What is hemp? The difference between hemp, marijuana, and CBD

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What is hemp? The difference between hemp, marijuana, and CBD

  • Hemp is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant cultivated for its fibre, oil, and seeds.
  • CBD is extracted from hemp plants and doesn’t cause intoxicating effects or have any potential for addiction.
  • In the UK, CBD is legal, providing it has been extracted from plants containing less than 0.2% THC.
  • In comparison, marijuana is cannabis that’s high in THC and is illegal in the UK except for limited availability for medical use.

Although they all derive from the Cannabis sativa plant, marijuana, hemp, and CBD or cannabidiol are not created equal. Although people may use the terms marijuana, hemp, and cannabis interchangeably, there are distinct differences

Marijuana is a strain of cannabis cultivated to produce high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a compound that produces an intoxicating effect. So, what is hemp? Hemp is another strain of the cannabis plant that contains minimal levels of THC, and high levels of CBD, a nonintoxicating compound. 

If you’re curious to find answers to questions like “What is hemp?” “What is the difference between hemp and marijuana?” and “What is industrial hemp?” continue reading as we explore the differences between these plants and some of the active compounds they contain.

What is hemp?

Hemp is a variety of cannabis cultivated by civilisations for thousands of years. It’s prized for its fibre, oil, and seed, and more recently for CBD oil.

The family tree or taxonomy of hemp reveals that it belongs to the family Cannabaceae. This large family contains around 170 plant species and includes hops, hackberries, and cannabis.

There are three plant species within the subfamily or genus of cannabis: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis.

So, what is hemp? It’s a subspecies of C.sativa with a unique composition cultivated to have negligible levels of THC.

In the UK, hemp is legal, providing the plants contain less than 0.2% THC.

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How is hemp cultivated?

Hemp is a robust, annual commercial crop typically grown outside in large plantations spanning multiple hectares.

Hemp growers must use seed that has been certified for low THC content. They then sow the seeds directly into the soil rather than transplanting them as seedlings.

The plants grow quickly and are resistant to many pests and diseases. Also, because they reach almost 5 metres high, they outcompete weeds, meaning farmers can often avoid chemical herbicides or weed killers.

Because of this and the fact that hemp absorbs large quantities of carbon dioxide, it’s widely considered an environmentally friendly crop.

What is industrial hemp?

Industrial hemp is cultivated to have a strong central stalk which is the part of the plant that produces the fibre. Hemp farmers sow the seeds close together at 10 cm intervals to encourage the plants to grow straight up towards the light rather than outwards.

When growing hemp to produce CBD products, it is the flowers and buds that are required. Therefore, the plants are grown, the plants are grown approximately 2 m apart, allowing them maximum exposure to sunlight and enough space to grow outwards and produce CBD-rich buds.

what is hemp good for

A brief history of hemp

Hemp originally came from Asia, and evidence of its use there dates back thousands of years. The earliest record of hemp in the UK mentions a Celtic princess called Cambri Formosa, who taught women to sew and weave with hemp in 373 BC.

Hemp was one of the first plants to be domesticated. Its seeds were eaten as a protein-rich snack, and its valuable fibre was used to make rope, sails, clothing, and paper. In fact, the British navy relied on hemp cables, rigging, ropes, and sails up until the late 19th century.

what is hemp good for

However, in the early 20th century, hemp fell out of favour when marijuana became popular for its intoxicating effects, and hemp was grouped into the same category. As a result, it was outlawed in 1928.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that the UK started to reintroduce hemp into its agriculture system, and hemp was legalised once again in 1993.

Since then, its popularity has grown, and it’s now used for making paper, food, dietary supplements, textiles, and cosmetics.

What is marijuana?

Marijuana may refer to Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica. The plants are non-fertilised females that develop large buds and highly resinous flowers containing an abundance of cannabinoids and high levels of THC. Because of the THC content, marijuana produces feelings of deep relaxation, euphoria, and a cerebral high.

In comparison to hemp, marijuana is genetically distinct and has a different chemical composition. Except for limited medical cases, it is illegal to possess, grow, or distribute in the UK.

What is CBD?

CBD is a nonintoxicating compound found in hemp plants and is the active ingredient in broad-spectrum CBD oil. 

It exerts these effects by interacting with the body’s endocannabinoids system (ECS), an internal regulator of stress, mood, pain, and other functions in the body.

CBD, unlike THC, is not intoxicating and will not produce a “high.” For this reason, CBD has become a widely used supplement, as people look for natural ways of supporting their health.

The interest in plant-based diets has also stimulated the use of plant-based CBD Oil. You can now find this natural supplement in many forms, including CBD oils, topicals, capsules, edibles, and gummies.

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Hemp vs marijuana vs CBD

HempMarijuana CBD
FormPlant Plant Cannabinoid
THC Content Low High None
CBD Content High Low100%
Legality in the EU/UK Legal, as long as THC Content is below 0.2%Legal, except for specific medical useLegal

What is the difference between hemp oil and CBD oil?

CBD oil and hemp oil are both extracted from hemp, but they are not the same product. Somewhat confusingly, people may use the term hemp oil to refer to CBD oil and use hemp oil and hemp seed oil interchangeably. However, these two oils have distinct purposes and come from different parts of the plant.

So, what is hemp oil, and what is hemp oil good for? Hemp oil or hemp seed oil is made by cold pressing the seeds from hemp plants. Although it doesn’t have any intoxicating properties or contain any sizable quantity of cannabinoids, it provides unique health benefits due to its nutrients, which include:

  • Protein
  • Essential fatty acids (EFAs)
  • Minerals including zinc, magnesium, calcium, and iron
  • Vitamin E
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And what is hemp oil used for? You can use hemp oil as you would any other healthy oil. For example, try adding it to salads, soups, and sauces or combining it into baked goods.

