Cannabis, Marijuana And Hemp: What’s The Difference, Exactly?

This article originally appeared on The Fresh Toast and appears here with permission.

Cannabis sativa is a universal and versatile plant, so it is no wonder that it has received so many names throughout history and the world.

There are many names attributed to the plant scientifically known as cannabis sativa. From weed and hemp to cannabis and marijuana, this seven-pointed leafy plant has a list of aliases that seem to grow as fast as the plant itself.

Many names related to cannabis sativa refer to the same type of plant or product, but not all of these terms should be used interchangeably. In fact, cannabis, hemp, and marijuana all refer to different products. It is essential to understand the difference as some of these products are completely legal while others are associated with possible criminal offences.

Many cannabis enthusiasts understand the difference between cannabis, hemp and marijuana, but “a third of Americans think hemp and marijuana are the same thing, according to the National Institutes of Health, and many people still search Google to find out if cannabidiol – a cannabis derivative known as CBD – will get them high,” according to The Conversation.


Cannabis is kind of an umbrella term. The word cannabis is an abbreviated name that comes from cannabis sativa, its scientific plant name. “The word ‘cannabis’ refers to all products derived from the Cannabis sativa plant,” according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. This means that hemp is a form of cannabis and marijuana is also a form of cannabis.

Cannabis is a term that can be used scientifically, and is also often used to refer to the cultivation of hemp and marijuana. However, when it comes to using the terms hemp and marijuana, more specific criteria are involved.


Hemp, by definition, is a form of the cannabis sativa plant that is grown for its tough bast fiber and edible seeds and oil. This fiber is what the term hemp often refers to. Industrial hemp, which is currently grown in several regions of the United States with strict regulation thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill.

Although hemp’s defining attribute is its useful fiber, its most distinctive difference from marijuana is its THC content. According to the law (the Farm Bill) and the definition, hemp must not contain more than 0.3% THC. In other words, hemp is great for making fabrics and oil, but it won’t get you high.


Marijuana comes from the same plant species as hemp, but is defined as “the psychoactive dried resinous flower buds and leaves of the female hemp or cannabis plant”. Marijuana is found on female cannabis plants and is found on the flower buds she produces.

What distinguishes marijuana from hemp and the generic term “cannabis” is its THC content. In short, marijuana is the cannabis that gets you high. This means that most nicknames for cannabis – like pot, weed and ganja all refer to marijuana, its buds and its psychoactive characteristics. This also means that marijuana is a term for a drug that is often still illegal.

Although cannabis, hemp and marijuana can have different meanings, they are derived from the same type of plant. Cannabis sativa is a universal and versatile plant, so it is no wonder that it has received so many names throughout history and the world. After all, it seems to have as many uses as it has names.

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