Distinguishing Industrial Hemp from Cannabis: A Brief Insight

In recent years, the growing interest in cannabis-related products has sparked a renewed curiosity about the different varieties within the cannabis plant family. Among these varieties, industrial hemp and cannabis are two distinct cultivars that often cause confusion due to their similarities. While both belong to the Cannabis sativa species, their characteristics, uses, and legal implications are markedly different. This article aims to provide a comprehensive insight into the distinctions between industrial hemp and cannabis.

Historical Context:

Cannabis has a long and complex history, with evidence of its use dating back thousands of years for various purposes, including medicinal, industrial, and recreational. However, as societies evolved, so did the legal and cultural perceptions of cannabis. In the modern context, understanding the differences between industrial hemp and cannabis is crucial for navigating the legal landscape and maximising the potential benefits each cultivar offers.

Botanical Distinctions:

At a botanical level, industrial hemp and cannabis share the same genus and species, Cannabis sativa. However, they differ significantly in terms of their chemical composition, especially in the concentration of the psychoactive compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the primary psychoactive component responsible for the “high” associated with cannabis use.

Industrial Hemp:

Industrial hemp is characterised by its low THC content, typically below 0.3%. This minimal THC concentration is a key differentiator, making industrial hemp unsuitable for recreational use. Instead, industrial hemp is cultivated primarily for its versatile applications in industries such as textiles, paper, biodegradable plastics, and construction materials. The plant’s fibers and seeds are utilised to produce a wide range of products, including hemp oil, hemp seeds, and hemp-based fabrics.


On the other hand, cannabis, often referred to as marijuana, is cultivated for its higher THC content, which can range from 5% to 30% or more. This higher THC concentration is responsible for the plant’s psychoactive effects, making it popular for recreational and medicinal use. Cannabis is known for its diverse strains, each with unique combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes that contribute to varying effects and flavours.

Legal Distinctions:

One of the most significant distinctions between industrial hemp and cannabis lies in their legal status. The legality of these cultivars is largely determined by their THC content.

Industrial Hemp:

Due to its low THC content, industrial hemp is legal in many countries and regions, including the United States. The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill in the U.S. removed hemp from the list of controlled substances, opening the door for the legal cultivation, processing, and sale of industrial hemp and its derivatives.


Cannabis, with its higher THC levels, is subject to stricter regulations. In many places, cannabis is classified as a controlled substance, and its cultivation, possession, and distribution are often restricted or prohibited. However, the legal landscape for cannabis is evolving, with an increasing number of jurisdictions decriminalising or legalising its recreational and medicinal use.

Cultivation and Appearance:

Beyond their chemical composition, industrial hemp and cannabis also differ in their cultivation practices and physical appearance.

Industrial Hemp:

Industrial hemp is typically grown in densely planted fields, reaching heights of 2 to 6 meters (6 to 20 feet). The plants are cultivated for their long stalks, rich in fibers, and their seeds, which contain valuable nutrients and oils. The cultivation of industrial hemp often focuses on maximising these specific components for industrial applications.


Cannabis cultivation, especially for recreational and medicinal use, involves more meticulous care. The plants are often grown in controlled environments to optimise conditions for higher THC production. Cannabis plants are shorter and bushier compared to industrial hemp, with a focus on producing resinous flowers rich in cannabinoids and terpenes.

Use Cases:

The uses of industrial hemp and cannabis diverge significantly due to their distinct chemical profiles.

Industrial Hemp:

The versatility of industrial hemp extends to various industries. Hemp fibers are used in textiles and construction materials, while hemp seeds are a source of nutritious oils and proteins. Hemp-based products, including CBD (cannabidiol) supplements, have gained popularity for their potential health benefits without the psychoactive effects associated with THC.


Cannabis, with its higher THC content, is primarily used for recreational and medicinal purposes. Recreational users seek the euphoric effects, relaxation, and altered perception associated with cannabis consumption. In the medical field, cannabis is used to alleviate symptoms of various conditions, including chronic pain, nausea, and muscle spasms. Additionally, non-psychoactive cannabinoids, such as CBD, derived from cannabis, have gained recognition for their potential therapeutic effects.


In conclusion, while industrial hemp and cannabis belong to the same plant species, Cannabis sativa, they are distinct cultivars with unique characteristics, uses, and legal implications. The key factors distinguishing them include their THC content, legal status, cultivation practices, physical appearance, and use cases.

Understanding these differences is crucial for consumers, policymakers, and industry participants alike. As the legal landscape surrounding cannabis continues to evolve, staying informed about the distinctions between industrial hemp and cannabis becomes increasingly important. Whether exploring the potential of hemp-based products or navigating the regulations surrounding cannabis, a nuanced understanding of these cultivars is essential in making informed decisions and contributing to the ongoing discourse on the responsible use and cultivation of cannabis-related products.

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2,000 ha delivering net gain of 30,000 mt soil-captured hemp carbon. Potential opportunity for 150,000 mt carbon credits/annum.