What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

Once upon a time, the only thing you knew about cannabis was that people smoked it in college to get high. Now, you’re using (or thinking about using) CBD products, and your nearest and dearest are just a tad concerned.

Not to worry, we’ll clear up the confusion by explaining the difference between hemp and marijuana and talking about CBD from hemp oil specifically. It could take a while for the smoke to clear, but the stigma is gradually lifting on cannabis — in fact, it’s practically becoming chic!

One Genus, Several Variants

Botanically, there’s no difference between hemp and marijuana. They both come from the Cannabis sativa L. genus in the Cannabaceae family and have no obvious structural contrasts. On the chemical level, however, it’s a different story. Over time, separate cultivars of C. sativa have been bred to produce vastly different chemical profiles, and this is where the difference between hemp and marijuana becomes clear.


The plant that we know as marijuana has naturally high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC — the intoxicating compound that gets people high. In 1980, marijuana typically contained 2% THC. Today, that figure can be anything between 17-28%. Furthermore, certain recreational products are produced with concentrations as high as 95%.

The THC in cannabis (along with other cannabinoids and terpenes) is located in the resinous buds of the plant and extracted using a variety of methods. Traditionally, the dried buds were smoked. Today, marijuana is processed to create concentrates, extracts, and isolates that are used for vaping, dabbing, inhalation, and edibles.


Hemp rope tied in a knot

Hemp, on the other hand, is a completely different story. Hemp is more like the flax of cannabis — traditionally being bred for its fiber. The long, fibrous stalks of hemp were used to make rope and clothing and the seeds were eaten as a rich source of protein and essential fatty acids. During World War II, the US government even initiated a domestic hemp cultivation program when fiber imports from Asia were interrupted.

The major difference between hemp and marijuana is that hemp contains only trace amounts of THC — a maximum of 0.3% on a dry-weight basis. The seeds and stalks of the plant contain no cannabinoids or terpenes. Because hemp contains so little THC, it is not typically used recreationally. However, newer high-CBD varieties of hemp have opened the door for ingestible and topical applications.

Cannabidiol Marks the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana

Cannabidiol (CBD) was discovered by American chemist Roger Adams in 1940 and found to be non-intoxicating by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam in 1964. Even though cannabidiol was discovered at this early point in time, research in the United States was extremely minimal due to restrictions and stigma surrounding “marijuana.”

When medical cannabis was legalized in California in 1996, anecdotal reports started to emerge about the effects experienced when taking CBD. The moving stories of Rick Simpson and Charlotte Figi, in particular, started to sway the public’s opinion about cannabis and opened the door to several more states legalizing cannabis for medical purposes.

The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018

In 2018, the federal government officially defined the difference between hemp and marijuana: hemp is cannabis with a maximum of 0.3% THC on a dry-weight basis and marijuana is cannabis with anything above 0.3% THC. The Act recognized “hemp” as a legal agricultural commodity that could be grown and insured like any other crop.

Since this monumental change in law, research into hemp cultivation and processing has become easier and sales of hemp-based products have exploded, including:

While not every state allows the cultivation of hemp just yet, hemp-derived products can generally be purchased online and used at home. The only states that don’t allow the shipment of CBD from hemp oil are Iowa and Idaho.

Advantages of CBD from Hemp Oil

Seeing that cannabidiol can be sourced from either marijuana or hemp, what are the advantages of CBD from hemp oil? What’s the difference between hemp- and marijuana-derived CBD?

Higher Concentration of CBD

Firstly, hemp contains much higher concentrations of CBD than marijuana. In some cases, hemp could contain up to 21% CBD compared to as little as 0.09% CBD in cannabis strains such as Girl Scout Cookies. When you purchase a hemp-derived CBD product, you know CBD makes up the bulk of the oil.

Less Than 0.3% THC

Secondly, hemp by definition contains less than 0.3% THC. This makes CBD from hemp oil non-intoxicating and officially legal at a federal level. Even if a CBD product is made from hemp, it’s still essential to review the third-party testing results to make sure it contains less than 0.3% THC.

Synergistic Compounds

Thirdly, CBD from hemp provides the best of the differences between hemp and marijuana along with the benefits that they share. Both varieties of Cannabis sativa L. contain over 100 different cannabinoids, terpenes, and beneficial compounds that work together in synergy. With hemp, you can enjoy this synergy in a legal, non-intoxicating way.

Explore CBD from Hemp Oil at SOAR™

At SOAR™, we decided to launch a line of CBD products in 2019 after experiencing CBD’s amazing potential for supporting wellness. Today, we offer a comprehensive range of CBD products for people who are looking for wellness, recovery, energy, and sleep — all derived from organic hemp.

If you’re intrigued by the difference between hemp and marijuana, we invite you to explore our CBD blog where you’ll find science-backed information and delicious CBD-infused recipes. All of our products are certified to contain less than 0.3% THC. Explore and learn about CBD at SOAR™!

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