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Telling The Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana

Photo by Jeff W on Unsplash

Side by side, hemp and marijuana look virtually the same. However, the devil is in the details. There are several defining features that separate hemp from marijuana that everyone, industry professionals and consumers alike, should know about.

What is hemp?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA for short), "Hemp is defined as cannabis (Cannabis Sativa L), and. derivatives of cannabis, with extremely low (not more than. 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis) concentrations of THC." This is just one of the many reasons why third party testing is so important. Depending on the state you reside in, the line between hemp and marijuana can blur in some places, making the need for accurate potency testing vital.


Just like with dogs, horses, tomatoes, and any other living thing, humans have altered the genetics of the cannabis plant to meet various needs. Throughout thousands of years, mankind has bred cannabis into niche sectors. Some strains were bred to produce strong fiber for rope and cloth. Other strains were bred for medicinal purposes and others were bred to produce feed for livestock.

In the present, both marijuana and hemp have continued to be bred for different purposes. Marijuana is typically bred for potency, varied terpene profile, and other defining niche features that appeal to various consumers.

Hemp has been bred for similar reasons, with most of the market focus on either extraction or fiber. However, there is also a niche sector focused on producing high-quality smokable hemp flower. Currently, many brands are focusing on extraction for minor cannabinoids such as CBN, CBG, and Delta-8.

State law vs federal law

While hemp is legal on a federal level, state laws can vary. Similarly, cannabis laws vary state by state while illegal on a federal level. Some states have legalized recreational and medical, others only allow for medical cannabis. It is advised to read up on local legislature when entering into a state's marijuana or hemp industry. For questions pertaining to each individual state, please contact the governing body overseeing the marijuana or hemp program.

The Bottom Line

While hemp and marijuana are extremely similar, each has its own unique defining features. Both come from the same family and can be described as cannabis, but hemp and marijuana have each been defined in very distinct ways. Potency, usage, and other factors play into how humans have shaped thousands of strains, creating a vast network of unique and useful plants.


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