Hemp vs Marijuana - What's the difference?

Hemp vs Marijuana - What's the difference? | HERBLIZ

The misuse of terms such as hemp, marijuana, cannabis, hash or dope in the past and a general hysteria in connection with drug use has almost completely forgotten the importance of the plant as a natural remedy. Unfortunately, all kinds of false statements and wrong classifications are still persisting among the general population. Yet cannabis has so much more to offer than just a state of intoxication.

Since science has regained interest in the plants - especially in the ingredient cannabidiol (CBD) - the hype about the available cannabis products has also increased. However, there is still uncertainty. Isn't all of this illegal? Or was it once? Doesn't it make you high? Why should that be good for me now? Why are there hemp products in the supermarket? And what is this CBD derived from?

To overcome the uncertainty, you need to understand the  different terms and assign them correctly. In this article, we will discover all the differences and similarities of the two terms and help you to get a better understanding.

What is the difference between Hemp and Marijuana?

Hemp and marijuana are terms that basically describe the cannabis plant or parts of it. Today they are much more classifications that describe the different uses and effects of the cannabis plant. But let's start at the beginning. Cannabis is a plant species of the family 'Cannabaceae', which can be divided into three subspecies: Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Ruderalis. So if we want to speak correctly of the plant, we will speak of cannabis as a generic term for the plant. This term comes from Latin - we translate the term with the English word 'Hemp'. Therefore the family Cannabaceae is also called hemp plants in English. Incidentally, hops also belongs to this family - the most important raw ingredient of beer. So basically, hemp is simply the translation for cannabis. However, over time, a different picture has been painted and it is difficult for many to change this point of view.

What is Hemp?

While the term is actually the English translation for cannabis, today it stands for a different meaning. Colloquially it stands for all cannabis plants that have no or only a very low THC content. THC is the ingredient that provides a 'high' feeling when using cannabis. Less than 0.2% THC is found in the plants of the so-called useful hemp or simple hemp. 

Hemp has been cultivated as a useful plant for thousands of years. There are even excavations from a time long before Christ's birth, in which hemp textiles and hemp paper were found. Hemp was already used as a building material for the production of paper and clothes. This is still the case today - but the popularity of the raw material has to slowly increase again. This can only happen through education and knowledge. In addition, hemp is used in the form of flour, hemp oil and other foodstuffs. For the production of CBD products and especially oils only hemp is used - this has been regulated by a European law. Therefore, only cannabis plants with a very low THC content (<0.2%) may be used as raw material for CBD products.

What is Marijuana? 

Today, the term marijuana is commonly used to describe cannabis plants with more than 0.2% THC content. But this term is not really correct either. Marijuana has established itself as a term through the course of history in America. Even this term was initially only a translation of the word cannabis. Marijuana is derived from Mexican Spanish. There cannabis was called 'Maria Juana'. In the course of time this became 'Marijuana' in English. This explains the different spellings. In fact, there is no evidence that the word marijuana existed before 1894. Until that time, only cannabis or hemp was known in America. Between 1910 and 1920 there was a mass immigration of people to the USA who wanted to flee from the Mexican revolution. These Mexican immigrants allegedly brought the new word and the "dangerous herb" into the country. Once in America, it did not take long for the enemy camps to look for reasons to get rid of the immigrants. A propaganda campaign against the dangerous 'marijuana' was hastily linked to the unpopular immigrants. Those who were 'anti-marijuana' were not friendly towards immigrants either. 

Over the years the spelling of the word was adapted more and more and ended with the variant 'Marijuana' in English. Through history, the term has a rather negative connotation now and is sometimes associated with racism. Therefore, it seems that the term 'marijuana' will not become established permanently. Today, marijuana usually refers to the dried flowers of the female cannabis plant. This part is also called grass, weed or Mary Jane. It is the part of the plant that contains THC and is responsible for the 'high' feeling. The term marijuana is therefore equated with the state of intoxication. Many people now refuse to use the term. The reference to American history taints the term with racist images. A future enforcement of new terms like Weed or Mary Jane is therefore desirable.

The biggest differences between Hemp and Marijuana 

The way the two terms have evolved over time, it seems simple: the difference lies in the THC content. Or in other words: Marijuana makes you high, hemp does not. However, this classification does not do justice to the family of hemp plants. These are two terms that have been shaped by history and that persist until today. It will still take a few more years before the terms are correctly documented and all false information and prejudices are cleared. Until then, we will continue to use the terms and explain the current meanings and differences.

