interact with the body, and what their other applications are. 

As we've just explained, the Sativa and Indica strains—aka, the marijuana varieties—contain a much higher concentration of THC. The Ruderalis species, or, hemp, only accounts for 0.3 percent of THC. That 0.3 percent or less is the legal amount of THC allowed in CBD products across the United States. This variety contains a much higher concentration of CBD, which is precisely what makes the "hemp plant" the perfect specimen for the cultivation of CBD flowers and products

Is Hemp Legal?

It's even more important to understand the fact that "marijuana" is federally illegal, while "hemp" has been dropped from the DEA's controlled substance list. This is thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill that passed, separating hemp from the stigma that comes with Cannabis. So, while THC may be legal for medical or recreational use in your state, it's still considered a Schedule I controlled substance. What this means is that the illegal possession and distribution of marijuana can result in fines or even jail time.

To keep things simple, THC is federally illegal while CBD containing the mandated 0.3 percent or less of THC is 100 percent legal. This would also make hemp legal, although you'd still need the proper licensing and permits to cultivate the hemp plant in large quantities. This also means that in states where THC is legal, you can find CBD products with higher concentrations of THC. However, in states where THC is not legal, those hybrid products are also illegal.

So, What Exactly is the Difference? 

Now that we've cleared up the semantics of the Cannabis plant and its legalities, let's talk about the difference between hemp and marijuana in terms of CBD vs THC. What makes one legal and the other illegal? It all comes down to how they interact with the body.

First of all, both are phytocannabinoids. However, THC is a psychoactive cannabinoid while CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. Don't get hung up on the terminology just yet, we'll explain.

All humans and animals have what is called an Endocannabinoid System (ECS) which naturally produces Endogenous Cannabinoids—or, endocannabinoids. This system is responsible for interacting with the cell receptors throughout our bodies to regulate and maintain all our other systems. So, the very thing we have in common with the Cannabis plant are cannabinoids—Phyto for plants, and Endo for humans and animals. 

Phytocannabinoids can work with the ECS as well as mimic our body's naturally produced cannabinoids. This is what makes THC, CBD, and the other phytocannabinoids in the cannabis plant so important. The two phytocannabinoids are differentiated by how they interact with our receptors.

THC reacts with the cell receptors in our brain. As it binds with those receptors, it creates a slow-down or disconnect between neuron transmitters. This is what causes its well-known euphoric high. CBD, on the other hand, reacts mainly with the cell receptors throughout the rest of our bodies and doesn't get you high.

Hemp vs Marijuana: A Short Summary

So, what's the difference between hemp and marijuana? Let's sum it all up:

  • They are both varieties of different species of Cannabis
  • Hemp and marijuana aren't the proper nomenclatures for the plant
  • Hemp produces mainly CBD, which does not get you high
  • Marijuana refers to the Sativa and Indica species that contain mainly THC, which does get you high
  • Marijuana is still considered a Schedule I controlled substance on the federal level
  • CBD containing 0.3 percent THC or less is 100 percent legal

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