Hemp Vs Marijuana - What's the Difference?

Over the years, cannabis has acquired numerous names and nicknames. Depending on where you are in the world, there are colloquial terms to describe it, such as 'weed' and 'chronic'. However, the words ‘hemp’ and ‘marijuana’ are universal and much more than just slang. They are important terms we use to define different types of cannabis.

Nonetheless, there is still confusion about the differences between hemp vs marijuana. And with the cannabis industry growing and CBD becoming more popular in everyday society, it is more important than ever to be able to determine between the two.

Cannabis - A Special Plant Family

Before we aim to understand the difference between hemp vs marijuana, it would be good to get better acquainted with cannabis. Cannabis refers specifically to a family of plants with three members; Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Ruderalis.

We consider all of these plants as hemp or marijuana. This means that hemp and marijuana are not species of the cannabis plant.

So what are hemp and marijuana then? They are simplified classifications of the plant, based on one specific characteristic. This characteristic is tetrahydrocannabinol THC level. If the plant has low levels of THC it is referred to as hemp and if it has higher levels of THC then it is considered to be marijuana.

Hemp - The Lawful One

In today’s world, society sees hemp as the lawful one of the two. This is because hemp contains only traces of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the illegal compound found in cannabis that causes us to feel high or intoxicated.

Hemp plants usually only contain trace amounts of THC. This makes it impossible to get high from consuming the hemp plant or products made from the plant.

Many products are made using hemp due to its low THC content and legal status. In the UK, the dry weight of a cultivated hemp plant is legal to use if its THC level is less than 0.2%. Additionally, any products that are made to be consumed must contain less than 1 mg of THC to be permitted to be bought and sold in the UK.

Hemp farming is expanding into big business globally. Hemp is the key to create CBD products which are one of the fastest-growing health trends today. As hemp has low levels of CBD, cultivators and manufacturers can make high-quality CBD products that are low in THC and legal to distribute in the UK.

Marijuana - The Rebellious One

If hemp is the well-respected family member, who helps lots of people with maintaining good health with CBD products, then marijuana is perceived by much of society as the opposite. Marijuana is the rebellious plant that gets in trouble with the law and is known more as an illegal drug.

The simple reason for this is that marijuana plants have more than the legal 0.2% THC limit expected in the UK. A marijuana plant usually has enough THC in it to cause the high that cannabis is known for.

Unfortunately, marijuana has got its name from a discriminatory upbringing, across the sea in the US. Marijuana originally was a Spanish slang term Mexicans gave to cannabis. However, in the early decades of the 1900s, there was mass immigration of Mexicans to the US. Mexican-Americans then used the cannabis plant culturally as a recreational substance.

Then, campaigns were created to deface cannabis use and the Mexican immigrants simultaneously. Soon after, states across the US implemented laws to make the buying and selling of cannabis more restricted and further marginalising Mexicans. Eventually, it led to a federal prohibition of cannabis that is still in place in some US states.

The whole world now has adopted the term ‘marijuana’ as a term to describe cannabis. Regrettably, due to its dark origin, we use it to describe illegal cannabis.

Hemp vs Marijuana - The Specifics

Now that we have a better understanding of what hemp and marijuana are, we can look at the similarities and differences between the two cannabis plants.

Appearance - Do They Look Similar?

It might be difficult to distinguish which plant is which if you have never seen them before. However trust us, it couldn’t be easier to tell the difference.

The hemp plant leaves are much thinner than the marijuana plant. The leaves are also mainly spread at the top of the plant. There are usually little or no leaves in the middle of the plant and the stem looks long and stringy. The long fibrous stem is why hemp has been so popular in making paper, clothes and ropes.

Marijuana plants look much more like bushes. They have thick broad leaves that shine with tiny crystals on them. If you see a marijuana plant and a hemp plant together it should be simple to see the differences in appearances.

Composition - The THC Content

As already mentioned, the main difference between hemp vs marijuana is the THC level. A legal hemp plant grown in the UK should not have more than 0.2% of THC. The low levels of THC make hemp a non-psychoactive plant.

Marijuana contains considerably more THC than a hemp plant. A regular hemp plant can contain THC levels of 5-20%. The higher levels of THC is what makes marijuana psychoactive and is why many people use it recreationally to feel ‘high.’

However, worryingly, the black market is cultivating new strains of marijuana with even higher THC levels and lower levels of CBD. So it is not uncommon to find marijuana on the street with THC levels near 30%. Higher levels of THC can be damaging to our mental health.

Legal Status in UK

Although hemp and marijuana are the same species of plant, their legal status couldn’t be more different. In the UK, hemp had the same legal status as marijuana. They were both strictly regulated as Class B drugs under the UK’s Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

However, since the 1st of November 2018, cannabis has been given a new lease of life and the UK legalised cannabis. The one condition was that the THC level of the dried plants was less than 0.2%. This has made hemp a legal plant to grow in the UK. And many products made from hemp are also able to be sold in the UK.

Cultivation - Growing Hemp vs Marijuana

The new laws introduced in the UK have revived the cultivation of hemp in the country. Now you can see the farms popping all over Britain to cash in on what can be made in the fast-growing cannabis industry.

Although do these farms look much different than marijuana farms? Other than the clear differences between the two plants, you may notice differences in the ways each of these plants are cultivated. Hemp plants are more efficiently grown. They can grow close together due to their long narrow shape. Hemp is also much less fussy and can grow in a multitude of climates. It can even deal with the unpredictability of the UK weather and can finish its growth cycle in around 120 days.

Marijuana is the opposite. It is not as efficiently grown as hemp. Due to its bushy shape, it needs plenty of room to grow and each plant must be spread apart. Also, it needs very specific conditions to grow. It needs a warm and humid climate to grow in. Marijuana grows faster due to the warmer climate and reaches the end of its growth cycle in about 80 days.

How We Utilise Hemp vs Marijuana?

When both plants reach maturity, we cultivate them for completely different purposes. Hemp is a long fibrous plant and can be used to make paper, ropes and clothes. The fibrous properties of hemp are becoming more popular in recent years. clothing brands are even using it to create more sustainable fashion.

However, the primary reason for the cultivation of hemp in recent years is its high CBD and low THC content. Companies use hemp for making THC-free CBD products that have no psychoactive effects. These include CBD vape liquids, balms, creams, oils, edibles, foods and drinks.

CBD products are used for their potential health benefits. These include:

  • Reducing stress
  • Managing everyday pains and aches
  • Managing epileptic fits
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Managing certain skin conditions
  • And much more.

Marijuana, on the other hand, is used for its high levels of THC and CBD. Recreationally, people use marijuana, as THC is a compound that can activate certain receptors in the brain. This causes users to feel high, which many describe as a euphoric feeling. However, some also claim they experience high levels of paranoia as well.

The recreational use of marijuana is still illegal in the UK. However, the medical use of marijuana is in the process of being legal. A certain few people can get a prescription for it. Albeit they are for very severe cases which include:

  • Patients receiving intense chemotherapy
  • Those with rare forms of epilepsy
  • People with multiple sclerosis

The legalisation of both plants are in their early stages and their uses are sure to change as the regulations for both plants become less strict across the UK.


We hope now you have a better understanding of the difference between hemp vs marijuana.

As you can see it is important to understand the differences as they have completely different uses and legal statuses.

Hemp has low THC levels and is now legal in the UK. It is used for making CBD products which are bought by many as a popular health supplement.

Marijuana has high levels of THC and continues to be illegal in the UK. It is illegally used recreationally by some. However, others with severe illnesses use marijuana.

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