As a result of a changed regulatory environment, the distinction between cannabis and hemp is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Broadly speaking, there are two types of cannabis in the botanical world: hemp plants and narcotic plants. Hemp plants contain both fiber-producing and seed-oil-producing varieties. There are intoxicating THC-rich plants and non-intoxicating CBD-rich plants among the drug plants.

Resin content is the primary distinction between hemp and illicit plants. Industrial hemp plants contain minimal levels of resin. High-resin plants are drug plants. The slang term “marijuana” (spelled with a ‘j’ or ‘h’) refers to the flowering tops of high-resin cannabis.

Typically, industrial hemp cultivars are grown from pedigree seed, producing up to one hundred tall, slender, bamboo-like plants (with sparse foliage) per square meter. These plants are harvested by machine and processed into numerous goods, including paper, fabric, and edible oil.

In contrast, drug plants are often cultivated from asexually reproduced clones, at a density of one to two bushy plants per square meter, with hand-harvested, dried, trimmed, and cured flowers. The blooms are then ingested for their psychoactive and therapeutic properties.


Originally, federal law in the United States categorized marijuana based on its resin content. In the two-sentence definition of “marihuana” incorporated in the 1970 Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which was reproduced word-for-word from the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, the law that effectively rendered cannabis illegal, resin was stated no less than three times.

The term “marijuana” refers to any portions of the Cannabis sativa L. plant, whether growing or not, as well as its seeds, resin, and any compound, manufacturing, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the plant, its seeds, or its resin. This term does not include the mature stalks of such a plant, fiber produced from such stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of such a plant, or any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such mature stalks (except for the resin extracted therefrom), fiber, oil, or cake, or the sterilized, non-germinable seed of such a plant.

The CSA states, in essence, that some plant elements (“mature stalk” and “sterilized seed”) are excluded from the legal definition of marijuana. However, this exemption did not apply to the plant’s blooms, leaves, or resinous sap. Wherever the resin and its derivatives are detected on the plant, they are expressly prohibited.

What more mentioned about cannabis and hemp. Well, the CSA was unambiguous on this point: resin extracted from any part of the cannabis plant or any preparation containing resin is prohibited. Fiber generated from hemp stalk and oil extracted from unfertilized hempseed were exempted, but resin was not.

But in terms of medicinal and recreational cannabis, the activity is in the resin. Cannabis resin is housed in the mushroom-shaped heads of microscopic trichomes, which are mostly located on the plant’s odiferous female flowers (the buds) and to a lesser extent on the leaves. The resin is composed of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), as well as hundreds of other secondary plant metabolites (mainly other cannabinoids and terpenes) that enhance human brain chemistry and alleviate physiological and psychological discomfort.

Notably, hemp seed oil is distinct from the CBD-rich oil produced from the plant’s flowers and leaves. Hemp seed oil contains no CBD, no THC, and no plant cannabinoids of any kind, but it is good for manufacturing varnish, paint, soap, and protein-enriched dietary supplements, among other things.


The federal government realized from the outset that the resin concentration is the defining characteristic between marijuana and industrial hemp. Today, however, the federal legislation contains a recently introduced exception that defines industrial hemp as containing no more than 0.3% THC by dry weight. Products having such a minute quantity of THC should not induce intoxication.

Where did the 0.3% THC number originate? It derives from a 1976 taxonomy paper by Canadian plant scientists Ernest Small and Arthur Cronquist, who never intended for 0.3% THC to serve as a legal dividing line between hemp and other cannabis varieties.

However, it is precisely what occurred when it come to cannabis and hemp. According to current federal legislation, cannabis is classified hemp and not marijuana if no component of the plant (including the leaves and flowers) contains more than 0.3% THC by dry weight. Any plant containing more than 0.3% THC is deemed marijuana and is therefore forbidden to cultivate under federal law.

The passing of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (often known as the Farm Bill) officially distinguished “industrial hemp” from marijuana for the first time in U.S. history. The requirement that hemp have less than 0.3% THC was codified in Section 7606 of the Agricultural Act and reaffirmed when Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill.

