While hemp and its popular cousin, marijuana, are both varieties of the herbaceous flowering plant known as cannabis sativa, they’re different in a number of ways.
The chemical makeup
It comes down to THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, a compound that is the main active, intoxicating ingredient of cannabis.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, THC is plentiful in marijuana and able to attach to molecules called cannabinoid receptors on neurons in the brain and activate them, disrupting various mental and physical functions. Thus, smoking marijuana can impair things like memory, thinking, concentration, movement, coordination, and sensory and time perception.
The chemical makeup of hemp contains just trace amount of THC, making it impossible to feel any psychoactive effect or get a “high”.
The appearance and cultivation
Marijuana and hemp are so different in appearance that most people wouldn’t be able to tell that they belong to the same genus of plants. Marijuana is short and bushy, containing palmate leaves with serrated leaflets. It has a vegetative phase and a flowering phase. It is cross-bred from different strains and carefully grown in climate-controlled indoor environments.
Hemp has tall, fibrous stalks that are strong and have very few flowering buds. It is grown outdoors.