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Hemp vs. Marijuana

Hemp vs. Marijuana
Authored by: Genester Wilson-King, MD FACOG & Sarah Russo

What is Hemp? Getting to the root of it.

Industrial Hemp History and Uses

Hemp (Cannabis sativa), often referred to as Industrial hemp, has been cultivated for close to 10,000 years. [1] Hemp used to be the world’s largest agricultural crop. It was the planet’s primary source of fiber, fabric, fuel, and paper. Hemp was prominent in the United States until 1937, when the Marihuana Tax Act virtually destroyed the industry. But now laws are changing and people are once again reaping the benefits of this beneficial agricultural commodity.

Hemp cultivation focuses on growing the plant for the length of its stalk (for making fibers and other materials) and for seed production. Both male and female plants are used for cultivation and breeding purposes. Hemp grows in just about any climate but is well adapted for cooler environments. The plant is incredibly hearty and can withstand a variety of environmental conditions. Hemp cultivation requires far less water than other conventional crops and needs little to no pesticides. Hemp may be ready to harvest in as little as four months, depending on the growing conditions. [1] 

Hemp is a bioaccumulator, meaning it draws toxins from the soil. Bioremediation is the practice of using hemp to remove toxins from the earth. This process is good for the planet, but the plant material used for this purpose is not suitable for human consumption afterward. [2]

Cannabinoid content

CBD (cannabidiol) is the predominant cannabinoid in hemp grown for fiber or seed. However, industrial hemp has not been bred for harvesting the flowers of the plant, where the highest concentration of cannabinoids are located. Cannabis sativa that has been bred for stalk or seed production (for fiber, fuel, etc), is classified as “low resin”. This means that there is an overall low amount of cannabinoids in the flowers of the plants. High resin plants have an abundant amount of cannabinoids in their trichomes, the area of the highest cannabinoid concentration. 

Hemp Benefits

The seeds of industrial hemp are a good source of protein and omega 3 fatty acids. Hemp seed is the only complete plant-sourced protein and is also high in Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids. It is also incredibly rich in various vitamins and minerals. [3] The hemp stalk has been touted to have thousands of uses, including creating sustainable fabric, hemp plastic and concrete, and others. When it comes to textile production, the uses of hemp are limitless. [4]

What is Marijuana?

Cannabis is a diverse plant, which includes three main species, Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. Hemp is distinct from “Marijuana”, which is commonly called “Cannabis” (even though both marijuana and hemp are Cannabis). Marijuana’s uses are manifold. The first documentation of its use as medicine is in Emperor Shen Nung’s Book of Pharmacopoeia, circa 2727 BC in China. The book incorporates medicinal plants and agricultural practices of the era and cannabis was a part of the compendium. It was also used in ancient India circa 200-1400 BC and was cited as remedy for a wide variety of ailments. [5,6,7]

Ideal Environmental Factors

Marijuana is extremely sensitive to the sun’s cycle which affects flowering and cannabinoid production. It is historically grown in humid areas in zones near the equator that favor equal amounts of hours for the day and night (12/12). However, marijuana can be found growing in most areas of the world, especially since it can be cultivated indoors under artificial lighting and also in greenhouses which enables protection and insulation against the elements. The female plants are exclusively used for flower production, while male marijuana plants are for breeding purposes only. [8]

Cannabinoid content 

Marijuana is cultivated specifically for its flowers, which contain high amounts of cannabinoids and other phytochemicals. Plants bred for cannabinoid content are referred to as “high-resin” plants. Cannabinoids come from the trichomes of the plant which are most highly concentrated in the plant’s flowers and some of the adjacent leaves. This includes THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) dominant and also CBD rich, low THC chemotypes, or other cannabinoid combinations. High resin plants also contain terpenes (which give the plant its smell and grant a variety of therapeutic potential in their own right) and many other compounds that influence the effect. [2]

Benefits of Marijuana

In the United States in the late 1800s, various marijuana and hashish extracts were the most prescribed medicines. Cannabis-based extracts were produced by Eli Lilly, Parke-Davis, Tildens, Smith Brothers, Squibb, and many international companies and apothecaries. [5,6,7] Marijuana was prohibited the same year as hemp was (1937) but the present-day perspective on the plant is changing rapidly. The therapeutic attributes of cannabis are being investigated around the world for medical use for a wide variety of ailments. Marijuana contains high amounts of cannabinoids, because the plants that sourced the product were bred for that purpose. This is also because terpenes interact with cannabinoids (CBD, THC, and others) to enhance their therapeutic benefits. 

