Hemp vs. Marijuana — What’s the Difference?

Updated: Feb 1, 2020

As CBD products continue to grow in popularity and use, there is often still confusion when it comes to differentiating hemp and marijuana. Both hemp and marijuana are terms that have been coined to differentiate two varieties of the Cannabis sativa plant species. It is important to note that marijuana can also come from the Cannabis indica species, while hemp is only derived from Cannabis sativa. Although deriving from the same genus and species, hemp and marijuana have several key differences.

The most prevalent difference between hemp and marijuana is the tetrahydrocannabinol content, or THC. THC is one of the many cannabinoids produced by cannabis plants. Marijuana is described as any cannabis plant with more than .3% THC content, while THC has to be .3% or less to be considered hemp. Continuing on the subject of THC, this cannabinoid is responsible for the psychoactive effects seen in recreational and medical marijuana. THC in marijuana can be upwards of 30%, which is presumably why there is a “high” associated with it. There are no psychoactive effects associated with hemp products considering the THC percentage is so small. Hemp is federally legal, whereas marijuana is not. Select states, like Colorado and California, have legalized marijuana for recreational and medical use.

Selective breeding is primarily responsible for the variation between hemp and marijuana. Marijuana has been selectively bred for several generations and therefore, cultivation requires controlled environments--usually indoors. Controlled environments are necessary to enhance the plant’s characteristics and produce flowering buds from female plants. Most of the THC and other beneficial compounds of marijuana are found in the female flowering buds, and so marijuana is typically shorter & bushier than hemp. On the contrary, hemp is usually grown outdoors to maximize the size and yield of the plant. Throughout history, hemp was grown for use of its fibers in the stock and this is the reason why it is significantly taller than marijuana. Hemp fibers are significantly stronger than marijuana and can be harvested for a variety of uses. Hemp fibers can be used in building materials, paper, textiles, foods, and body care. Hemp also requires less attention and care in the growing process.

In North Carolina, a majority of hemp farms are grown for their flowers, which is where the cannabinoid CBD is extracted from for a variety of wellness products. All of Old Sparta’s CBD products are produced from federally legal hemp plants and contain no more than .3% THC.

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