Hemp vs Marijuana vs CBD vs THC: What’s the Difference?

Hemp vs Marijuana vs CBD vs THC: What's the Difference?

Being new to the world of cannabis sure can seem overwhelming! There are lots of buzzword terms to learn, like hemp, marijuana, CBD, and THC — what do they all mean?

Let’s start with the basics today: the difference between hemp vs marijuana and CBD vs THC. It’s important to know exactly what these terms mean because they describe various aspects of the cannabis plant family.

Come along as we take a deep dive into the finer points of these cannabis terms and uncover the fascinating nuances among them.

Table of Contents

    The difference between hemp and marijuana

    Making comparisons between the fundamental hemp vs marijuana differences is pivotal in getting a handle on cannabis. These two variations of the Cannabis sativa plant species each have distinct characteristics, so let’s take a closer look.

    What is hemp?

    Hemp has been cultivated for many moons due to its sturdy fibers and nutritious seeds. Hemp plays an important role across many industries and can be found in everything from eco-friendly textiles to bioplastics to foods and health supplements – and more. The defining characteristic of hemp is its minimal THC content, (usually less than 0.3%), ensuring it won’t cause you to get high.

    What is marijuana?

    In terms of marijuana vs hemp, you could consider marijuana the more controversial sibling when compared to hemp. Marijuana is primarily sought after for its rich THC content within its buds or flowers. Depending on the THC/CBD ratio, marijuana can offer a varying degree of psychoactive experiences. Beyond the obvious recreational use, people everywhere advocate for marijuana’s potential health benefits in pain management, appetite stimulation, and more.

    Hemp and CBD: Are they the same thing?

    Hemp refers to the entire plant, especially the stalks, and seeds, whereas CBD (or cannabidiol) refers to just one of over a hundred cannabinoids naturally occurring within the hemp flower.

    CBD undergoes an extraction process from hemp plants and holds wonderful therapeutic properties. The rest of the hemp plant has uses that extend far beyond CBD-rich extracts like full spectrum and broad spectrum CBD oil (containing no THC). Hemp is incredibly versatile and has made a name for itself in the realm of textiles, paper, food, biofuel, hemp oil, and much more.

    CBD vs THC: The differences and similarities

    It’s no secret that CBD and THC are the two major players in the cannabis game, and are certainly the most studied cannabinoids. They both interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system but in different ways. This leads to varying effects – from CBD’s soothing and relaxing tendencies to THC’s mood and perception elevation.

    CBD (Cannabidiol)

    CBD is a non-psychoactive compound that does not induce the high that THC is famous for. CBD brings a wide range of health benefits to the table, and is not only known for aiding sleep and reducing anxiety but has been proven to hold anti-inflammatory properties. Any way you look at it, CBD has many applications and has the power to create a better life for people everywhere.

    THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol)

    THC’s claim to fame is its psychoactive properties. Beyond the euphoria, it may assist with pain, appetite, nausea, and more health complaints. It’s imperative to keep in mind that excessive THC use can bring on paranoia or increased anxiety in some people.

    The historical context of hemp and marijuana

    Both hemp and marijuana have played pivotal roles throughout history, with the relationship between humans and the cannabis plant dating back thousands of years. Although both are valuable, they have been utilized differently.


    Hemp is one of the oldest domesticated crops and has been a cornerstone of various ancient civilizations. Its durable fibers have been turned into textiles, ropes, fabric, and paper, and it has also been relied on for medicine-making.


    Marijuana has been used as both an intoxicant and a medicinal remedy for the longest time, according to historical records from ancient China, India, and the Middle East. Physicians in ancient times documented its therapeutic properties and uses for treating pain, insomnia, and gastrointestinal issues.

    However, in the 20th century, there was a significant shift in the perception of marijuana, particularly in Western nations. Propaganda campaigns like the infamous Reefer Madness in the 1930s stigmatized its use. The result was a series of regulations culminating in marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I controlled substance in the Controlled Substances Act.

    This cast a shadow not only on marijuana but hemp too, but gradually, over the recent decades, there’s been a renaissance in the understanding and acceptance of cannabis thanks to cultural shifts and scientific discoveries.

    Cannabinoids beyond CBD and THC

    While CBD and THC haven’t always been keen on sharing the limelight, the cannabis plant is host to over a hundred cannabinoids, each with its own potential. Let’s take a closer look at just some of them:

    CBG (Cannabigerol)

    This is often referred to as the mother of all cannabinoids, as it is the precursor from which all other cannabinoids are synthesized. It’s understood to hold anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties.

    CBN (Cannabinol)

    This cannabinoid emerges as the THC degrades, and is known for its potential sedative effect. It’s thought that CBC may play a role in the sleep-inducing effects of certain cannabis strains.

    THCV (Tetrahydrocannabivarin)

    Structurally similar to THC, this compound has a different effect on appetite with the potential to suppress hunger.

    CBDV (Cannabidivarin)

    CBDV has piqued the interest of people in the neurology space, as it may have some anticonvulsant effects.


    In addition, cannabis contains compounds called terpenes. These aromatic molecules are responsible for the unique scent of different strains and may play a key role in the therapeutic potential of cannabis.

    Understanding the endocannabinoid system

    We have an intricate network, known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS) within our body which plays an important role in regulating various physiological processes such as mood, appetite, sleep, and immune responses. By understanding this system and its role, you can appreciate the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids.

    Within the ECS, you’ll find endocannabinoids (cannabis-like substances that the body naturally produces), enzymes, and receptors. The two primary receptors are:

    CB1 receptors

    Predominantly found within the brain, these receptors influence our neurological processes. THC primarily binds to these receptors which explains its psychoactive effects.

    CB2 receptors

    CB2 receptors are mostly found within the peripheral nervous system, particularly immune cells, and they play a part in managing inflammation and immune responses. CBD doesn’t bind directly to either CB1 or CB2 receptors, but rather it modulates and supports the ECS by influencing the receptors to utilize endocannabinoids more effectively.

    The legality and current state of cannabis

    The legal landscape surrounding cannabis is in flux. In terms of the U.S., the 2018 Farm Bill distinguished between hemp and marijuana in a legal context. Hemp containing less than 0.3% THC content was declassified as a controlled substance, which has opened the door to cultivation, sale, and distribution across the country.

    CBD products, derived from hemp, are legal on a federal level. You can generally buy online and in physical stores across most states, subject to age restrictions. Product offerings range from full spectrum (containing other cannabinoids and terpenes), broad spectrum (similar, but THC-free), to isolates (pure CBD).

    When it comes to marijuana, legality is very much on a state-by-state basis. While some areas permit recreational use, others allow it only for medicinal purposes.

    Hemp vs Marijuana vs CBD vs THC: The final thoughts

    The world of cannabis, with its many compounds and intricacies, sure is a fascinating place. More potential benefits of cannabinoids are being unveiled on a daily basis, which causes an ever-evolving relationship between humans and this humble plant.

    With growing research and shifting cultural perceptions, state laws can change at any time. It’s advisable to stay up to date with the legal restrictions within your local area and purchase your products from reputable brands.

    Frequently Asked Questions About Hemp, Marijuana, CBD, and THC

    What is the difference between hemp and marijuana?

    Both hemp and marijuana are considered cannabis and are part of the Cannabaceae.

    Does hemp have THC?

    Yes, as part of the cannabis family one of the compounds found in hemp is the cannabinoid THC.

    However, unlike marijuana, industrialized hemp used in the production of CBD contains significantly lower levels of THC than its counterpart, marijuana.

    To comply with federal and state laws, CBD sold over-the-counter must contain less than 0.3% THC by volume.

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