The 2018 Farm Bill, which a cynic would describe to as the “Keep Marijuana Illegal Act,” included no mention of resin. The 0.3% THC legal limit is an artificial, unworkable, euphoria-phobic legacy of reefer mania, to put it frankly. It has become the current linchpin of cannabis prohibition, a dishonest, antiquated policy that impedes medical research and restricts patient access to valuable medicinal options, such as herbal extracts containing diverse mixtures of CBD and THC.


Despite its flaws, the Farm Bill represents a monumental advance. It is now allowed for American farmers to cultivate hemp as a commercial crop on home soil, a long-awaited development spurred on by the public’s demand for CBD.

On the date it became law (20 December 2018), the Farm Bill removed hemp off the list of controlled substances, but not cannabis. The Farm Bill also specifically withdrew hemp products, including CBD produced from hemp, from the purview of CSA, but not the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which argues that CBD generated from hemp is neither a valid dietary supplement nor an off-label prescription.

CBD oil manufactured from cannabis plants containing more than 0.3% THC remains a Schedule 1 substance under federal law. Given that the CBD molecule is identical between cannabis-derived CBD oil and hemp-derived CBD oil, it is unclear how authorities will differentiate between the two.

The best source of CBD oil is organically grown, CBD-rich cannabis with high resin content, not industrial hemp with low resin content. Why? Because the more resin a plant contains, the more CBD may be extracted. Low-resin industrial hemp produced for fiber or seed oil is not an ideal CBD source for a number of reasons.

Industrial hemp often contains far less cannabidiol than high-resin CBD-rich cannabis; hence, a considerable quantity of industrial hemp is required to extract a tiny quantity of CBD. This increases the potential of contamination because hemp is a “bio-accumulator,” meaning it naturally absorbs soil toxins. This is ideal for phytoremediation, but not for the production of ingestible therapeutic oil products. Oil derived from cannabis and hemp will concentrate poisons in addition to beneficial substances.

CBD oil is frequently a co-product or byproduct of industrial hemp farmed for a purpose other than CBD oil. Farmers can earn additional income by selling their unused hemp biomass to a company that wishes to extract CBD from it. This dual-use process is ubiquitous and loosely controlled, if at all, and the CBD-extracted hemp biomass is frequently contaminated with pesticide residues and harmful solvents.

Heavy-refined CBD paste or CBD-isolate generated from industrial hemp is a poor starting material for creating CBD-rich oil products and must be diluted.
Low-resin hemp is more susceptible to pest and mold infection than high-resin cannabis because the resin contains terpenes and cannabinoids that repel predators, attract helpful insects, and protect plants from blight.

Industrial hemp lacks the therapeutic terpenes and secondary cannabinoids often present in cannabis with a high resin content. These chemicals interact with CBD and THC to augment their medicinal efficacy.


Prior to the 2018 Farm Bill, the majority of CBD products sold in the United States were sourced from low-resin European and Chinese industrial hemp. Now that hemp cultivation is once again permitted in the United States, it should be simpler to purchase CBD products of higher quality derived from hemp produced in Colorado, Kentucky, Oregon, Montana, Vermont, and other states.

The most abundant source of cannabidiol is high-resin CBD-rich cannabis plants that weigh in at approximately 20% CBD by dry weight and 1% THC. Unfortunately, under the current legal framework, that level of THC is too high to qualify as hemp, despite the fact that anyone who smoked the resinous flower tops would not become intoxicated, as CBD is not psychoactive like THC. However, it can do a person a lot of good if they are experiencing pain, anxiety, or sadness.

Cannabis is a very adaptable plant that can survive in diverse legal and ecological situations. It responds well to human touch, which has expanded the plant’s genetic possibilities in unprecedented ways.

As a result of a changed regulatory environment, the distinction between hemp and other kinds of cannabis is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Horticulturists in the United States are successfully cultivating high-resin cannabis varieties that meet the Farm Bill’s requirements for hemp, with THC levels below 0.3% and CBD levels in the double digits by dry weight.

In other words, farmers today cultivate cannabis (“marijuana”) containing less than 0.3% THC. If this seems somewhat confusing, it is because it is somewhat confusing. With proper cultivation, extraction, and processing, these CBD-rich plants qualify as excellent raw materials for the production of CBD oil for therapeutic and personal use.

We hope you enjoyed our article about the difference between cannabis and hemp.

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