Due to decades of misinformation and confusion about Cannabis, the differences between its two major species – hemp and marijuana – has remained unclear to many. As a result, both terms are used interchangeably and are often perceived to be the same thing. This has created huge difficulties for the hemp industry, as well as for those who seek to understand the usage, application, benefits, and differences between hemp and marijuana.

Let’s be clear – hemp is not marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are, however, two species of the Cannabis plant. As such, they do share certain similarities but due to the unique biological structure of both plants, they have very distinct differences.

But how can you tell the difference between hemp and marijuana? Here we consider four important differences that highlight the unique qualities of both cannabis varieties.

Hemp vs. Marijuana: Plant Anatomy and Appearance

Marijuana and hemp are so different in appearance that most people wouldn’t be able to tell that they belong to the same genus of plants. Features like a short bushy feel, dense buds, and broad leaves are primary characteristics of the marijuana plant. Marijuana also has a vegetative phase and a flowering phase. It is cross-bred from different strains and carefully grown in climate-controlled indoor environments.

On the other hand, the hemp plant features skinnier leaves concentrated at the top of the plant and scarce branches below its upper portion. Hemp has tall, fibrous stalks that are strong and have very few flowering buds. It is generally grown outdoors.

Hemp vs. Marijuana: Compounds

Cannabis is composed of a variety of compounds known as Cannabinoids. Although about 113 cannabinoids have been isolated from the cannabis plant, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) are two of the best studied. Both Cannabinoids have proven to offer great benefits to the human body; however, it has been shown that THC contains psychoactive properties (gets its user “high”), while CBD is known to produce health benefits and does not induce psychoactive effects.

When considering the composition of hemp and marijuana, there are major differences. While hemp has a very low THC content of only 0.3% or less, marijuana is rich in THC with concentrations ranging from 5% to 40%. As a result, hemp is grown primarily for industrial purposes (such as paper, rope, food, and other everyday products), while marijuana is grown for medicinal and recreational purposes.

Can You Get “High” From Hemp?

While hemp does also contain psychoactive compounds, this doesn’t mean it can get you high. The hemp plant does not produce enough THC cannabinoid to induce any intoxicating effects. While hemp contains significantly higher levels of CBD – a psychoactive but non-intoxicating compound – it will not induce any form of euphoric high on its own. In other words, hemp has many amazing health benefits but if you want to get high, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Hemp vs. Marijuana: Uses

Due to its rich THC content, marijuana is naturally grown to maximize its psychoactive potential, whether it is used for medicinal or recreational purposes. Marijuana can be inhaled, injected into the body, or smoked. THC – the primary compound in marijuana – also has a wide range of applications for human consumption via capsules, edibles, and vaporizers.

On the other hand, due to its ability to produces hundreds of valuable resources like clothing, food products, paper, oils, biofuel, and building materials, hemp is primarily used for industrial purposes. With the increasing popularity of CBD today, hemp is also used in producing a wide range of THC-free CBD health products.

Hemp vs. Marijuana: What’s Legal in New Zealand?

  • Growing, trading and processing hemp with a licence

  • Hemp seed as food (including hemp seed oil, hemp seeds, hemp hearts and hemp seed protein powder)

  • Medicinal cannabis (low-THC CBD products) prescribed by a GP

  • As a temporary measure, cannabis for palliative care is not illegal with supporting evidence


With the factors we have outlined above, it is clear that hemp and marijuana have very unique attributes. Consequently, it would be a huge mistake if anyone continued to confuse one for the other. Get ready to educate your friends and family the next time they make that mistake and help spread the word!