CBD vs THC: What's The Difference Between Hemp & Marijuana?

There has been a lot of talk recently about cannabis and its uses, but many people don’t know exactly what cannabis is, or if it is the same as marijuana and hemp. In this article, we’ll explore hemp, marijuana, CBD, THC, and how they relate to cannabis. 

Cannabis is a genus of plants. There are numerous species within this classification, but the most well-known are cannabis sativa and cannabis indica. From there, distinctions can be made between hemp and marijuana plants, which are often mistakenly thought to originate from the same plant.

Marijuana can originate from either the sativa or indica species. In appearance, this plant is short and bushy, and its leaves are either broad-shaped or in tight buds. This is the plant that contains THC, which produces the psychoactive effects, or the ‘high’. Because of this, marijuana is typically grown for recreational purposes.

Meanwhile, hemp comes only from the sativa species.  Its leaves are skinnier than marijuana’s, and they are mostly concentrated on the top part of the plant. Hemp is taller and skinnier than marijuana, and its chemical composition differs as well. It contains a negligible amount of THC (0.3% compared to marijuana’s 5-30%), which makes it impossible to get high off of hemp. Instead, hemp contains a high amount of cannabidiol (CBD), which has no psychoactive properties. Hemp is grown for a number of purposes, including common materials like paper and fabric, oils, food, and biofuel. It is also grown for its CBD oil, which is growing in popularity in the health community.

Hemp also has potential as an eco-friendly and sustainable alternative to many common resources. Its fibers can be used as a biodegradable substitute for plastic, and they can also be used as building materials in place of steel, concrete, and wood. Hemp can also be used to produce fuels: both biodiesel and ethanol/methanol, which could greatly reduce the use of fossil fuels. As we continue to see the need for more sustainable solutions for the environment, hemp may become a vital resource.

History of Hemp in the U.S.

Historically speaking, hemp has been a common crop in the US, even a staple crop at one point, due to its many uses. However, the cultural attitude towards the plant began to shift in the 1930s, when the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, with the intention of combatting drug use, placed a tax on the sale of all cannabis products (including non-psychoactive hemp). This act effectively banned all use and sales of cannabis.

When, years later, the Act was deemed unconstitutional, hemp still could not cut a break in the US. The Controlled Substances Act of the 1970s, which ranked drugs by severity with the Schedule system, placed cannabis as a Schedule 1, making it one of the most restricted drugs. Unfortunately, hemp was included in this group.

In 2004, the US finally allowed for the importation of hemp, and since then, each passing year has seen advancements for the legalization of hemp production. Just recently, The Hemp Farming Act of 2018 officially removed hemp from the Schedule 1 drug listing. This will make it legal to grow industrial hemp in all 50 states.


As already established, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive component of the marijuana plant. Its chemical structure is similar to that of anandamide, a chemical naturally produced by the brain that also functions as a neurotransmitter. It influences concentration, pain perception, coordination, and other body functions. Since it is similar to a neurotransmitter, THC can attach to the cannabinoid receptors on neurons and influence the way they function and communicate. It can also, through the cannabinoid receptors, turn on the brain’s reward response, which causes a release of dopamine, which is what produces the “high” feeling. Because of its psychoactive effect, THC is illegal in the US.

So, what is CBD? Cannabidiol, or CBD, is also a cannabinoid that is found in the cannabis plant (both hemp and marijuana). CBD slightly differs in the atom arrangement from THC, although the chemical formula itself remains the same. This arrangement is what causes the psychoactive properties in THC, and not in CBD.

Both substances differ in how they interact with various receptors in the brain and body. While THC attaches to the CB1 and CB2, two major receptors of the nervous system, CBD does not tend to attach to them. Instead, it works through certain receptor-independent channels. These include: the serotonin 1A receptor, vanilloid receptors, orphan receptors, and nuclear receptors. It produces its effects on the mind and body without intoxication. As of this year, CBD that has been derived from hemp is legal nationwide. It is important to note that state laws still vary regarding CBD derived from the marijuana plant.

Hemp Oil vs. CBD Oil

There has been a lot of talk recently about both hemp and CBD oil due to their potential health benefits, and often the two are confused. For starters, the oils are acquired from different parts of the hemp plant. Hemp oil comes from the seeds, and it can be used for cooking and eating or used topically. CBD oil comes from the leaves and flowers of the plant. It is typically used for medicinal purposes and can be consumed topically or orally. More research is being done to support the potential CBD oil benefits, such as anxiety and stress relief, skin healing, and pain management.

The two oils also differ in their CBD content. While hemp oil contains only traces of CBD, CBD oil has a much higher concentration. So if you are in search of the potential healing properties of CBD, it is best to get it from CBD oil.

That does not mean that hemp oil should be overlooked for its health benefits! It is an excellent moisturizer that is even safe for acne-prone skin. It contains docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is good for brain and eye health, and it has the ideal 3:1 ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids, which benefit heart health.

In Conclusion

Obviously there is more to the cannabis plant than one might first assume. The extent of the plant’s benefits is still being discovered, and advancements continue to be made. Hopefully, everyone can find something valuable from this incredible and diverse plant.


Article by Heather Manning 

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