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What Is The Difference Between Hemp And Cannabis?

Hemp cannabis plant leaf sungrown outdoors garden

In the legal arena, as well as in the political arena, there is a difference between hemp and cannabis, even if hemp is essentially just a scientific botanical class of cannabis. Many governments around the world have passed measures to distinguish hemp from cannabis by establishing a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) threshold for harvests.

Typically, the threshold is between .2% and 1% THC depending on the jurisdiction.

The legal and regulatory distinction between hemp and cannabis is a relatively new phenomenon in the grand scheme of human history. For centuries humans have made use of the hemp plant, regardless of what percentage of THC a particular plant contained.

Cannabis opponents try to lead people to believe that the cannabis plant is useless to humans, and that could not be farther from the truth. Humans harnessing the cannabis plant for a number of reasons pre-dates prohibition by several thousands of years.

Plant fibers were used historically to make various things, from rope to clothing, and other parts of the plant were used for medical and recreational purposes. It was those uses that presumably drove how humans looked at the cannabis plant for many years.

In the 1900s governments started to prohibit cannabis in all of its forms, including low-THC hemp. In recent years, governments have started to lift prohibition for low-THC hemp so that farmers, entrepreneurs, and medical companies can legally cultivate and make use of hemp crops.

The rise in popularity of cannabidiol (CBD) has largely driven low-THC policy modernization efforts across the globe. Lawmakers are seemingly far more likely to embrace reform measures that are narrowly tailored to boost the CBD industry than they are to embrace modernization efforts involving what is legally defined as cannabis (higher THC).

Ultimately, the current difference between hemp and cannabis is largely a legal one based on semantics. However, as time goes by and two different industries continue to rise, one focused on low-THC hemp and one focused on harvests that exceed regulatory THC limits for hemp, the confusion between the two may subside to some degree.

And yet, an emerging third sector of the industry could make the entire discussion moot faster than some observers think. It did not take long for innovative entrepreneurs to incorporate methods to extract enough euphoria-inducing cannabinoids from low-THC hemp to make products such as delta-8 and delta-9 products.

Government regulators were already struggling to regulate CBD, and that is now further compounded by the rise of hemp-derived non-CBD products in markets across the globe, particularly in North America and Europe.

It highlights the inefficiency of arbitrarily putting cannabis into hemp and non-hemp categories based only on a harvest’s THC content. If a farmer can legally cultivate what a government considers to be ‘hemp,’ then it should also be legal for products to be made from the harvests, even if the end products contain a high level of THC.

Furthermore, if products that are high in THC can be created from low-THC hemp harvests, then it logically follows that cannabis that is high in THC should be permitted to be cultivated as well. It is the only way that regulations can be consistently applied, and regulators should want that to happen just as much as the industry should want that to happen.

This article first appeared at and is syndicated with special permission