Hemp vs Cannabis

What’s the Difference between Hemp and Cannabis?


Hemp and cannabis are both from the same genus, cannabis sativa, which can and does create confusion. I will come straight out and say there is a lot of conflicting information out there – it can be difficult to navigate the shifting landscape. There are continuous legal and regulatory changes, and the quickly expanding industry is outpacing the science, with a huge gap in the academic literature, particularly in regard to the CBD market. Further fuelling the misinformation, CBD companies write targeted search engine optimized ‘information articles’ that are presented as factual but are never substantiated (but essentially promoting the value of their own product).

Cannabis is generally associated with recreational or medical consumption while hemp has traditionally been considered as an industrial product appropriate for fibers and nutrition. In a legal sense, to be considered hemp, the plant must contain less than 0.3% of the intoxicating cannabinoid Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC.

Legal considerations for the differences between hemp CBD and cannabis CBD.

A major difference between CBD extracted from hemp and that of cannabis is federal legality. Thanks to the FARM Bill signed into law in late 2018, hemp has been removed from the Controlled Substances Act. So, although CBD extracted from Cannabis is legal in most states, removal of criminal sanctions for CBD derived from hemp has been projected to heavily influence cultivation techniques (towards CBD rich varieties). Now I will just talk a little bit about the:

Extraction process and quality control of CBD from hemp and cannabis

This is one of the few areas where there is a clear distinction between opposing views. The argument goes that because hemp is usually relatively low percentage CBD (for example 3 – 5%) then more extractions are required to produce pure oil than cannabis, which may have up to 20% CBD. So, while the CBD molecule is identical in both cases, the fact that it may have taken more extractions to produce the same quantity of oil make it less efficient and potentially more risk-averse to increased exposure to residual contaminants used in the extraction process.

The counterargument is that it depends on the strain of the plant. In this sense, there are CBD rich hemp strains, which render the differences obsolete. Regardless of the viewpoint, it is essential to ensure that the CBD has gone through rigorous quality control checks including for residual contaminants.

Health Outcomes of hemp CBD Oil versus cannabis CBD oil.

The literature documenting differences between hemp CBD and cannabis CBD is thin with very little distinction having been made between the sources. What little evidence there currently is indicates similar therapeutic outcomes. For example, a study that compared neuroprotectivity from both hemp CBD and cannabis CBD found that both “displayed neuroprotective activity” Corsi, Pellati, Brighenti, Plessi, and Benvenuti (2019).


It is more important that hemp CBD and cannabis CBD have undergone quality testing than the source, which should be viewed more as a spectrum rather than distinguishing between the two. While there is lots of noise making claims about differences in quality between hemp and cannabis CBD oils, at this stage, there is no evidence to suggest any major difference from a clinical or therapeutic perspective.


  1. Corsi, L., Pellati, F., Brighenti, V., Plessi, N., & Benvenuti, S. (2019). Chemical Composition and In Vitro Neuroprotective Activity of Fibre-Type Cannabis sativa L. (Hemp). Current Bioactive Compounds, 15(2), 201-210. doi:10.2174/1573407214666180809124952