So What Plant Is It? The difference between Hemp and Marijuana Explained

Sometimes, it’s really important to get back to basics. When we dive into the specifics of cannabinoids, terpenes, treatment forms and options, it can be all too easy to forget we are talking about a plant. But it is this plant that can provide so much healing, and it is the whole plant matter that gives the human body the most benefit, so knowing what plant we are talking about when we talk about CBD and our pure CBD extract is important.


Taxonomy: Hemp, Cannabis, Marijuana… What’s the difference?

These terms often get thrown around interchangeably, and though they all refer to plants in the same genus, they have very different specifics and very different cultural connotations.  Cannabis is the name of a genus of plant in the family Cannabaceae of the nettle order (Urticales).  So all plants that go by the everyday terms hemp, marijuana, pot, cannabis, etc, are actually part of the same genus, Cannabis.


Within this genus, for many years there was considered to be only one species: Cannabis Sativa.  Cannabis Sativa is the scientific name for what is most commonly called hemp. An annual herb that originated in Central Asia and is now cultivated across the globe, the hemp plant is tall and stalky and usually harvested for fiber. Hemp is the heirloom variety of the Cannabis Sativa species; it is the closest variety of the plant to how Cannabis Sativa naturally occurred before it was selectively bred by humans.

Fairly straightforward, right? Here is where things tend to get a bit murkier. Over the years, as the hemp plant was bred to

have different qualities, a new variety of the Cannabis Sativa species emerged, a much shorter, leafier version with much higher THC content. This is what is commonly referred to by most people as Marijuana. Because there has been such a long history of selective breeding with the species, many different sub-varieties have emerged under the umbrella of Marijuana. Some scientists now consider some of these new varieties such as Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Ruderalis to be independent subspecies of the Cannabis Sativa plant, some even argue that they have now evolved to be full species. Though this is still debated, there is a clear lineation between the two main varieties of Cannabis, Hemp and Marijuana.



What do I need to know as a consumer?

Hemp and Marijuana are used for different things and have different cannabinoid content. For most people, it is THC content that is the biggest signifier. Hemp plants contain very little of this psychoactive compound, while Marijuana plants have been bred to have relatively high THC content.



As Leaf Science explains: “… countries like Canada have set the maximum THC content of hemp at 0.3%. Any cannabis with higher THC levels is considered marijuana instead.

In comparison, medical marijuana produces anywhere between 5-20% THC on average, with prize strains tipping the scale at 25-30% THC.”

However, the Hemp variety naturally contains much higher levels of the cannabinoid Cannabidiol, or CBD. (For the basics on CBD and how it works in the body, check out our CBD 101 page here).


As the health community has become more aware of the benefits of CBD, some strains of Marijuana have

been bred to contain higher levels of CBD and lower levels of THC as well. These two varieties of the Cannabis Sativa plant also have different legal status. Both in cultivation and for consumption, Hemp and Marijuana or regulated differently. This is changing on a state by state basis, especially as more medical research is done on potential benefits of CBD and THC, but the industry remains in flux.


Both Hemp and Marijuana based products have a variety of potential health benefits.  Though the regulatory environment and scientific knowledge around these products and their effects are constantly changing, these differing varieties of Cannabis Sativa have enormous offerings for the world, and are inspiring examples of the healing power of plants.

For more details on IrieCBD’s process and use of whole plant hemp material in our pure CBD products, visit our About Us page here.

About The Author


IrieCBD is a company with a philosophy of reconnecting, revitalizing and finding the simple goodness in all that surrounds us.
From seed to oil, our products are created with care, consciousness, and connection.

Founded in San Diego in 2015 by three innovative adventurers, environmentalists, health advocates and grassroot nutritional revolutionaries,
IrieCBD is dedicated to finding natural solutions for health and wellness. Firm believers in the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, IrieCBD grew out of the passion
its founders had for self-determination and the increased quality of life experienced when all our body’s systems are supported and nourished.
Irie’s unique and specialized line of tinctures are the fruition of this belief, combining the ancient wisdom of herbal medicinal properties with the potent effects of pure CBD oil.