Hemp vs. Marijuana: What Are the Differences Between These Cannabis Plants?

Area 52
May 10, 2021 | Blog

Delta 8 THC can be derived from both hemp and marijuana. Despite being the same compound, delta 8 is federally illegal if it’s made from marijuana, and legal if made from hemp.

So what exactly makes hemp and marijuana different? Why is one legal and the other illegal?

To summarize the differences in one line — hemp and marijuana are the same species (Cannabis sativa), but one produces virtually no THC (hemp), the other makes a lot of it (marijuana).

Is Hemp the Same as Marijuana?

There is a family of plants called Cannabaceae. From there, we have the Cannabis genus, which further breaks down into species, such as Indica or Sativa.

Marijuana is a variety of Cannabis sativa L. or a related species by the name of Cannabis indica. These plants are typically grown for their flowers. It contains high concentrations of THC with low-to-moderate levels of CBD. Marijuana is the plant that gets you high and has a range of medical benefits.

Hemp is also a type of Cannabis sativa — but there are no Cannabis indica strains that legally classify as hemp. These plants are grown for industrial purposes, for food, and as a health supplement. Farmers will harvest the seeds to make hemp seed oil, the flowers for CBD production, and the stalks and stems for their strong fiber to make textiles. Some companies even use hemp to make biodiesel.

The only difference between hemp and marijuana is the amount of THC each plant makes. Both plants have the same genes but will express these genes a little bit differently. Hemp plants don’t express the genes that convert CBG to THC — and instead, focus on converting CBG to CBD.

Marijuana does express the genes that code for THC production. Any plant with more than 0.3% THC by dried weight is considered marijuana, anything less than this is hemp.

The Differences Between Hemp vs. Marijuana in A Nutshell

Two Hands Holding the Hemp PlantBelow we highlight the main differences between hemp vs. marijuana:

Hemp Marijuana
Chemical composition High CBD / Low THC High THC / Low-High CBD
Does it get you high? No Yes
Is it legal? Federally Legal Federally Illegal (legalized in 17 states)
How is it used? Food, clothing, paper, construction materials, biofuel, health supplements, skincare products Recreational and medical marijuana products

What is Marijuana?

Marijuana is a cannabis species abundant in various strains. It has been cultivated for thousands of years by nearly every civilization in the world. Its use dates as far back as ancient China.

Marijuana contains hundreds of natural chemicals; over 100 compounds have been identified as cannabinoids.

The most abundant cannabinoid in THC is marijuana. Its content ranges between 5–30%, with low amounts of CBD. Some selectively bred strains contain higher amounts of CBD and lower THC ratios — but they are more common among medical than recreational users.

THC is what causes marijuana to induce intoxication. This is what gets you high when you smoke, vape, or eat cannabis.

When THC degrades over time, it converts into CBN, a sedative cannabinoid, and only a small percentage is transformed to its more stable version, delta 8 THC.

Marijuana is illegal on a federal level, but individual states can regulate them within their jurisdictions. So far, 17 states have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and nearly every state has a medical marijuana program for patients.

The Legal Status of Marijuana

Despite recent changes in the drug policies of the United Nations — marijuana has been taken off the most restrictive schedule of controlled substances — weed remains illegal on a federal level. Any activity connected to marijuana, be it possession, cultivation, sale, or transportation, is prohibited by federal law.

That being said, individual states have the right to regulate marijuana within their territories. In addition, 17 states have legalized recreational marijuana, with more planning to hop on the bandwagon soon.

It seems that federal decriminalization is here to come sooner than later, but until that happens, always make sure to check with the local marijuana laws when traveling between states.

What is Hemp?

Hemp is the non-intoxicating version of Cannabis sativa L. While marijuana can be found in both Indica and Sativa strains, hemp is a subspecies of the Cannabis Sativa species.

Unlike marijuana, hemp contains only a trace amount of THC, usually 0.3% or less.

Hemp is more abundant in CBD, which is why it has become the go-to source for making CBD oil.

Not only that but hemp can also be used to extract delta 8 THC. Once CBD has been extracted and turned into a distillate or isolate, it is converted into delta 9 THC, and then extractors synthesize delta 8 from it.

