Hemp vs. Marijuana - what’s the difference?

29 November 2019

By: Nicola Webster

Hemp vs. Marijuana - what's the difference?

Cannabis. Hemp. Marijuana. Weed. Dope. Hash. Ganja. Many terms are in our everyday parlance - yet this has led to confusion about the distinctions. Let’s try and clear up the differences.

The rise in popularity of CBD has been massive over the past few years. The availability of CBD products, from creams to gummies, tea-bags to e-liquids, has exploded into the UK marketplace. Well known brands are suddenly introducing CBD oil into the products; and these products are being openly sold on shelves in high street stores, not under the counter of the local ‘head shop’.

Even so, there is still misinformation and confusion surrounding the terminology (and, therefore, the legality) of cannabis and its derivatives. Until recently, my father used to visibly cringe every time my mother took a relieving puff on her CBD vape pen - thinking that the police were going to come knocking any minute!

Because of a long history of (political) confusion over the distinction between species in the cannabis family, the terminology is often used interchangeably. Once you understand the differences, it’s easier to explain to people (like my dad) why CBD users aren’t breaking the law.

Hemp vs. marijuana - same, same but different

Hemp and marijuana are NOT the same thing. They both derive from the cannabis sativa plant; this means that they do share some similarities, but they also have many very crucial differences.

Think about plants from the carrot (umbel) family. Parsley, celery, parsnips, and cumin are all umbels - similar in the way that they flower, but very different in how they look, grow, and taste.

Hemp vs. marijuana - key differences

Hemp is different from marijuana in its chemical makeup, appearance, function, and the way it’s grown. Let’s briefly address each of these points:

Chemical makeup

Hemp always contains less than 0.3% THC, whereas marijuana’s THC content seems to be growing year on year as growers cultivate hybrid strains to produce the most potent plants possible. In 2018, a marijuana strain named Godfather OG was reported to have a super-high-inducing THC content of over 34%!

Since THC is the cannabinoid that produces the psychoactive ‘stoned’ feeling, the minuscule sub 0.3% quantities make it impossible to attain any kind of high from products derived from hemp. Plus, hemp’s high CBD content counteracts the minimal amount of THC, rendering it useless.

FYI - the legal amount of THC in certified strains of hemp used to extract CBD oil for use in UK CBD products is <0.2%.


Hemp and marijuana are grown in totally different ways. Hemp grows very densely and is adaptable to even the most adverse climate conditions. Marijuana, on the other hand, requires a carefully controlled warm and humid atmosphere, and the plants need plenty of room around them.

In fact, hemp and marijuana can’t even be grown close to each other as any hemp pollen that infiltrated the marijuana crop would dilute the THC levels and ruin the yield.

Lastly, the parts of the plants that are targeted differ between hemp and marijuana. Marijuana is harvested for its THC rich buds alone; whereas the CBD abundant stalks and seeds are the focus of a hemp crop.


Marijuana is a short, bushy plant with broad leaves and dense buds. Hemp, in direct contrast, grows tall and slender with slim leaves that are concentrated to the top of the plant.


Because of the high concentration of THC, marijuana is grown solely for medical and recreational usage.

In contrast, the historical use of hemp has been industrial. Hemp is one of our most flexible friends - an estimated 25,000 products can be made from hemp! From fuel to ink, ropes to surfboards, butter to flour, animal feed to chocolate, there’s no end to its versatility.

And now that the health potential of hemp CBD oil has been recognised, and declassified from the controlled substances act, its usage within THC-free CBD products has sky-rocketed!

Indica vs. sativa - what is in my CBD products?

Another key point to clear up is the indica vs. sativa debate that has grown with the introduction of so many CBD brands to the UK market.

To be absolutely clear - hemp can only be sativa!

Let me explain: indica and sativa are the two primary classifications of cannabis. Marijuana strains can be a member of either family; whereas hemp is ONLY a member of the sativa family.

Therefore, all hemp based CBD products must be made from sativa strains in order to be legal. The list of EU regulated strains from which all of our products are made all derive from hemp. Ipso facto, all our CBD products are sativa.

What about indica terpenes?

The use of terpenes, particularly in CBD e-liquids, has led to some of this indica vs. sativa based confusion around the legality of CBD products.

If you’re looking at an e-liquid version of OG Kush, for example, you might recognise that OG Kush is an indica strain - which means it must be marijuana based, right?


As we’ve already discussed, it is illegal to sell any CBD product in the UK that is derived from indica cannabis. However, what some clever e-liquid manufacturers are able to do is replicate the flavour profile of indica strains using blends of hemp terpenes that are also found in thousands of other naturally grown products. They then add these to winterised CBD isolate oil mixed with VG and PG to create a tasty vape juice.

These blends deliver the ‘entourage effect’ that terpenes have on cannabinoids, without needing to use strains that are outside of the EU certified list.

Hemp vs. marijuana takeaways

As you can see, hemp and marijuana are very different plants. By lumping them together under the previously demonised ‘cannabis’ brand, it has taken many years (and lots of new laws) to try and unpick these differences in order to show people the benefits they can (now legally) receive.

However, as responsible CBD advocates, we are duty bound to keep you informed of the legal risks associated with CBD products. As we’ve outlined in this article (as well as throughout our site) all of our products are derived from legally certified CBD strains that feature on the EU’s list. If you come across any CBD products that are marketed in the UK as derived from indica cannabis strains, please be cautious and check before you buy. It may be a genuine mistake (they may mean ‘based upon’ an indica strain) but, if in doubt, don’t risk it!

The research into CBD continues

As more studies are undertaken, and more research published, we will continue to update you with all the latest findings regarding CBD.

If you still have more questions, we are always happy to help. Just get in touch with any queries you have about CBD or vaping in general.


The content in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your GP, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a particular medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

29 November 2019 Nicola Webster

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