Hemp vs. Marijuana: The Suprising History

Just imagine if the term marijuana didn’t exist. 

The stigma surrounding cannabis (and sometimes, even surrounding hemp) would probably cease to exist right along with it. Politicians wouldn’t have the ‘marijuana’ plant as a scapegoat to rail against, nor would the public be as reserved towards the plant family’s therapeutic uses. 

If the term marijuana wasn’t around, US research on cannabis might be less constricted and better funded. Our Country’s medical hemp programs might be better developed, instead of being the State-by-State experiment that they are today. 

Suffice to say that the term marijuana has proven to be a drain on the hemp industry. To this day, the FDA finds in ‘marihuana’ a cause to outlaw CBD-infused food products. 

It almost seems like government agencies are pretty much the only ones pushing this outdated term. And there’s a reason for that — because the real difference between hemp and marijuana actually goes back to semantics. 

In the mid-1930s, US officials needed a good reason to outlaw cannabis. Prior to this time, hemp was used in medicine and for industry...but powerful people with powerful financial interests wanted to replace it with more profitable alternatives. 

The public wouldn’t have had it, though, if a plant known to be beneficial was suddenly banned. 

So, instead of banning cannabis, the government simply renamed it. A Hispanic term of mysterious origin, Marijuana, proved to be just the thing to get the people scared of cannabis and hemp. 

And the misunderstanding remains to this day. Marijuana continues to be used to describe certain types of cannabis — sometimes it’s even used to describe hemp-derived CBD products! 

Common Qualities of ‘Marijuana’

Despite the inaccuracies, marijuana as a descriptive term is still functional. It represents high-THC, low-CBD cannabis, the type that’s often used recreationally. Let’s take a look at some of the marijuana plant’s most common qualities: 

  • High in THC
  • High in CBD
  • High in limonene
  • Highly resinous
  • Highly fragrant
  • Dense and bushy

Common Qualities of Hemp

Compare that with hemp, and you’ll see characteristics that are virtually marijuana’s opposite!

  • High in CBD
  • Low in THC 
  • High in myrcene
  • Less resinous
  • Less fragrant
  • Tall and thin

What does all this mean for users? Quite a lot! While they share the same plant family — and even look similar in many cases — the bodily effects of hemp and marijuana couldn’t be much more different.

Hemp vs. Marijuana: The User Experience

 One of the biggest differences is in the area of legality (hemp and CBD are legal nearly nationwide, while marijuana is not). On a related note, CBD can be taken by anybody; children, adults, and pets alike. Giving marijuana to the wrong demographic can be illegal — not to mention dangerous. 

Another big difference: hemp provides therapeutic benefits without a high. That definitely can’t be said of high-THC marijuana, which almost always comes with psychotropic side effects. This difference gives hemp a huge advantage over other types of cannabis, and can probably go a long way towards explaining why hemp-derived CBD is so popular!

The differences between hemp and marijuana go beyond legal and psychoactive qualities:

  • Marijuana may increase hunger; hemp may decrease it
  • Marijuana may cause anxiety; CBD may reduce anxiety
  • Marijuana may cause sleepiness; the right CBD dose is wakeful
  • Marijuana may promote forgetfulness, while hemp promotes memory

Of course, sometimes marijuana and hemp do share things in common. Even highly psychotropic marijuana can relieve anxiety or promote sleep in some cases. But given its numerous side effects, why not obtain the same benefits in a much safer, THC-free form?  


Thankfully, we’re learning to do better when it comes to correct terminology. The truth is that ‘cannabis’ refers to both high-THC varieties and to hemp — and it’s probably only a matter of time until this original Latin term is fully re-established.

However inaccurate the term ‘marijuana’ may be, however, it’s still important to define and understand. By looking into the inner workings of high-THC cannabis, our appreciation of high-CBD hemp can grow even further! 

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