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Hemp vs Marijuana: The Important Differences Explained

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Many have long misunderstood the significant differences between marijuana and hemp. Today, these differences are beginning to become more well known especially as the federal government helps define the two types of cannabis separately. Despite this progress, confusion between hemp and marijuana is still widespread.

Q: Are Hemp and Marijuana Different?
A: Yes!

First, it is important to understand that the two plants share a commonality in that they are both a species of plant called Cannabis Sativa L. This species of plant is well known for its 7 leaf pattern that is heavily associated with recreational marijuana use. Both hemp and marijuana feature this leaf pattern:

Cannabis Leaf

Comparing Hemp vs Marijuana

Looking beyond the species, the common traits between the two varieties begin to dwindle. Marijuana and hemp are different in their appearance, growing methods, chemical makeup, and potential uses. Each of these aspects contributes to the significant overall differences between the two plant varieties:

Chemical Makeup

Low-THC Hemp
Laws established in the USA and Canada have created a specific classification for hemp based on its chemical makeup. Today, the legal term industrial hemp is used to describe hemp classified as having less than 0.3% Tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-9 THC) on a dry weight basis. Because of the low THC content, hemp is non-psychoactive if smoked or consumed in an extracted form. These THC levels have been achieved in specific strains thanks to years of breeding low-THC plant varieties. Additionally, high-CBD hemp strains burst into the mainstream in 2013 thanks to the medicinal use of the extracted cannabinoids and other plant material.
High-THC Marijuana
Marijuana is a variety of cannabis well known for its high concentration of Delta-9 THC, the psychoactive high-producing compound. There are many strains of marijuana available featuring different cannabinoid and terpenoid makeups. Marijuana has been extensively bred to increase the amounts of THC present in order to maximize the psychoactive qualities of the plant. Some of the highest THC strains average a 20-25% THC content on a dry weight basis.


For more information, see our article that compares CBD and THC.


Hemp Appearance
Hemp is a fibrous plant thanks to the large stalk which can result in plants up to 20 feet tall. The 7-leaf pattern often shows skinnier leaves concentrated at the top of the stalks.

Marijuana Appearance
Marijuana is a shorter, stalkier plant than hemp. These plants feature broader leaves with an abundance of budding flowers growing around the stalks. These flowers are often covered in crystal-dusted hairs.


Growing Conditions

Outdoor Hemp Grow
Hemp can be grown in a wide variety of climates with minimal care. Often the plant is grown in large greenhouses or in outdoor farming operations. It is often grown in closely planted rows to encourage tall, slender plants designed to produce fiber.
Indoor Marijuana Grow
Marijuana is grown in precisely controlled indoor environments. Tight control of the growing environment means that grow operations are smaller in scale than hemp operations.


Use & Potential Applications

Hemp Uses
Hemp has long been known for its 25,000+ potential product uses thanks to its fibrous makeup and versatile seeds. More recently high-CBD strains have been used as a source to create CBD oil extracts used in a wide range of products known for their non-psychoactive, therapeutic benefits.
Marijuana Uses
Marijuana is commonly trimmed of its leaves and stalks down to the flowering buds which are then smoked or consumed as a recreational, medical, or spiritual psychoactive drug.


Legal Status of Hemp & Marijuana

Hemp, marijuana, and cannabis have long been confused by lawmakers and the public. In 1970 the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) classified all forms of Cannabis Sativa L as Marijuana and thus illegal. This generalized grouping caused all varieties of hemp and marijuana to become a schedule 1 controlled substances - regardless of their use or psychoactivity.

Thanks to the progress resulting from the 2014 and ultimately the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp has finally been lifted from the purview of the CSA. The result of this bill was that hemp is finally defined separately from marijuana. If cannabis contains 0.3% THC or less by dry weight, it is now considered hemp, not marijuana. Hemp is now federally recognized as a legal substance in the eyes of the federal government, lifting hemp out of schedule 1 status once and for all.

Despite this clear classification state, tribal, and regulatory bodies are still working on local regulation across the hemp industry.

Our Products Are Hemp-Derived

Here at Big Sky Botanicals, we source our product line exclusively from hemp grown within the federal regulations outlined in the 2018 Farm Bill. Furthermore, after extraction, we remove all of the THC from the resulting full-spectrum extract. The result is a highly effective broad-spectrum product that is free of this marijuana-associated, high-inducing cannabinoid.

For more information, see our product creation information page which dives into how our product line is crafted from seed to hemp to end product.

6 comments on “Hemp vs Marijuana: The Important Differences Explained

  • Jim White says:

    Dear Sir/Madam,
    I am a pipe smoker that wishes to smoke a safer substance, it was recommended that I try Infusion Earl Grey and Green Tea's which I do enjoy...
    Could I safely add a Hemp Tincture to these Infusion Teas...

  • Mike Mullen says:

    I started using HEMP oil broad spectrum oil that was THC free. The COA on the product did not detect any THC. I used it for a few weeks then I ordered some THC urine test strips and tested myself twice and was positive for THC both times. I did some more research on the test strips and found that they tested for any cannabinoids, not just THC. 10-15 years ago, we did not have CBD oil and the simple and cheap way to test was to test for cannabinoids not just THC. Testing facilities and employers often buy the cheapest thing online that will show positive even in the absence of THC.
    What are the right test strips based on CBD oil that will not test positive when THC is not present?
    Can someone who tests positive legally demand the two part test?

    • Big Sky Botanicals says:

      Hi Mike - As we discuss in our article on drug testing and CBD oil, drug tests that are looking for THC specifically are looking for the THC metabolite THC-COOH. From our research, finding if the test is specific to THC or covers all cannabinoids isn't information available right on the box. Best to contact the drug test manufacturer or facility and ask specifically what their test looks for.

  • Sally says:

    My employer does random Drug tests & any presence of THC will get me fired, no questions asked. There’s too much conflicting info out there ab this. I can’t chance losing my job but want to get off Xanax (which I’m not tested for).

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