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Hemp vs Cannabis: What’s the Difference?

Over the last few years, the cannabis industry has generated billions of dollars in profit. As demand begins to increase, so do the questions about access. Leading to the confusion is the legal distinction that is drawn between hemp vs cannabis.

What is Cannabis?

Cannabis refers to the leaves and flowering portions of the cannabis plant, which contain cannabinoids. When ingested, these cannabinoids produce various mental and physical effects on the human body.

While cannabis refers to the plant, the term cannabis typically indicates the parts of the plant with greater than .3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). That’s the cannabinoid that produces the psychoactive effect. Some strains can be as high as 20 or 30 percent.

What is Hemp?

Just like cannabis, hemp is also derived from the cannabis plant Unlike cannabis, however, hemp has less than 0.3 percent of THC.

Evidence of its growth and use dates back to over 10,000 years ago. Leaving many to believe that hemp was the first crop to be cultivated by ancient civilizations. It’s considered one of the strongest and most durable fibers. These qualities make it ideal for the production of burlap, canvas, rope, cables, linens, clothing, paper, twine, string, and yarn. It’s also frequently used in the production of paint, varnish, and soap.

In addition to the fibers, hemp roots and seed produce oil that has significant nutritional value and can be used medicinally.


Hemp vs Cannabis

Under U.S. law, the difference between hemp and cannabis is clear. Cannabis refers to the seeds, leaves, and flowers of the cannabis plant, while hemp refers to the sterilized seeds, stems, stalks, and roots.

However, research has shown that the difference between the two is more complex.


The primary characteristic that sets hemp and cannabis apart is the chemical composition. While both hemp and cannabis have levels of CBD, they produce very different levels of THC. This means that cannabis produces the intoxicating “high” effect, while hemp does not.

The Legality of Hemp vs Cannabis

Due to this psychoactive effect, cannabis is regulated much differently under the law than hemp. Hemp was removed from the list of illegal substances under the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2013, which legalized hemp-derived products containing less than 0.3 percent THC.

Cannabis, on the other hand, is regulated differently depending on the state. While some states allow the use of recreational cannabis, others allow its use only for medical purposes.


Both cannabis and hemp are used and consumed in a variety of ways.

Cannabis is often used to create a euphoric effect of being “high.” Consumed through smoking, vaping, tinctures, edibles, and various other means., Cannabis is used recreationally and for therapeutic applications.

Hemp is harvested to produce different items, including food products, industrial material, and medicinal products. It’s important to understand that it remains unregulated. Many of the medicinal hemp products on the market are untested and may contain harmful contaminants. Therefore it’s important to research the brand before you purchase a hemp product, those with nothing to hide will make lab tests available to consumers.

Better yet, be sure that you’re getting a lab tested and certified product by purchasing from a licensed cannabis dispensary.

The Bottom Line

Both hemp and cannabis can offer a wide range of benefits through a variety of uses, both recreational and medical. While they are often confused, it’s important to understand what they are, how they’re different, and how they may be treated differently under the law.

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