In comparison, CBD oil is made from other parts of the hemp plant, as the seeds are not a good source of CBD. Broad-spectrum CBD oil is rich in valuable botanical compounds, including cannabigerol (CBG), cannabidivarin (CBDV), and of course, CBD.

People typically use CBD oil as a dietary supplement to support general health and well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about CBD Oil vs. Hemp Oil

What's the main difference between CBD oil and hemp oil?

The key difference lies in their composition and purpose. CBD oil is derived from various parts of the hemp plant and contains cannabinoids like CBD, which interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system. Hemp oil, or hemp seed oil, is extracted from the seeds and doesn’t contain cannabinoids but is rich in nutrients.

Can I use hemp oil and CBD oil interchangeably?

Hemp oil and CBD oil serve different purposes due to their distinct compositions. You can use hemp oil in cooking and skincare, while CBD oil is often used as a dietary supplement for wellness.

Are there any side effects of using hemp oil or CBD oil?

Hemp oil is generally safe, but excessive consumption may lead to digestive discomfort. CBD oil may cause mild side effects such as dry mouth, dizziness, or changes in appetite. Consult a healthcare professional if you have concerns.

Can I fail a drug test by using CBD oil or hemp oil?

Hemp oil should not cause a positive drug test since it doesn’t contain THC. However, full-spectrum CBD oil may contain trace amounts of THC, which could potentially show up on a drug test. Choose CBD products labeled as “THC-free” if this is a concern.

Can I use hemp oil or CBD oil during pregnancy or while breastfeeding?

It’s recommended to consult a healthcare provider before using any hemp-based products during pregnancy or breastfeeding to ensure safety for both the mother and the baby.

How should I choose between hemp oil and CBD oil?

Consider your health goals. If you’re seeking nutritional support and a culinary addition, hemp oil may be a good choice. If you’re interested in potential wellness benefits and interactions with the endocannabinoid system, CBD oil might be suitable.

Are there regulations for the quality and labeling of CBD and hemp oil products?

The CBD industry is evolving, and regulations vary by region. Look for products from reputable brands that provide third-party testing and clearly state the CBD content on the label.

Can I cook with CBD oil or hemp oil?

While you can technically cook with CBD oil, it’s important to note that high temperatures might degrade the CBD content. Hemp oil is suitable for cooking, especially in recipes that don’t require high heat.

Remember to do thorough research, read product labels, and consider consulting with a healthcare professional before incorporating CBD oil or hemp oil into your routine, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking medications.

Types of hemp products

The hemp plant is incredibly versatile, and if you’re looking for a natural way to maintain health, hemp products are a great option. Besides hemp seed oil, you can find options including whole or cracked seeds, protein powder, milk, and cosmetics.

Hemp protein powder

What is hemp protein? It’s a protein made from hemp seeds and is a great source of plant-based protein suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

It contains all nine essential amino acids and is well absorbed by the body. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are essential for building bones, muscles, cartilage, and skin. So it’s critical you have enough protein in your diet to repair cells and create new ones.

Hemp seeds

Hemp seeds can be eaten raw, roasted, or ground into flour. They contain an impressive 25% protein, beating both flax and chia seeds which contain around 20% and 18% protein, respectively.

Interestingly, weight for weight, hemp seeds provide similar amounts of protein as beef or lamb.

Additionally, hemp seeds are high in vitamin E, omega-3, and omega-6 fatty acids, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and other essential nutrients.

what is hemp good for

Hemp milk

You can buy hemp milk or make it yourself at home by soaking hemp seeds in water and blending them in a food processor. The resulting milk has a nutty flavour and creamy consistency, which is delicious on its own, or you can add sweetener and other flavourings to taste.

It’s a great alternative to animal-derived milk and can be used in smoothies, coffee, and breakfast cereal. Plus, it contains all the goodness of hemp seeds.

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Hemp cosmetics

Because of hemp seed oil’s unique fatty acid composition, it has a good affinity to skin and can penetrate deeply to provide optimal results.

In addition, it acts to reinforce the skin’s protective barrier and reduce water loss.

Therefore, manufacturers add hemp seed oil to cosmetic products, including cleansers, moisturisers, and skin conditioners.


The answer to “What is hemp?” is multifaceted as the plant is incredibly versatile with a long history of cultivation.

Hemp provides incredibly strong and durable fibre, which can be made into cloth, clothing, rope, and paper. It’s also a source of hemp seeds, which are high in protein and essential nutrients and can be used to make protein powder, milk, and oil.

The term hemp oil can mistakenly by used to refer to CBD oil or hemp seed oil. Although the hemp plant is the source of both these oils, hemp seed oil contains no cannabinoids and comes from cold-pressed seeds.

Contrastingly, CBD oil is harvested from other parts of the hemp plant and is a rich source of cannabinoids, which may contribute to overall health and well-being.

Hemp vs Marijuana Infographic Naturecan

Disclaimer: There is currently insufficient evidence to support the use of CBD in the condition(s) mentioned above and this text by no means reflects recommended uses. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional if you are taking prescribed medication or are thinking of using CBD for your condition.

Written by Zia Sherrell and reviewed by our qualified expert, Moyra Cosgrove, Head of Nutrition at Naturecan, SENR Registered Nutritionist and DProf candidate at LJMU


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