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Cannabis, Hemp, Marijuana. What's the Difference and Where does it come from?

Updated: Oct 10, 2019

October 7, 2019

By Greg Chapman, Scott Bryant & Victor Berrio

In just a few short years, cannabis has gone from being a sub-culture to a mainstream topic, creating a booming industry with no end in sight. This is an amazing development for many people that've been involved or associated with the plant, but it can be daunting and downright overwhelming for many that are less acquainted.

The world of cannabis growing its influence in our everyday lives, it's becoming increasingly important for you to be educated about the variations of the plant and all of its benefits. You can come across products made from cannabis in almost every corner of your life. Yes, it’s available at dispensaries, but it is also now available for purchase online, at drug stores, gas stations, restaurants, bars and-so-forth. You can find it being used for plastics for your favorite products, bricks and insulation for your home and even the clothes on your back. This article is meant as a brief overview to get you up to speed on the basic terms, variations and components of the plant.

Cannabis is deeply woven into the history of our society.

Common Terms


Cannabis is a plant genus that produces three species of flowering plants: cannabis sativa, cannabis indica and cannabis ruderalis. Cannabis sativa and cannabis indica are typically used to produce strains used for recreational and medicinal purposes. Cannabis ruderalis is rarely farmed due to it’s low THC content and small stature. The plant is native to Asia and has long been used for the production of hemp products (textiles, rope, paper, etc.), as well as for recreational and for drug purposes.


Hemp and marijuana are both variations of the cannabis plant. The distinguishing factor between hemp and marijuana is the concentration of a psychoactive compound called tetrahydrocannabinols (THC). Hemp strains of the cannabis plant, as defined by the U.S. federal government, cannot have a THC content of over 0.3% on a dry weight basis. This is simply a factor of genetics and breeding of the plant to ensure strains that are under this limit.

Hemp is widely considered one of the most versatile substances on the planet and can be used in a variety of products including health, beauty, paper, rope, textile and ingestibles. Even the seeds are edible and highly nutritious. Unlike marijuana, hemp does not typically get you “high,” as it holds very low percentages of THC.


Marijuana is classified as cannabis that contains over 0.3% Delta-9 THC, holding both medicinal and psychoactive properties. Marijuana genetics are classified as either a sativa, indica or hybrid strain.


The sativa plant is well-known for delivering more of an energizing and uplifting cerebral high. It is known for increasing creativity, alertness and focus. Sativa plants grow tall with skinny leaves and have wider spaces between branch nodes, allowing flowers to grow longer and wispier than an indica plant. Typical sativa characteristics include a piney, skunky or citrus aroma. Editors note: each strain can affect each person differently, whereas a sativa does not necessarily mean that it will have the same energizing effect on each consumer.


The indica plant is said to induce more of a relaxed body high. It is known for its relaxing, sedative, and pain reducing effects. Indica plants grow shorter and bushier with wider leaves and more dense buds than their sativa cousins. Indica aromatics are more earthy, woody and floral. Editors note: each strain can affect each person differently, whereas an indica does not necessarily mean that it will have the same effects on each consumer.


A hybrid flower is the result of cross-breeding and will show characteristics of both sativa and indica. The specific characteristics will vary from strain to strain depending on the plants family tree and can be either indica or sativa dominant. Nowadays, unless a cultivator is growing land-race genetics that have not been crossed, most strains fall under the hybrid category.


THC is the abbreviation for tertrahydrocannabinol. It is one of the most prevalent cannabinoids in marijuana plants and is the main culprit causing psychoactive effects commonly associated with getting "high". There have been many medicinal uses found and there is no lethal dose of the compound in its natural form.


CBD is the abbreviation for cannabinol, one of at least 113 cannabinoids found in the plant and typically second only to THC when it comes to average volume. CBD has a variety of medicinal properties that are only just being discovered and tested. It has been claimed to help treat pain, seizures, inflammation and anxiety. It does not produce psychoactive effects commonly associated with the plant.


