The Difference Between Industrial Hemp and Marijuana: The Definitive Guide

Hemp and Marijuana-Title

Not all Cannabis is Created Equal!

There is a thin line between love and hate.  There is also VERY thin line in the definition between hemp and marijuana.  Identical in appearance and chemical makeup, the main thing separating the two plants are the levels of THC and the primary usage.  In most textile industries, the stalk and fibers of the plant are used. In marijuana, the buds and leaves.  So with the two being so closely related, one might ask are they the same thing?  In essence, yes.  This 1976 study by the International Association of Plant Taxonomy proves that “weed” and “industrial hemp” are the same plant: Cannabis Sativa.  One plant, bred for two vastly different purposes. 

What is Industrial Hemp?Industrial hemp

Hemp is the common name for the category of all plants falling into the genus Cannabis.  Specifically, Cannabis Sativa L.  Legally, industrial hemp is defined as “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-nine tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.” In layman’s terms industrial hemp is defined as the fiber of the Cannabis plant extracted from the stem through a process called decordication, and all byproducts of the hemp plant including the seeds, oils, and even the roots. Popular Mechanics once wrote an article titled “New Billion Dollar Crop” stating that hemp “can be used to produce more than 25,000 products, ranging from dynamite to Cellophane.”The Many Uses of Hemp

Chemically, the industrial cannabis strain is exactly the same as the recreational strain, except for one key difference: the strains used for industrial purposes contain almost zero THC. In fact some strains of hemp are engineered to produce high levels of cannabidiol or CBD which counteracts some of the effects of THC, but more on that later. According to the National Hemp Association, “hemp has absolutely no use as a recreational drug.”

What is Marijuana?

Pot, Weed, Marijuana, whatever you want to call it, this strain is the most the well-known use of the Cannabis plant for most people.  Consumers enjoy the recreational use of this plant because of is psychoactive properties created by the high levels of THC in the specific breed.  THC content levels are the single defining factor between industrial hemp and marijuana. 

What is THC?

Molecular structure of THCTetrahydrocannabinol, THC, is the chemical compound found in the leaves of the hemp plant that causes altered psychological states.  In laymen terms, THC in the substance in pot that is responsible for getting you “high”.  THC affects cannabinoid receptors in the brain causing altered states of memory, visions, balance, concentration, etc.  THC also forces the body to release copious amounts of dopamine which often creates a sense of “euphoria” for those partaking. 

Read more details about the exact workings of THC on the body at

History of Hemp. 

Hemp is one of the earliest cultivated crops in history dating back to nearly 8000 B.C.  Throughout European history, monarchies frequently exploited hemp in many fashions including Henry VIII who utilized hemp to provide materials for the British Naval Fleet.  In Colonial America hemp was used as currency and Americans were legally obligated to grow the crop.  Since the early 1950’s, in America, Hemp has been lumped into a single category with Pot nearly dooming its fate as a versatile material and source of income for farmers.  In recent years, hemp has seen a resurgence in popularity as the government has continued to realize its overall usefulness. 

For more information on the history of Hemp check out this video:

History of Marijuana.

After an extended trip through prehistoric and ancient world histories from Asia through the Middle East, arriving in Central America later in history, marijuana finally made its way into the United States in the early 20th century.  The first rounds of marijuana were thought to have filtered into American via Mexican immigrants fleeing the revolution around 1910. The southwest quickly became a hot bed for marijuana. Its negative stigma grew just as quickly as its popularity for use.Federal and state law on marijuana drug use

The first state to outlaw marijuana was Utah (1915) and within 20 years, it was outlawed in more than 29 states.  The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 sealed the hemp plant’s fate making it illegal (via the DEA) to either grow or possess any variety of cannabis.  Currently, Marijuana is still listed as a Schedule 1 Controlled substance and its possession and use are prohibited in the vast majority of the United States. 


Science vs Popular Opinion.

The thin line between hemp and marijuana is separated only by semantics.  The legal definition of a hemp plant is one that contains low levels of THC.  Scientifically speaking, there are multiple varieties of the Cannabis plant, Cannabis sativaC. sativa, C. indica and C. ruderalis.  Geographic location of the particular plant’s cultivation will dictate which subspecies it will fall into. 

In 1971 Ernest Small published an influential book, The Species Problem in Cannabis. Because there is no innate level to measure the difference between hemp and marijuana, he “drew an arbitrary line on the continuum of cannabis types, and decided that 0.3 percent THC in a sifted batch of cannabis flowers was the difference between hemp and marijuana.” This quickly became the world’s standard for defining hemp vs marijuana.

Location, Location, Location… Hemp.

Despite debatable definitions and acceptance of hemp, many states are intolerant of industrial hemp.  According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only 28 states in America allow for the cultivation of hemp for commercial use.  Even so, each state that allows hemp production, has a specific set of rulings on how the crop is to be handled, from growing to harvest and usage.  For more information, per state, visit the NCSL’s complete listing of statutes

In the rest of the world, many countries are tolerant and even proponents of hemp cultivation.  According to the National Hemp Association more than 25 countries have acceptable use for hemp.  For a complete listing of countries who accept hemp production, visit the National Hemp Association.

America has a long standing history of hemp prohibition.  Because of this, many are uneducated to the value of hemp.  This amazingly diverse plant has taken a back seat to other, less beneficial crops in America due mostly to the bias. 

Science has proven how very useful hemp could be to both our economy and commercial production.  In coming years, we hope to see hemp gain popularity and get its “voice” back as a staple in American society. 

Do you have any questions about the difference between hemp and marijuana? Feel free to ask in the comments below!

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