What is hemp? The difference between hemp, marijuana, and CBD

What is hemp?

Although they all derive from the Cannabis sativa plant, marijuana, hemp, and CBD or cannabidiol are not created equal. Although people may use the terms marijuana, hemp, and cannabis interchangeably, there are distinct differences.

Marijuana is a strain of cannabis cultivated to produce high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a compound that produces an intoxicating effect. So, what is hemp? Hemp is another strain of the cannabis plant that contains minimal levels of THC, and high levels of CBD, a nonintoxicating compound.

If you’re curious to find answers to questions like “What is hemp?” “What is the difference between hemp and marijuana?” and “What is industrial hemp?” continue reading as we explore the differences between these plants and some of the active compounds they contain.

What is hemp?

Hemp is a variety of cannabis cultivated by civilisations for thousands of years. It’s prized for its fibre, oil, and seed, and more recently for CBD oil.

The family tree or taxonomy of hemp reveals that it belongs to the family Cannabaceae. This large family contains around 170 plant species and includes hops, hackberries, and cannabis.

There are three plant species within the subfamily or genus of cannabis: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis.

So, what is hemp? It’s a subspecies of C.sativa with a unique composition cultivated to have negligible levels of THC. In the UK, hemp is legal, providing the plants contain less than 0.2% THC.

What is hemp?

How is hemp cultivated?

Hemp is a robust, annual commercial crop typically grown outside in large plantations spanning multiple hectares.

Hemp growers must use seed that has been certified for low THC content. They then sow the seeds directly into the soil rather than transplanting them as seedlings.

The plants grow quickly and are resistant to many pests and diseases. Also, because they reach almost 5 metres high, they outcompete weeds, meaning farmers can often avoid chemical herbicides or weed killers.

Because of this and the fact that hemp absorbs large quantities of carbon dioxide, it’s widely considered an environmentally friendly crop.

What is industrial hemp?

Industrial hemp is cultivated to have a strong central stalk which is the part of the plant that produces the fibre. Hemp farmers sow the seeds close together at 10 cm intervals to encourage the plants to grow straight up towards the light rather than outwards.

In contrast, medicinal hemp is grown for its flowers and buds that manufacturers use to produce CBD oil. The plants are grown approximately 2 m apart, allowing them maximum exposure to sunlight and enough space to grow outwards and produce CBD-rich buds.

What is industrial hemp?

What is CBD?

CBD is a nonintoxicating compound found in hemp plants and is the active ingredient in broad-spectrum CBD oil.

It’s been shown to have a range of positive effects, including supporting individuals experiencing pain, inflammation, anxiety, and sleeping issues.

It exerts these effects by interacting with the body’s endocannabinoids system (ECS), an internal regulator of stress, mood, pain, and other functions in the body.

CBD, unlike THC, is not intoxicating and will not produce a “high.” For this reason, CBD has become a widely used supplement, as people look for natural ways of supporting their health.

The interest in plant-based diets has also stimulated the use of plant-based CBD Oil. You can now find this natural supplement in many forms, including CBD oils, topicals, capsules, edibles, and gummies.

Hemp vs marijuana vs CBD

Hemp vs Marijuana


The answer to “What is hemp?” is multifaceted as the plant is incredibly versatile with a long history of cultivation.

Hemp provides incredibly strong and durable fibre, which can be made into cloth, clothing, rope, and paper. It’s also a source of hemp seeds, which are high in protein and essential nutrients and can be used to make protein powder, milk, and oil.

The term hemp oil may refer to CBD oil or hemp seed oil. Although the hemp plant is the source of both these oils, hemp seed oil contains no cannabinoids and comes from cold-pressed seeds.

Contrastingly, CBD oil is harvested from other parts of the hemp plant and is a rich source of cannabinoids, which may contribute to overall health and well-being.

Whats the difference between cbd oil and hemp oil infographic Naturecan

Disclaimer: There is currently insufficient evidence to support the use of CBD in the condition(s) mentioned above and this text by no means reflects recommended uses. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional if you are taking prescribed medication or are thinking of using CBD for your condition.

Written by Zia Sherrell and reviewed by our qualified expert, Moyra Cosgrove, Head of Nutrition at Naturecan, SENR Registered Nutritionist and DProf candidate at LJMU