1. Chemical Composition - Hemp vs Marijuana

The difference in THC content is due to genetics. Hemp plants and marijuana plants look very similar on the outside, some even appear identical. It can be quite difficult to tell the plants apart. The difference is only in one single atom, which is composed differently.  All cannabis plants can produce high amounts of CBD. However, a single atom with a different composition results in extremely low THC levels in commercial hemp. As a rule, only hemp is used in the manufacture of CBD products. This is because the raw product may only contain up to a maximum of 0.2% THC.

2. Legality - Hemp vs Marijuana 

The differences in legality are due to the different THC content. In some countries, such as Canada, some states of the USA and Portugal, the laws on cannabis are becoming increasingly relaxed. In Canada and Uruguay cannabis has even been completely legalised. And it no longer makes a difference how much THC is contained in a plant. 

In Germany, cannabis or marijuana has been completely banned since 1929 under the Narcotics Act (BtMG). However, since March 2017 it has been possible to obtain medical cannabis legally on prescription in Germany. Numerous studies have proven that cannabis is suitable for the therapeutic treatment of specific diseases. For three years now, medical marijuana can be prescribed by trained doctors. But this is still the absolute exception.

The situation is simpler with hemp. Industrial hemp and the products made from it are legal. Not only in Germany, but in almost all countries of the world. In Germany there is a regulation that the hemp used contains less than 0.2% THC. This must be proven and regularly checked by independent laboratories. The manufactured products must even have a value below 0.01% THC.

3. Cultivation - Hemp vs Marijuana 

Hemp and marijuana or cannabis are handled similarly to other plants in cultivation. Over several generations, certain properties are grown on the plants while you are supposed to lose others. It is much more complicated to grow marijuana and achieve the desired effects than it is with commercial hemp.

Growing marijuana plants requires an extreme amount of attention. The goal here is to produce the most potent "high" possible. Therefore the producer concentrates on the production of THC. The plants have to be observed constantly and need exact settings for light, temperature and humidity. Cannabis has different cycle phases of growth, which bring different needs with them. In order to obtain the desired flowers that carry the THC, the grower has to spend a lot of time and energy on growing each individual plant.

Industrial Hemp, on the other hand, is usually grown outside and requires far less attention. Because it is naturally low in THC, everything grows 'naturally'. The plants produce CBD and other cannabinoids naturally. The focus of cultivation here is more on increasing the yield. The more the plants spread and grow, the better. 

4. Use - Hemp vs Marijuana 

With its active ingredient THC, marijuana acts directly on our body's own endocannabinoid system. It acts via the CB1 and CB2 receptors and ensures the release of dopamine. This puts the consumer into a 'high' where a feeling of euphoria sets in. Marijuana thus has a psychoactive and intoxicating effect. And this is also the main reason why consumers use it.

In addition to the intoxicating state, marijuana is now also used for medical and therapeutic purposes. For this purpose medical cannabis is cultivated under strictest conditions, where THC levels as well as other cannabinoids have been clearly determined and cultivated. Hemp on the other hand does not cause a state of intoxication. Hemp was rather seen as a raw material that can be used easily in many different ways. Just like thousands of years ago, industrial hemp is still used to produce building materials, clothes, paper and even plastic. 

In the food sector, hemp oil, hemp flour or even hemp seeds can be found on supermarket shelves. Hemp seeds contain all essential amino acids, which makes them a perfect source of protein. In addition, the small nuts contain high levels of calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron as well as the healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. For some time now, more and more CBD products have been appearing which are also made from industrial hemp. It is mainly the cosmetic benefits of cannabinoids that are bringing hemp more and more into the discussion and pushing CBD products more and more into the foreground.


The issues surrounding cannabis and CBD products are clearly complex. The misuse of terms such as 'hemp', 'marijuana' or even 'cannabis' has made explanations even more difficult to address. With this article we hope to have provided a little more understanding. In the future, the terms will certainly rearrange themselves, even if this will take some time. Terms like weed or Mary Jane could become even more established. Similarly, the developments in research on cannabinoids could lead to some new formulations. The most important thing is to be sure of legality and not to take any risks. If you read about hemp or CBD products, you can be pretty sure that they are products without the illegal THC or with a THC content of <0.01%.

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