These are the key differences between hemp and marijuana that you should know about

Home Cannabis These are the key differences between hemp and marijuana that you should know about
These are the key differences between hemp and marijuana that you should know about

Hemp and marijuana are two variants of the cannabis plant that at first glance may appear identical, but have key differences in their chemical composition and uses.

Today we will take an in-depth look at the fundamental differences between these two plants and how they have evolved throughout history.

Origin and history of cannabis

Cannabis is a plant that has accompanied human beings for more than 2,700 years. The first records of its use come from China, where it was cultivated mainly for its medicinal properties and its ability to produce textile fibers.

Over the years, climatic variations in different regions of the world gave rise to different families of cannabis, hemp being one of them. This plant is best adapted to cold climates and is known for its industrial and medicinal applications.

In 1753, Swiss botanist Carl Linnaeus developed the first classification system for cannabis, dividing it into the following categories:

  • Cannabis Sativa: plants of greater height and thinner leaves, with energizing effects.
  • Cannabis Indica: variety originating from India with thicker and darker leaves, and more relaxing effects.
  • Cannabis Ruderalis: plants of smaller size and shorter growth and flowering periods, originating from Russia.

However, due to the constant hybridizations between these varieties in search of more potent strains, the visual differences between them have become practically non-existent. Therefore, the main distinction between them lies in their chemical composition and their applications.

Chemical composition: THC and CBD

The main psychoactive component of cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), present in higher concentration in the resin of the plant and to a lesser extent in the stems and leaves. On the other hand, cannabidiol (CBD) is another active cannabinoid that has proven to be effective in various medical treatments, such as epilepsy, cancer and certain mental disorders.

In this sense, we can distinguish between:

  • Marijuana: plants with high concentrations of THC and lower concentrations of CBD, including Sativa, Indica and Ruderalis varieties.
  • Hemp: plants with high concentrations of CBD and practically no THC, including Sativa, Indica, Ruderalis and industrial varieties.

The confusion between hemp and marijuana

One of the obstacles in the history of cannabis was the passage of the “Controlled Substances Act” in the United States in 1970, which banned all varieties of cannabis without distinction by chemical composition.

This led to the classification of all cannabis plants as drugs, preventing their cultivation even for industrial purposes, as in the case of hemp. In addition, this situation led to widespread confusion in public perception about the differences between hemp and marijuana, and a stigma surrounding their use and cultivation.

Benefits of differentiating between hemp and marijuana

The discussion about the use and legality of these plants, even though they are from the same family, should be addressed separately. Differentiating the recreational, medical and wellness use of marijuana from the industrial, medicinal and utilitarian properties of hemp would advance research, health, industry and the economy, as well as improve the quality of life for numerous patients.

In 2014, U.S. legislation again distinguished between marijuana and hemp, allowing their cultivation and use by recognizing their distinct and harmless cannabinoid profiles. This has spurred agricultural engineering in the creation of hemp strains with compositions adaptable to various medical conditions.

Hemp and Marijuana Applications

One of the best ways to differentiate hemp from marijuana is to be guided by their applications:


Marijuana, because of its THC content, is primarily used for recreational and medicinal purposes. Some of the medical applications include treating chronic pain, reducing nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients, controlling anxiety, and stimulating appetite in people with HIV/AIDS.


Hemp, on the other hand, has a wide range of industrial and medicinal applications. Some of the uses of hemp include the production of textiles, paper, biodegradable packaging, biofuels, building materials and food products.

In addition, CBD extracted from hemp is used in various medical treatments, such as epilepsy, cancer and certain mental disorders.


The key differences between hemp and marijuana lie in their chemical composition and applications.

Educating the public about these distinctions is critical to furthering research, health, industry, and economics, and improving the quality of life for numerous patients.

As legislation moves forward to differentiate and regulate these plants, it is important to be well informed and actively participate in the discussions affecting this growing industry.

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