Hemp: Theory vs. Practice

Today, many countries classify marijuana from hemp by the amount of THC produced by dry weight of plant material. In the United States, industrial hemp is defined as a Cannabis sativa plants that are dominant in CBD with less than 0.3% THC. Cannabis cultivators are growing high resin cannabis (“marijuana”) with less than 0.3% THC that meets the qualifications of “hemp”. Any plant with a THC concentration above 0.3%, nor matter if it is “high resin” or “low resin” is considered “marijuana” in the eyes of the Federal government. [2]

What’s the best way to use hemp and marijuana? 

Industrial hemp typically lacks the mix of medicinal terpenes and secondary components that high resin cannabis has. Since industrial hemp’s purpose is for fiber and seed production, it contains significantly less CBD than high-resin cannabis. That means it takes a large amount of industrial hemp to produce a small amount of CBD. And since hemp is a bioaccumulator, it increases the risk of contaminants. This is why obtaining CBD medicine from high resin sources (marijuana) is ideal. It respects the plant’s original intention and keeps industrial hemp for what it does best: providing stalk and seed for a multitude of beneficial uses. 

In most commercial cannabis markets in the USA and elsewhere, there is a large problem with pesticide contamination. CBD products must be tested for safety and be free of heavy metals, mold, pesticide residue, pathogens, and other contaminants. This is necessary to ensure consumer safety, especially for those with a compromised immune system. Meeting the criteria for safe and reliable CBD products is of the utmost importance. Treadwell provides a certificate of analysis on all products available here

Hemp vs Marijuana Chart

In summary, both hemp and marijuana are Cannabis (the same genus and species) but they have different purposes and effects. Both industrial hemp and high resin cannabis serve special purposes for human health and the wellbeing of the planet.

Dr. Genester Wilson King HeadshotGenester Wilson-King, MD FACOG is a Board-Certified Obstetrician and gynecologist with over 25 years of clinical experience providing compassionate and research-driven care to patients. After years of working as a full-service OB/GYN, she founded Victory Rejuvenation Center (VRC), a private holistic and preventive medicine practice that provides life-transforming management modalities and customized medicines to patients. She is the Medical Advisor to Treadwell Farms.

As the Medical Director of VRC, Dr. Wilson-King provides services that help her patients age gracefully and achieve holistic well-being. She focuses on plant-based medicine, integrated health, nutrition, supplements, cannabis education, and hormone balance. 


Dr. Wilson-King is Co-Vice President of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians (SCC). The SCC is an educational and scientific society of physicians and other professionals dedicated to the promotion, protection and support of cannabis for medical use.  Dr. Wilson-King co-authored the Best Practices Guidelines for Cannabis Use in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding, and Cannabis Use in Women – Special Considerations (in progress).  She is also on the Board of the Doctors For Cannabis Regulation (DFCR), the first and only national physicians’ association dedicated to the legalization and regulation of cannabis for adults. Advancing the DFCR’s commitment to addressing the disproportionate criminalization of cannabis use among communities of color and the nation’s poor, she regularly provides expert opinions for legal cases involving cannabis.

Dr. Wilson-King is a nationally recognized advocate, clinician, and educator for cannabis and hormone and wellness therapies.  She presents on cannabis use in obstetrics and gynecology, hormone therapy for PMS, various stages of menopause, and for applications in nutrition.

Sarah Russo HeadshotSarah Russo is a longtime plant enthusiast and globetrotter. She got her degree in environmental studies and social justice, with a focus on plant medicine from the Evergreen State College. She is a freelance writer, consultant, and project manager with over 13 years of experience in the cannabis and herbal medicine space. Her main objectives are fighting for the right to use plants, implementing social justice approaches in the cannabis industry, as well as encouraging sustainable agricultural practices. She is currently based on an island in the Mediterranean. Sarah is a content creator for Treadwell Farms. 



  1. Clarke, R. C., & Merlin, M. D. (2013). Cannabis: evolution and ethnobotany. Univ of California Press.
  2. Lee, Marin A. (2015). Cannabis Oil vs. Hemp Oil. Project CBD. Accessed on 4/16/2020.
  3. Hazekamp, Arno, et al. “Chemistry of Cannabis”. Comprehensive Natural Products II, 2010.
  4. Small, E. and D. Marcus. Hemp: A new crop with new uses for North America. ASHS Press, 2002.
  5. Herer, Jack. The Emperor Wears No Clothes, 12th Edition. Think Ink, 2010.
  6. Lee, Martin A. Smoke Signals. Scribner, 2012.
  7. Earleywine, Mitch. Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence. Oxford University Press, 2002
  8. Clarke, R. C. & Merlin M. D. Cannabis: evolution and ethnobotany. Berkeley, University of California Press, 2013.
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