Cannabis vs. Hemp: The Differences

Are cannabis and hemp the same thing? Even though they are often used interchangeably, there are differences between cannabis and hemp. Yes, the two are from the same plant (known as Cannabis Sativa), but they are treated as different things with different uses. Due to the lack of clarity on the topic, many hemp products have been lumped together with a drug that is still illegal in much of the country. Let's look at what exactly hemp and cannabis are and why you shouldn't confuse the two terms.

First, both hemp and cannabis are indeed derived from the same plant, which is what often leads people to confuse the two products. The biggest difference is in how the plant is grown and how it is used once it is harvested. Cannabis is primarily used to refer to plants that are bred for their trichomes. These are resinous glands that contain high amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, which is better known as THC. THC is the cannabinoid that gives cannabis its psychoactive properties as well as its medical uses. Meanwhile, hemp contains only trace amounts of THC and has many non-medicinal industrial uses. Oils, ointments, clothing, paper, and even food can be made from hemp. Since there is only a trace amount of THC in hemp, it doesn't have the same psychoactive effects as cannabis.

Since THC is only produced in the female Cannabis Sativa plant, many people believe that cannabis always refers to the female plant and hemp is the male equivalent. While there is a certain logic to this, a female plant can still be a hemp plant. The difference between a hemp plant and a cannabis plant lies in what cannabinoid is predominant in a given strain. Generally speaking, a plant that is THC dominant is a cannabis plant, and a plant that is cannabidiol or CBD dominant is a hemp plant. Scientifically speaking, that is the most accurate difference between hemp and cannabis; however, some hemp products are derived entirely from the stalk of the plant where THC is less plentiful.

Naturally, there is also a legal difference between hemp and cannabis. This mostly comes down to the percentage of THC in the plant. Currently, only hemp that contains less than 0.3 percent THC can be legally sold, shipped, and used in industrial products. Although the 0.3 percent limit is the current standard throughout the world, it is often seen as an arbitrary number that is based on research that was completed by the Canadian scientist Ernst Small in 1971. As long as this standard is in place, farmers who grow hemp may be subject to rigorous testing and control to ensure that their products can be classified as hemp. This could change in the future as medical and recreational use of cannabis becomes more widely accepted. For now, any plants that have less than 0.3 percent THC can be classified as hemp while anything with higher THC percentages are classified as cannabis. 

For more information on commercial cannabis refer to the cannabis application page.