Hemp Flower vs Marijuana: Similarities, Differences, & Legality

Lit joint being held in between a guys pointer finger and middle finger.

The demand for CBD products has skyrocketed within the past few years. As a result, the hemp flower industry has developed into a unique market that is independent, yet still closely related to the Cannabis industry.

But what exactly is hemp flower? 

With controversial reputations and shifting legalities, both hemp flower and marijuana are oftentimes misunderstood.

We hope to clear up the confusion around this issue and answer any questions that you may have. In this article, we will go over what hemp flower and marijuana are and the differences between the two.

What Is Hemp Flower?

Hemp flower, or hemp, is a term that was created to describe non-intoxicating varieties of Cannabis that are harvested for industrial use.

It has a rich and complicated history. Evidence of hemp usage goes back thousands of years.

In 2018, a piece of legislation known as the Farm Bill was passed. The bill legalized the production and use of hemp for the first time in over 70 years.

It gave a specific definition that officially set “hemp” apart from “marijuana”:

  • Hemp is a term used to classify varieties of Cannabis that contain 0.3% or less THC content (by dry weight).

With this definition written into law, growers began manipulating genetics. As a result, legal hemp flower was born!

Hemp flowers are the flowers from female, specifically bred hemp plants that contain high CBD (Cannabidiol) and low THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) (<0.3% by dry weight is the legal definition).

Hemp flower benefits the consumer in a number of ways. Not only is it a safe and legal option, hemp flower also contains all the beneficial phytocannabinoids, terpenes, and other natural compounds found in cannabis. Because of this, it’s often seen as a great alternative for anyone who’s looking to benefit therapeutically but isn’t interested in getting “stoned”.

Although it will be years before hemp flower genetics catch up to traditional cannabis strains, they’ve come a long way in a very short period of time.

Because hemp flower has many beneficial elements without the obstacle of legality, it fills an important void that marijuana can’t. 

Whether you’re wanting to enjoy the medicinal benefits of CBD, or are just looking for a tasty herbal smoke without the “high”, hemp flower provides a safe and affordable option.. Hemp products are more widely available both online and in stores than ever before.

What Is Marijuana?

“Marijuana” is a term used to classify varieties of Cannabis that contain more than 0.3% THC (by dry weight) and can induce euphoric effects on the user.

Known for the signature “high” that it produces, marijuana has become extremely popular for both medicinal and recreational use over the last few decades.

With only eight US states still prohibiting medical use, marijuana is perhaps more accessible than ever before. The medical benefits of marijuana can be quite astounding. Research has shown that it provides a safe and effective treatment for many chronic illnesses such as epilepsy and Multiple Sclerosis.

Marijuana is the flowers from female, specifically bred cannabis plants that contain high THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and low CBD (Cannabidiol) (>0.3% by dry weight is the legal definition).

When grown naturally the levels of THC rarely top 15%. In recent times, however, the demand for high THC marijuana has forced growers to genetically modify cannabis plants, with some strains now doubling natural levels reaching more than 30%.

This brings up important questions about safety, especially for long-term use. Unfortunately, the truth is that we won’t have a definitive answer for many years.

It’s impossible to say what the long term effects of such unnaturally high levels of THC are, but we do know that it can have a negative effect on cognitive function over time.

Marijuana has been around for thousands of years, helped improve the quality of life of countless people. The medical benefits of marijuana are becoming more and more accepted. Still, there is generally a negative stigma surrounding marijuana usage.

Hopefully, as more research is done and any potential dangers are understood more clearly, marijuana will become more widely accepted within society.

Purple pop top prescription canister laying on its side with two marijuana buds laying in front.

The Difference Between Hemp Flower and Marijuana

Both hemp “cannabis” and marijuana “cannabis” plants belong to the same family Cannabaceae and can even appear almost identical.

The two plants are closely related and share many of the same attributes, but some key differences set hemp flower and marijuana apart.

With contrasting legal regulations as well as very different effects and therapeutic properties, it’s important to know the differences between the two.

Chemical Makeup

The defining characteristics of hemp and marijuana are the chemical makeup of each plant. Both produce the same natural compounds, the difference lies in the levels of these compounds.

  • Marijuana has higher levels of THC and lower levels of CBD, producing the signature “high” when ingested.
  • Hemp flower has higher levels of CBD and lower levels of THC, making it non-psychoactive but still offering many of the medicinal benefits the plant offers.

Legality

This is oftentimes confusing because of the conflicting state and federally laws surrounding cannabis.

  • Marijuana is illegal federally
    • State laws differ throughout the country. Some states like California and Colorado have completely legalized recreational use, while others have only legalized medicinal use. Eight states remain where cannabis is fully illegal, leaving an extremely complex nationwide view on marijuana.
    • Hemp Flower is legal federally
      • State laws differ on this as well but for the most part, it is legal across the board. Because of its similarities to marijuana and the fact that it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between the two without comprehensive lab testing, it’s recommended hemp smokers lay low and use discreetly if they’re in a state with tough marijuana laws.

    Grow Characteristics

    Both share similarities in growth requirements but there are a few key differences.

    • Marijuana
      • Appears bushy, with large, full foliage.
      • Tends to be more vulnerable throughout the growing process and is more difficult to grow.
      • Hemp Flower
        • Grows tall and skinny with skimpy foliage.
        • Tends to be a heartier plant and is much easier to grow.
      View from the top looking down on a hemp flower plant.

      Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

      Is hemp a drug?

      Hemp is considered a form of cannabis, but whether or not it can be classified as a drug is a bit tricky. 

      Technically, hemp/hemp flower is a drug, but not in the way you might assume. The definition of a drug is pretty loose; a drug is merely a substance that produces a physiological effect when ingested. The medicines we take on a regular basis are drugs. Caffeine is a drug too!

      Smoking hemp flower is not the same as smoking marijuana. Because hemp flower has significantly lower levels of THC compared to marijuana, it does not produce the same effects – the same “high”. 

      Hemp flower and other parts of the plant are used in a myriad of ways. For example, hemp can be used to make hemp rope, cloth, shampoos, etc., which makes it quite versatile. 

      Is hemp the same as CBD?

      No, hemp and CBD are not the same. 

      CBD is a cannabinoid that’s often found in both hemp flower and marijuana. CBD (cannabidiol) has many well-known benefits, including relief from both physical and emotional pain/distress. 

      As CBD’s popularity has grown over time, so too have the ways in which we consume it. CBD can be found in creams, hair products, and of course in cannabis products. Smoking hemp flower is an alternative way (instead of marijuana) to ingest CBD.

      CBD is considered a safe substance to consume. As of right now, there are no known health complications or risks associated with CBD. CBD can be used in medical treatments as well.

      The following conditions or health issues can be remedied, at least in part, by CBD use/consumption:

      What does hemp do to the human body?

      As we’ve discussed, hemp flower does not produce the same effects that we all know and associate with traditional marijuana. 

      Most of the psychoactive effects associated with marijuana can be attributed to THC. THC attaches to molecules within the brain known as cannabinoid receptors. Once these receptors are activated, various side effects and interruptions occur.

      A marijuana high (from THC) can include the following physical and mental symptoms:

      • Euphoria
      • A sense of relaxation/sleepiness
      • Heightened or altered sensory perception
      • Altered sense of time
      • Delayed or altered reaction time
      • Trouble focusing on tasks, altered ability to remember things
      • Increased appetite

      Oftentimes, smoking hemp flower is a great way to quickly ingest CBD and other substances (like terpenes). Hemp flower is associated with the following effects:

      Possible side effects of smoking hemp flower (or otherwise consuming hemp flower) include:

      • Nausea
      • Fatigue
      • General irritability
      • Possible interference with other medications in the body – it’s always a good idea to speak with your doctor before starting to consume CBD
      • Because CBD products are not regulated by the FDA (since CBD is considered a supplement and marketed as such), there is the possibility that other unknown substances or elements may be included. 

      Is hemp safe to take?

      Hemp flower is not an addictive substance. Because it does not produce the same psychoactive effects as marijuana, it is generally considered a safe and easy way to reap the benefits of CBD and other cannabinoids.

      There are lots of ways to consume hemp, but the most common is smoking hemp flower. Smoking hemp flower ensures that the effects of the product are felt quickly. 

      In general, inhaling any kind of smoke can be irritating or damaging to the lungs. However, hemp flower does not contain many of the harmful substances (like carcinogens) that are found in tobacco smoke. 

      Hemp flower is generally considered safe, but if you suffer from a lung condition or experience negative side effects, you might want to consider an alternate way to consume your product.

      Is hemp the same thing as marijuana?

      Marijuana and hemp flower have very similar origins, but they are not the same thing. 

      The main difference between marijuana and hemp is the presence of THC. Marijuana has much higher levels of THC, which is the chemical responsible for producing the high associated with the drug.

      Hemp flower does not contain high enough levels of THC to produce a psychoactive effect. However, it does still contain many of the other beneficial cannabinoids and substances that can be found within cannabis plants.

      CBD is the most notable of these, and it’s definitely the most popular. Because CBD is known for pain relief, relaxation, and freedom from anxiety or stress, it’s highly sought out. Today, the market for CBD is more extensive than it ever has been.

      Hemp flower is a great way to consume CBD, but it’s also a great way to relax or experience some of the benefits of marijuana without the negatives. It’s federally legal in the U.S. and very accessible.

      Final Thoughts

      With the capabilities to produce crucial resources such as food, rope, clothing, paper, housing material, medicine, and more, cannabis (and hemp specifically) have played a crucial role in the progression of mankind.

      Both marijuana and hemp flower provide their own unique set of benefits, uses, and effects and are used globally regardless of legality.

      As more research is done and public opinion continues to change around cannabis, we will hopefully stop denying the facts and start harnessing the enormous potential of these magical plants.

      Josh Murdoch

      Josh Murdoch

      I was born with Cystic Fibrosis, and although it is incurable, CBD and THC have been allowing me to live my life as a healthy adult now for years. For that reason, I’ve dedicated my career to spreading the good news about cannabinoids. Currently, I work for a vertically integrated cannabis company called Unrivaled Brands that operates in California, Oregon, and Nevada. Previously, I worked on two cannabis farms in northern California, one of which was located in the famous Humboldt County. I’ve also managed a medical cannabis delivery service in Marin County, California. I created CBD Facilitator to share what I’ve learned, and to recommend the best products that I have found in this chaotic market.

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