What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

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It seems this question baffles most people on the internet, from bloggers, doctors, and even politicians! As a matter of fact, it even baffled me before I came to learn about cannabis and studied its properties.

Just what is the difference between HempCannabis & Marijuana?

What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

Are They The Same?

Our society places a taboo on anything cannabis-related and our laws are a reflection of this. This means that such a discussion has never taken place, leaving us all in the dark.

Cannabis comes in hundreds of different strains and breeds.

  • What do you call marijuana?
  • What do you call hemp?
  • Difference between hemp vs. marijuana vs. cannabis
  • Which one is a better source of cannabinoids?

The confusion out there arises because there are both legal and botanical distinctions to be understood.

Read on to understand more …

What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

Firstly, let’s understand the basic species of cannabis first. There are 3 main species of cannabis, but the total number is likely much higher and is disputed. 

The 3 main groups are:

What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?


See the image below for how each of these plants appears:

What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?


The Cannabis Sativa strain is usually taller and has narrower and longer leaves and can be planted at higher density.


The Cannabis Indica strain, on the other hand, is usually shorter and more bushy like with shorter and wider leaves and planted with more spacing between plants.

To simplify it further, most cannabis products are obtained from the first two species only: Sativa and Indica. Looking at the physical characteristic of a plant will help you identify which species it belongs to.

That’s the different forms of cannabis from both a physical identification and a botanical point of view.

Hemp vs. Marijuana: What’s the difference?

What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?
What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

The definition of hemp is a legal one, and not botanical, and is based on the concentration of (Tetrahydrocannabinol) THC.


Hemp has a THC concentration of less than 0.3%


Marijuana has a THC concentration greater than 0.3%


What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

So any plant of either species that contains a THC concentration of less than 0.3% is considered hemp and anything above that is considered marijuana, regardless of the species the plant belongs to or what it looks like. Within both species there are hundreds of different breeds which contain varying amount of cannabinoids in their gooey resin, some of which fall within the legal definition of hemp and some within the legal definition of marijuana. The cannabinoids are extracted from the plants resin which is present within the “heads of tiny, mushroom-shaped trichomes, found mainly on the plant’s odiferous female flowers (the buds) and to a lesser extent on the leaves” (Project Medicinal Cannabis).

“The term hemp means the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis”

Agricultural Improvement Act 2018

It so happens that many resin rich varieties which contain lots of different and beneficial cannabinoids are of the Cannabis Indica strain, which is short and busy. It is also true that many resin poor varieties which contain minimal cannabinoids are of the Cannabis Sativa species, which is tall and skinny in appearance. These later Cannabis Sativa varieties are usually called “industrial hemp” and are used industrially to manufacture textiles, rope, clothing and paper. They have very useful fibre which makes them a valuable crop for such uses. But not all Cannabis Sativa species are used industrially, some are used medicinally also.

Where The Confusion Lies

What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

This is incorrect.

What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

Legality In NZ

What else would you like to know? Write us your questions below.

Disclaimer – medicinal cannabis and CBD oil are unapproved medicines in NZ which means that there is no conclusive evidence for their effect, apart from Sativex. Many doctors do not routinely prescribe cannabis medicines. The above article was written for general educational purposes and does not intend to suggest that medicinal cannabis can be used to treat any health condition. Please consult with your healthcare provider. 

MBChB (Otago), BSc (Auckland) - As our tele-medicine doctor and author, Dr. Waseem keeps busy educating both patients and doctors about medicinal cannabis. He also consults with people from all over New Zealand, offering a listening ear and giving the most relevant advice.

4 thoughts on “What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

  1. Alina says:

    Hello, just wondering, is all REAL cbd oil made from the hemp plant (0.03%) and not from plants with a higher thc percentage? Thank you

    • Dr. Waseem Alzaher says:

      Hi Alina, CBD oil comes in many different forms and unfortunately many products lack the quality and the stated amount of active ingredients. So it is hard to make a general statement. Luckily for NZ all products must meet quality requirements which means you are using high quality products. Hope this helps.

  2. Nelly Matthews says:

    Is Tilray CBD 100 purified oral solution a good product? Because, beside the fact that it is very expensive, it has only 100 mg/ml strength, whereas the weakest CBD oils in Europe (and America) START at 300 mg/ml. Is it a waste of money to buy this product?
    Thank you very much
    Nelly Matthews

    • Dr. Waseem Alzaher says:

      Hi Nelly, thanks for the question. The Tilray is a good CBD isolate product. There are more concentrated options that we have in The Dispensary. How much are you paying for it?

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