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What is Hemp? Hemp vs Marijuana

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By: Katie Lemon

Hemp vs marijuana logo by WAMA Underwear

Whether you’re new to the world of hemp or wear organic underwear made from one of the most sustainable fabrics every day, you’ve probably wondered about the difference between hemp vs marijuana. While both hemp and marijuana fall under the cannabis umbrella, they’re not quite the same in some pretty important ways.


So what is hemp? Does hemp have THC, and is it legal in the US? Have no fear, I’m here to answer all your burning questions and provide some super interesting marijuana and hemp facts as well. Let’s start with the most important question you’ve probably got!

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WHAT IS HEMP EXACTLY?

The word ‘hemp’ is used to describe Cannabis sativa that contains less than 0.3% of the compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). While many consider hemp and marijuana to be different strains of Cannabis sativa, that isn’t quite the case. Both hemp and marijuana are the same plant, they’re cousins really.

But because of the different levels of THC present in hemp and marijuana, each variety of Cannabis sativa is used for different purposes historically, culturally, medicinally, and recreationally. Where marijuana is just used for the psychotropic bud it produces, hemp is cultivated for its fiber, leaves and edible seeds as well— leading to a whole host of additional uses for hemp.

 

HEMP VS MARIJUANA: WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?

 

 

1. HEMP VS MARIJUANA PLANTS DIFFER IN MORE THAN THEIR SHAPE AND SIZE

Custom design image by WAMA Underwear explaining the difference between Hemp vs Marijuana Plants (THC)

To the casual observer, hemp and marijuana plants can be indistinguishable from one another. However, marijuana plants are bushier and have buds growing out of the center, while hemp plants are taller and produce very few buds. Really, the biggest difference between them is how they’re classified.

 

Hemp is Lower in Cannabinoids Than Marijuana

As defined by the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, hemp is officially classified as Cannabis sativa with less than 0.3% THC by dry weight. Marijuana is Cannabis sativa with any amount of THC over 0.3%. In fact, some strains of marijuana go as high as 30% THC. On top of that, many strains of marijuana also contain more CBD than hemp plants. That being said, CBD can be extracted from both marijuana and hemp plants.

 

Hemp isn't Intoxicating like Marijuana

You can thank the lower levels of THC for the fact that hemp isn’t intoxicating like marijuana is. THC is the primary mind-altering chemical present in cannabis plants. Anything classified as marijuana has over 0.3% THC and can therefore induce psychotropic and euphoric effects. THC in marijuana gives you that “high” feeling by stimulating your brain cells to release dopamine. Hemp, however, doesn’t contain enough THC to have any of those mind-altering effect

2. THE LEGALIZATION OF HEMP VS WEED HAS HISTORY

A wooden gavel sits on it’s rest as we discuss hemp vs weed

Up until very recently, both varieties of Cannabis sativa were considered illegal substances. While hemp and marijuana have both been used for millennia for myriad uses, the US has had a hot-and-cold relationship with these plants over the last century. So what’s going on with the legality of hemp vs weed?

 

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 Made Both Cannabis Varieties Illegal

Up until 1937, it was perfectly legal to sell marijuana and hemp products across the US. Hemp was used for a wide variety of purposes, and was even used to pay taxes in some US states before it was banned. Many modern-day advocates for cannabis legalization point to troubling racist elements of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, as the plant was largely demonized alongside an influx of immigrants from Mexico.

 

The 2018 Farm Bill Legalized Industrial Hemp

While marijuana is still federally recognized as a controlled substance, in 2018 the Agriculture Improvement Act identified Cannabis sativa with less than 0.3% THC as ‘industrial hemp.’ Industrial hemp was cleared as a legal substance to grow, manufacture, and sell in the US. On the other hand, marijuana is slowly being decriminalized and legalized in some states, but it’s still not legal everywhere.

3. HEMP CULTIVATION HAS LESS REGULATION THAN MARIJUANA CULTIVATION

Hemp plant and Marijuana plant to show the difference in the characteristics.

Hemp and marijuana are used for different purposes, which is why they’re cultivated quite differently. Remember that both are simply varieties of Cannabis sativa, with the only real difference being the amount of THC present in the plant. So how are they cultivated differently?

 

Marijuana is Grown to Optimize Cannabinoid Effects

Marijuana is largely used for medicinal and recreational use because of its intoxicating effects. Because it’s all about the THC and CBD, marijuana is often grown in a very controlled environment to ensure the highest possible amount of cannabinoids to be present in the final product. Marijuana is typically grown indoors, and there’s a focus on propagating female plants for budding flowers (which is where the most THC shows up).

