What is the difference between marijuana and hemp?

Cannabis sativa L is the botanical name for the plant most often known as marijuana, or pot, or…hemp. It is a member of the cannabaceae botanical family. Interestingly, hops (Botanical name: Humulus lupulus), which are used to produce beer, is also a member of this family. If you have hedonistic leanings you are likely an admirer of this botanical family.

Hemp is a cannabis sativa L plant that contains less than 0.3% of THC on a dry weight basis. Marijuana, essentially, is a cannabis sativa L plant that contains more than 0.3% of THC. Same plant, different concentration of THC.

Originally, the distinction between hemp and marijuana was not based on the concentration of THC. It was based on the part of the plant. The 1937 Marijuana Tax Act defined marijuana as:

“(The term “marihuana” means all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin. Such term does not include the mature stalks of such plant, fiber produced from such stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of such plant, any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such mature stalks (except the resin extracted therefrom), fiber, oil or cake, or the sterilized seed of such plant which is incapable of germination.”.1

This definition, which was adopted in the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, states that certain parts of the plant (“the mature stalk” and “the seeds”) are exempt from the legal definition of cannabis.

The passage of the Federal Farm Bill in 2014, otherwise known as the Agricultural Act of 2014, changed the definition to define industrial hemp as "the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis."2

In January of 2015, the industrial Hemp Farming Act (H.R. 525 and S. 134) amended the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 to specify that if a cannabis flower contained less than 0.3% THC, it was defined as industrial hemp.3,4 Industrial hemp is not a controlled substance.

This is why you will often see CBD supplements in health food stores, and medical cannabis dispensaries, labeled as “Hemp Extracts” or “Hemp-derived CBD Oil.”


1.West DP, American N, Hemp I. Hemp and Marijuana : North.:1-28. http://www.globalhemp.com/1998/02/hemp-and-marijuana.html. Accessed April 24, 2017.

2. Sec. 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill - Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research. http://www.votehemp.com/2014_farm_bill_section_7606.html. Accessed April 27, 2017.

3. Massie T. H.R.525 - 114th Congress (2015-2016): Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015. 2015. https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/134. Accessed April 10, 2017.

4. Massie T. H.R.525 - 114th Congress (2015-2016): Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015. 2015. https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/525. Accessed April 10, 2017.

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© Copyright 2016 - 2021 | Dr. Jamie Corroon, ND, MPH | IMPORTANT | All information presented in this website is intended for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of rendering medical advice. Statements made on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information contained herein is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. All Rights Reserved. All sales will appear as JAMIECORROON on your billing statement.