Terpenes are found everywhere in nature and cannabis is no exception. Terpenes are what give pine trees the smell of pine, or oranges their citrusy aroma. The definition of terpenes is: any of a large group of volatile unsaturated hydrocarbons found in essential oils of plants. Terpenes create the smell, or essence of plants and is what is used to create a majority of “natural” flavors found in many common food products.

Common Terpenes

D-Limonene: Smells like lemon, orange, grapefruit or tangerine and known to help with anxiety, depression, gastric reflux and also work as an anti-fungal.

Myrcene: Smells like skunk, hops, or balsamic and known to work as an anti-bacterial, anti-septic, anti-fungal and also help with inflammation.

Linalool: Smells like lavender and other flowers and is reported to have properties that help with insomnia, stress, depression, anxiety and pain.

A-Pinene: Smells like pine trees and sage and is said to help with inflammation and asthma.

Caryophyllene: Smells like spice, dry wood, or pepper and is known to work as an antioxidant and help with inflammation, muscle spasms, pain and insomnia.

Entourage Effect

The entourage effect is a proposed mechanism by which cannabis compounds act synergistically to modulate the overall psychoactive and health effects of the plant.

A brief history of Cannabis

Cannabis and its global influence are directly linked to humans and our population spreading across the continents. The first traces of the plant being used by humans can be found in central Asia around 500 BC. Most likely used for medicinal purposes as an herbal medicine, as well as its strong fibers for textiles, the plant was a valuable resource to keep around the community. Cannabis can be traced through almost every culture as mankind spread across the globe. Its uses varied from culture to culture, being used to make medicines, clothing and even for religious purposes with some higher THC varieties.

Farmers harvesting Hemp crops.

America has a strong history with hemp. It was very influential in helping the early colonial settlements survive. We used its fiber to make sails, paper, rope, clothing and even used the seeds as a food. In the 1800’s cannabis was a very popular ingredient in many medicines that were used to treat pain, nausea and hunger issues.

The name Marijuana finds its roots in Mexican culture. The plant came to be called Mary Jane by the locals that wanted a way to reference cannabis without the missionaries, who were in control at the time, becoming wise to what was going on.

It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that the practice of smoking marijuana recreationally was introduced to the United States. It didn't take long however for the social perception to swing against the plant. Unemployment, social unrest, and the Prohibition era’s view of all intoxicants lead to cannabis being outlawed in 29 states by 1931.

This was followed shortly after by the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 that imposed an excise sales tax on the sale, possession or transfer of all hemp products. This effectively criminalized all but industrial uses for the plant. Industrial hemp continued to be grown in the U.S. until the end of WWII. The last legal hemp fields were planted in 1957 in Wisconsin.

Richard Nixon signing the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 repealed the Marijuana Tax Act and listed Marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. Along with heroin, LSD and ecstasy, it was labeled as having zero medicinal properties and a high potential for abuse.

It wasn’t until California passed the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 that the plant was legalized for medicinal purposes again for people with severe or chronic illnesses. Now most of the states have decriminalized and some even fully legalized the plant with more on the way.

Colorado and Washington were the first to fully legalize the plant for recreational use and show the world that it is not only not a detriment to their communities but is helping them grow and improve. While Federal law still lists the plant as illegal it is hard to argue with the millions of tax dollars being earned and re-invested by these communities in programs like schools, hospitals and basic infrastructure.

The more we can learn about cannabis as a society the more we can pull the veil back on the mystery that surrounds the plant. There's so much rumor and mis-guided information surrounding cannabis that it can be quite confusing to many people. This is why it's important to at-least understand the basics so that you can safely navigate the world of cannabis.

It's important for those who understand the true benefits of cannabis to be speak out and share your knowledge to grow the reach and influence of hemp and marijuana’s positive influences upon our health and society.

Additional information on industrial hemp can be found on the USDA website here.


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