 

Hemp is Grown to Optimize Size and Yield

Industrial hemp is used for it's fibers, seeds, and leaves. Because of this, it's growth is not as tightly controlled. Hemp growers are mostly just focused on getting the highest possible yield out of hemp, so it’s usually grown outdoors. An added bonus? Hemp is a prolific grower and naturally repels pests, so it doesn’t require pesticides and grows like...well, weeds.

4. THE NUMEROUS BENEFITS OF HEMP OUTNUMBER THOSE FOR MARIJUANA

 A dropper bottle sits on top of three fanned out hemp leaves.

 

The different cannabinoid levels in marijuana and hemp provide different benefits for users. Where marijuana is pretty much just used for it’s THC and CBD rich buds, you can benefit from every part of the hemp plant— from the fibrous stalks to the stems, leaves, and flowers.

 

What is Hemp Good For?

Hemp is used for a host of benefits that don’t all include ingesting the cannabinoids. Let’s cover some of the main ways hemp is a great addition to your daily life:

 

  • Hemp helps you relax: CBD can be derived from hemp just as it’s derived from marijuana, and is just as effective at helping you to destress. Hemp-derived CBD is now legal across the US, and many people use it for sleep management, mood boosts, and overall relaxation.
  • Hemp is a limitless eco-friendly material: not only do you benefit from using hemp, but so does the earth! There are truly so many ways hemp is being used as a sustainable alternative to modern products: from building material made from hemp, to hemp paper, to a hemp bra, the sky’s the limit!
  • Hemp is good for your skin: Thanks to powerful antioxidants like linoleic acid and oleic acid, beauty products made with hemp are becoming a popular way to take care of your skin and keep it looking young and supple.
  • Hemp is great for your health: Not only can you wear it and put it on your face, you can also eat hemp for a whole host of health benefits! From hemp hearts to hemp flour, foods made with hemp are packed with healthy fats, vitamin E, protein, potassium, iron, and more.

 

What is Marijuana Good For?

The benefits of marijuana are largely medicinal, which is why marijuana is now slowly being legalized for medicinal use across the US. Here are just a few medical benefits of marijuana:

 

  • Reduces inflammation: the CBD present in marijuana has anti-inflammatory effects on the central nervous system, making it great for people with inflammation issues like IBS or arthritis.
  • Treats chronic pain: cannabinoids in marijuana are thought to reroute neural pathways in the brain when it comes to pain perception, which is why some doctors prescribe it for chronic pain like fibromyalgia, migraines, and more.
  • Helps ease mental and neurological issues: marijuana has been seen to influence the limbic system, the part of your brain responsible for emotional regulation. That’s why some people now medicinally use marijuana for difficulties like anxiety and PTSD.

5. HEMP AND MARIJUANA HAVE SOME DEEP CULTURAL ROOTS

Ancient Chinese man standing amongst hemp plants

 

The known benefits of hemp and marijuana aren’t exactly new— human beings have been experimenting with cannabis plants for millenia. It’s even said that the oldest textile artifact is a piece of hemp fabric from 8,000 BC. Some other ways cultures around the world have used hemp and marijuana plants:

 

  • As traditional medicine: Ancient Greeks used cannabis for a whole host of medicinal uses, from dressing wounds to treating nosebleeds. In China, the term for “anesthesia” translates to “cannabis intoxication,” as early Chinese surgeons in the first century used cannabis infusions to relax patients before operations.
  • As a recreational drug: That’s right, some of our ancestors were using cannabis just for personal enjoyment. Ancient texts from India point to it’s recreational use, and even Napoleon Bonaparte’s French Army got in on the fun when they invaded Egypt in 1798.
  • For religious rituals: Speaking of Egypt, ancient Egyptians were no stranger to cannabis and often used it when worshipping the goddess Seshat during religious ceremonies. There’s also record that ancient Taoists used cannabis plants in incense burners to create “hallucinogenic smoke.”

6. WHAT IS HEMP USED FOR VS HOW IS MARIJUANA USED

A dropper bottle filled with hemp oil while we discuss hemp vs weed.

Both hemp and marijuana have a few different uses that they’re known for today. With hemp as the naturally occurring low-THC cousin of the two, hemp is a bit of a miracle plant with all the ways it can be used. From food to clothing to biofuel, there are so many cool ways people are making good use of hemp these days.

 

Use Hemp For it’s CBD Benefits

Hemp-derived CBD is available widely across the US and celebrated for its ability to help you relax at the end of the long day. Whether you want to use it as a natural sleep aid or just enjoy a CBD-infused drink to unwind while watching your favorite show, there are so many ways to enjoy hemp-derived CBD.