The Legal Status of Hemp

Hemp Leaf on the Gavel on a Wooden SurfaceThe federal government legalized hemp under the 2018 Farm Bill. The new law removed it from the list of controlled substances. Since then, hemp has become an agricultural commodity; it can be grown for any use, including food, clothing, paper, biofuel, construction materials, and health supplements like CBD oil or recreational products such as delta 8 THC.

The 2018 Farm Bill states that hemp and all its derivatives are legal on a federal level. This means that delta 8 THC is also legal as long as it comes from hemp. That’s because hemp plants contain less than 0.3% of delta 9 THC.

The DEA has recently raised an argument that all synthetically derived “tetrahydrocannabinol” is federally illegal. However, current extraction methods are anything but synthetic because they use organic matter and naturally occurring chemicals.

So, long story short, hemp-derived delta 8 THC remains in a legal grey area.

So far, 18 states have banned its sales, including Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont.

Why do People Use Hemp-Derived Delta 8 THC?

The sudden spike in delta 8 THC’s popularity has made many people wonder why so many cannabis users choose it instead of regular weed. Here are a few of the main reasons people reach for a bottle of delta 8 instead of conventional THC products — even in places where both substances are legal.

1. A Powerful Relaxant

Delta 8 THC is about half as potent as delta 9, so you need to take twice as much to experience the same intensity of effects. The psychoactive experience is smoother, more clear-headed, and focused in the body. The high from delta 8 THC is bland; the user feels the buzz but in no particular direction, which is why delta 8 is often combined with other cannabinoids and terpenes.

For that reason, delta 8 THC is less likely to drive you anxious or paranoid. In fact, this side effect is very rare among delta 8 THC users.

2. May Alleviate Physical Discomfort

Although research on the effects of delta 8 THC is in its infancy, current studies have found that it can reduce inflammation and pain through the same mechanisms as delta 9 THC, but without the mental fogginess associated with high doses of the latter.

3. Boost Appetite

One study on mice has found that delta 8 THC is a stronger appetite stimulant than delta 9. Many delta 8 THC users report a serious case of munchies after vaping it. That being said, more research is needed to confirm these effects on a larger group of people.

How to Find Quality Delta 8 THC for Sale

Supermarket Cart with THC ProductsOnce you decide to try delta 8 THC, there’s one last thing to remember before buying any delta 8 product.

Not all Delta 8 THC extracts are made equally.

The quality of delta 8 THC — and whether it doesn’t contain more than 0.3% of delta 9 THC — depends on the farmer, the extractor, and third-party testing.

Getting your delta 8 THC from a reputable manufacturer that tests its products for delta 8 content and purity will help you avoid sketchy companies and poorly made decisions.

The best delta 8 THC products are made from organic hemp, where CBD is made into distillate and converted into delta 8 THC. Organic hemp plants contain high CBD levels and are free of contaminants like heavy metals, pesticides, and other toxic compounds.

At Area 52, we source delta 8 THC from local farms in Colorado and Kentucky, ensuring the top quality of our base material.

Since the market is unregulated, the only way to prove that you’re buying a safe and tested product is a certificate of analysis from a third-party laboratory.

A laboratory is considered ‘third-party’ if it has no affiliation with the manufacturer. For example, we send each batch of our delta 8 THC liquid to an independent laboratory for content analysis; you can access the batch-specific certificate of analysis on our website.

Summarizing the Differences Between Hemp vs. Marijuana

Let’s summarize the differences between hemp and marijuana:

  • Both hemp and marijuana are the same species of plant: Cannabis sativa
  • Hemp is high in CBD and low in THC (0.3% or less); it won’t get you high
  • Marijuana is high in THC and may have varying concentrations of CBD depending on the strain; it can get you high
  • Delta 8 THC can be sourced from both hemp and marijuana
  • Hemp-derived delta 8 THC is legal on a federal level; marijuana-derived delta 8 THC is not
  • The legal status of marijuana varies by state. However, on a federal level, it’s still a prohibited substance
  • Delta 8 THC is the same compound regardless of the source. However, the source affects its legality

We hope that our guide has helped you understand these intricacies surrounding the different types of cannabis plants.

If you have more questions about the differences between hemp vs. marijuana, feel free to post them below in the comments — we’ll be happy to answer!

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