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Posted in Essential Oil Basics by Rocky Mountain Oils

CBD 101: Part 3

What is the Difference Between Hemp, Cannabis, and Marijuana?

One of the greatest misunderstandings that leads to confusion in the debate about cannabis and CBD is the fact that cannabis and marijuana are the same thing. Then, people started throwing in the word hemp, and now just about everyone is lost. By clearing the air about the confusion between these three terms, our hope is to make it easier for you to decide if CBD products are right for you. So, let's get to it!

What is Cannabis?

In short, quick terms, cannabis is simply a plant. More specifically, it is the plant that both hemp and marijuana come from. Cannabis is one of the oldest crops in the world with records of its use dating as far back as the 2,000s B.C.

Cannabis Species

Think back to your high school biology class. Do you remember that lesson you had about species, genus, and families within plant groups? If not, that's alright. Here's a little refresher: a genus is the generic name of a group of plants, and the species are specific types of that genus. Cannabis is the genus, or generic name, of a group of plants. Within the cannabis genus, there are several different species. In 1753, botanist Carl Linnaeus classified and named the first species of cannabis as sativa. 30 years later in 1783, naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck found a different species of cannabis, which he named indica.

While these two are the most commonly known species of cannabis, there are others, but they do not contain the same levels of cannabinoids as sativa and indica to be of much interest in the debate about CBD and THC. The reason we bring up the cannabis species is because there is a lot of confusing information about the difference between sativa and indica. Traditionally, Cannabis indica has been classified as a sedative that provides more relaxing effects, and it is associated as the plant that gives you the common "high" effects due to its higher levels of THC.

This plant is shorter and stockier with fatter, fan-like leaves. Basically, this is the species of cannabis that we see the most pictures of when we see cannabis products and dispensaries. On the other hand, Cannabis sativa is known as a stimulant that results in greater alertness, euphoria, and increased energy. This tall, skinny plant has thinner, finger-like leaves, and is higher in CBD than the indica species.

Cannabis Crossbreeding

Now that you know that one species of cannabis is higher in THC and the other is higher in CBD, you'd imagine that related products would come from their respective plants, right? Well, it's not quite that simple. Both Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa naturally contain levels of both THC and CBD, even if they are higher in one than the other.

Today, most extracts in the U.S. come from the sativa species, which is higher in CBD. However, cultivators have spread their breeding to include both sativa and indica in order to create a product with their desired results. Here's how it works: because sativa is naturally higher in CBD, those who want to create CBD products don't have to modify too much of the sativa plant in order to get the results they want. However, in order to ensure that products are safe and contain minimal or no levels of THC, cultivators can crossbreed and modify the plant to create specific strains.

Now, what about marijuana and products with high levels of THC? Whether a supplier or farmer chooses to grow sativa or indica species of cannabis, marijuana almost always comes from crossbred and modified strains of either species. This selective breeding allows farmers to produce plants that contain higher levels of THC so that they and their customers can get the results they want. In the end, cultivators, farmers, and suppliers of any type of cannabis often take the best qualities of both the sativa and indica species to get the specific strains and results they want.

This can include products that are 50% CBD and 50% THC, or dominant in either CBD or THC. In today's world, it is rare to get products that com from an unaltered sativa or indica plant. Now, keep in mind that even though most THC and CBD products come from hybrid plants, these products are by no means less natural than if you were to eat the plant directly. Hybrids and crossbreed often come from using the natural parts of the different cannabis species. In short, you can still find products that have been modified but are still 100% natural.

The Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana

Now that you know all about cannabis and its most common species, let's get into the difference between hemp and marijuana. Both hemp and marijuana are cannabis in the fact that they both come from the cannabis plant. But, that's about where the similarities end.

What is Hemp?

Hemp comes from the Cannabis sativa species of the cannabis plant, which is taller and contains fewer leaves. The fibers from the sativa plant stalks are often used industrially to create rope, clothes, paper, clothing, biofuels, bioplastics, cosmetics, dietary supplements, foods, and more. Hemp is defined as the generic strains of the cannabis plant that are higher in CBD. It is industrial and non-intoxicating.

While sativa is naturally higher in CBD, hemp products can be modified to ensure that they contain .3% or less of THC, which is the legal requirement. Hemp products will not make you "high", but they can provide you with the medicinal benefits you may need, more of which we'll discuss in part seven of our CBD series.

What is Marijuana?

Marijuana can come from either the sativa or indica species of the cannabis plant. However, it is important to note that no matter which species it comes from, marijuana is most often a hybrid strain of cannabis. These crossbred strains come from controlled growing conditions to produce plants that contain the optimal amount of THC.

Depending on the desired result, some crossbred marijuana strains can contain as much as 30% THC. Marijuana comes from the dried flowers, stems, leaves, and seeds of the cannabis plant, and it is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. Because of its high THC levels, marijuana will give you a "high" effect that alters your senses, changes your mood, relaxes your muscles, and can even cause hallucinations or delusions.

If used long-term, marijuana can hinder the way your brain communicates between the areas in the brain used for memories, learning, and thinking. Using marijuana can also lead to several major health issues, including breathing problems, heart problems, hindered child development during and after pregnancy, intense vomiting and nausea, paranoia, and increased depression or anxiety.


We know that was a lot of information, so let's take a moment to sum everything up: Cannabis is a group of plants. Both hemp and marijuana come from cannabis. Cannabis has two main species that we use for CBD products and marijuana, namely Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica

Sativa is higher in CBD, and indica is higher in THC; however, just about all marijuana or hemp (CBD) products come from some type of hybrid strain of one of these cannabis species. Hemp refers to products that are high in CBD and cannot get you high. Marijuana refers to the illegal drug that is modified to be higher in THC in order to give you the mind-altering "high" effect. What to expect in part four: What is Broad-Spectrum CBD?  Questions or comments? Share below!  Missed what we discussed in our previous sections? Check them out here!  References: Berke, Jeremy. "Mitch McConnell wants to legalize hemp - here's how it's different from marijuana." Business Insider. March 27, 2018.  "Cannabis, Coca, & Poppy: Nature's Addictive Plants." Drug Enforcement Administration Museum & Visitors Center. "Indica vs. Sativa: Know Your Cannabis Subspecies." Cresco Labs. "Indica vs. Sativa: The Ultimate Guide in 2018." Green Relief. June 16, 2017. "Indica vs. Sativa: What's the Difference?" LeafScience. October 16, 2017. "Jacques, Jacqueline. "Hemp vs. Marijuana: What's the Difference?" Thorne. May 2, 2018. Johnson, Jon. "Everything You Need to Know About CBD Oil." Medical News Today. July 27, 2018. Kahl, Amanda. "The Difference Between Marijuana and Hemp." LabRoots. September 10, 2018. "Marijuana". National Institute on Drug Abuse. June 2018. Pappas, Robert. "Cannabis Confusion Hemp, Marijuana, CBD and THC Some Personal Reflections." Ultra International B.V. September 5, 2018. Rahn, Bailey. "Indica vs. Sativa: What's the Difference Between Cannabis Types?" Leafly. September 20, 2018.