 

A tray sits on a plush white carpet with hemp tea and flowers.

Use Hemp Foods for Your Health

CBD isn’t the only way you can consume hemp. Hemp seeds themselves are rich in many good-for-you nutrients like amino acids, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids, making them a great addition to a balanced diet. Here are a few ways to eat your new favorite food hemp:

  • Hemp hearts tossed on salads or in smoothies.
  • Hemp seed oil to make dressing or homemade condiments.
  • Hemp seed milk to splash in cereal.
  • Hemp protein powder to bulk up meals and build muscle.

 

Use Hemp Beauty Products for Beautiful Skin

Remember those antioxidants I mentioned earlier? They make for beautiful skin that’s hydrated and healthy. Many beauty companies today are using hemp in everything from cleansers, to makeup products, to lotions. You can even use cold-pressed hemp seed oil as a nightly moisturizer: it’s non-comedogenic and great for acne-prone skin. Add hemp to your beauty routine for glowing skin, you won’t be sorry.

 

 A woman looks into a mirror and rubs hemp lotion onto her face.

Use Hemp as an Eco-Friendly Alternative

Really, there’s just no limit to what hemp can do. Hemp is an incredibly sustainable alternative to so many different products and is great for the earth. It's good for the soil it grows in and doesn’t require pesticides. Plus, it’s completely biodegradable! From hemp biofuel to hemp socks brands, you can’t go wrong with replacing your daily goods with hemp substitutes. May I suggest hemp toilet paper?


Every part of the hemp plant can be used for something. Here are just a few ways hemp plants are used:

  • Hemp stalks can be used to make everything from clothing to building materials, or as mulch for future crop growth.
  • Hemp leaves can be used to make CBD tinctures and teas.
  • Hemp roots can be made into ointments and salves for skin ailments.

 

Use Hemp For it’s Long Lasting Fibers

There’s a reason the oldest human clothing still in existence was made from hemp—hemp goods were built to last! Hemp has some of the longest and strongest natural fibers in the world, which is why many modern brands are using it to make bags, ropes, sailing materials and more. If you want something to last, go with a version made from hemp.

 

Use Hemp to Protect Your Privates, Naturally

My favorite way to incorporate the miracle of hemp into my daily life? As my underwear of choice, of course! Hemp fabric is breathable, antibacterial, and completely eco-friendly. Protect your privates naturally with organic underwear. I really love my high waisted underwear and triangle bralette made from hemp fabric. Don’t worry men, you’ve got options, too! Try breathable boxers or men’s briefs.

 

Two women sit on white couch in WAMA hemp underwear.

What is Marijuana Used For?

There are really just two ways to use marijuana today, and they both come with varying levels of legality depending on where you live. So of course, do your research and be careful when using marijuana, as it does have psychotropic effects and isn’t for everyone.

 

  • To treat a variety of illnesses: both the THC and CBD present in marijuana are used for a wide variety of medical conditions and illnesses. From helping cancer patients to eat more, to easing sleep disorders and managing chronic pain, medical marijuana could be the answer to your health woes. You can check here for the legal status of medical marijuana in your state and what conditions it covers.
  • To get recreationally intoxicated: it’s no secret that people use marijuana just for fun. Whether you prefer to smoke it, vape it, or ingest it as edibles, marijuana can be a great way to relax on your own or bond with friends. Of course, recreational cannabis is only legal in 11 US states right now, so tread carefully!

 

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WHAT IS HEMP: CONCLUSION

While both hemp and marijuana are cannabis, they are very different in the way they’re used historically and today. Not to mention, they come with unique benefits. Here’s a quick run down of some frequently asked questions if you’re still confused:

 

Is hemp marijuana?

No! Hemp and marijuana are both varieties of cannabis, but marijuana is cannabis with over 0.3% THC and hemp is cannabis with under 0.3% THC by dry weight.

 

What is hemp?

Hemp is any cannabis plant cultivated with less than 0.3% THC present in dry weight. Unlike marijuana, hemp does not produce hallucinogenic effects. Additionally, hemp is industrially used for its fiber, leaves and seeds.

 

Does hemp have THC?

Yes! As stated above, hemp in the US can contain THC, but only up to 0.3% in dry weight.

 

Does hemp have CBD?

Yes! CBD can be derived from both hemp and marijuana and is present in both plants, in varying concentrations depending on the strain of cannabis.

 

Is hemp legal?

Yes! Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is legal in the US now.

 

What were you most surprised to learn about in the differences between hemp vs marijuana? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Hemp Vs Marijuana Infographic by WAMA Underwear

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