FILE - In this Aug. 13, 2015, file photo, hemp plants tower above researchers who tend to them at a research farm in Lexington, Ky. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday, March 26, 2018, he wants to bring hemp production back into the mainstream by removing it from the controlled substances list that now associates it with marijuana, its illicit cousin. (AP Photo/Bruce Schreiner, File)

Hemp has a long-standing history throughout civilization, but what is hemp? As a renewable source for raw materials, hemp is incorporated into thousands of products from health foods and holistic body care to paper, textiles, and rope. In fact, hemp has been around for thousands of years – its earliest documented usage dating back to approximately 8,000 BC. So how does hemp differ from marijuana?

Hemp vs. Marijuana: The Difference Explained

It’s a common misconception that hemp and marijuana are one in the same. While it’s true that they both come from the same cannabis family, they are genetically distinct. In addition to having a different chemical makeup, they are further distinguished by use and cultivation methods. To help you better understand the concept of hemp vs. marijuana, it’s important to first understand what cannabis means.

Cannabis (the plant family) is commonly used as an overarching term to describe both hemp and marijuana. This is the main reason why most people confuse the two plants. Hemp actually refers to the industrial, non-drug variant that is cultivated for its fibre, hurd and seeds. It contains all varieties of the Cannabis species that have negligible amounts of THC — the chemical component that gets you “high”. Let’s take a closer look at how these plants differ.


* Contains a maximum THC content of 0.3%

* Non-psychoactive

* Adaptable and grown in most climates

* Used for a variety for products like nutrition and health supplements, textiles, rope and construction materials


* Contains anywhere from 5 – 35% THC content

* Psychoactive

* Grown in a carefully controlled environment

* Used for recreational and medicinal purposes

What is Hemp Used For?

Hemp has many uses, but to understand its full potential it’s important to first look at the anatomy of a hemp plant. The most commonly used parts of the hemp plant can be broken down into two categories, seed and stalk.

Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds or “hemp nuts” are encased in an exterior husk called the “cake.” The hemp seed is one of the most important parts of the plant. Not only is this how the plant reproduces, but the seeds offer incredible nutrition and holistic benefits.

* Nut – the soft interior of the seed 
* Cake – the exterior husk or casing

The nut is most commonly utilised for producing hempseed oil and hemp milk, which are used in a variety of skin care and food products. While at first glance the cake seems useless, it’s actually a highly valuable component used to create products like animal food, gluten-free flour and protein powder.

Hemp Stalk

If you thought that hemp seeds had a wide variety of uses, you’ll be surprised by the hemp stalk. Similar to the seed, the stalk of the hemp plant is broken into two parts:

* Bast fibre – the exterior of the stalk 
* Hurd – the woody core of the stalk

The blast fibre is what most people are probably familiar with as it’s used to create textiles, paper, rope and netting. The hurd is more commonly used as insulation, construction materials, animal bedding, and plaster.

Construction materials aren’t the only popular product derived from hemp stalk. When Henry Ford unveiled his plastic car in the 1940s, he gave the world a glimpse at the possibilities of hemp. The car’s tough panels were made from a recipe that called for 70 percent of cellulose fibre from wheat straw, hemp and sisal.

More recently, a man named Bruce Michael Dietzen was the mastermind behind what he called the ‘green machine,’ a vehicle that uses about 100 pounds of woven hemp to create the body. And with the exterior at least 10 times more dent-resistant than steel, the car doesn’t need nearly as much fixing after an accident.

Benefits of Hemp for Nutrition

Hemp has become a popular supplement in health, nutrition and beauty markets. Often referred to as hemp hearts, hemp seeds are exceptionally nutritious. They have a mild, nutty flavour and are rich in healthy fats, protein and various minerals. Hemp oil, derived from hemp seeds, is a highly beneficial supplement used in a variety of skin care products.


Plant-based protein: Dietary protein can come from many different sources. However, for vegans and vegetarians, whey and other animal-based protein products aren’t an option. Hemp is a great source for plant-based protein. An average 30-gram serving of hemp protein powder contains around 120 calories and 15-20 grams of protein, depending on the brand.

Fights bad cholesterol levels and blood clots: Hemp seeds may help reduce the risk of heart disease. They contain high amounts of the amino acid arginine, which produces nitric oxide in your body. Nitric oxide is a gas molecule that helps your blood vessels dilate and relax, leading to lowered blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart disease. Some studies show that hemp seeds may limit the absorption of dietary cholesterol, which could slightly lower overall cholesterol levels.

Offers all 10 essential amino acids: There are eight amino acids the human body cannot make and two more the body cannot make in sufficient quantity. Hemp offers all 10 essential amino acids in its seed. It also has a similar amino acid profile to soy protein and egg white protein and is therefore considered a high-quality protein.

Rich in gamma-linolenic acid: This property has been linked to reduced inflammation, which may decrease your risk of certain diseases.

Fibre: Hemp seeds can help aid digestion because of its fibre which is essential for your body’s digestive system. Hemp seeds are a good source of both soluble and insoluble fibre, containing roughly 17 grams per serving.

Vitamins and Minerals

A naturally balanced ratio of essential fatty acids: Hemp seeds contain over 30 percent fat. They are exceptionally rich in two essential fatty acids, linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3).

Hemp seeds: They are a rich source of vitamin E and minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, sodium, magnesium, sulphur, calcium, iron and zinc.

Skin Care

Moderates oil production: Hemp oil is good for many skin types, including acne-prone skin because it can help moisturise without clogging your pores. It can also be used to help regulate oil production while providing optimal hydration.

Moisturises and soothes inflammation: The powerful anti-inflammatory effects of omega-6 fatty acids and GLA, found in hemp, help soothe skin while encouraging new skin growth and cell regeneration.

Holds anti-ageing properties: Holds anti-ageing properties:

Environmental Uses for Hemp

Hemp is a sustainable wonder crop. It is an incredibly sustainable crop with some unique environmentally-friendly characteristics that don’t go unnoticed.


Hemp is a farmer’s best friend. Unlike its cousin marijuana, hemp is a hearty plant that grows in a variety of environments and soils. Additionally, it is less susceptible to disease and pests. It grows tightly spaced and has a fast growth rate, which leads to high yields. And because of hemp’s ability to restore soil fertility, farmers can grow food crops immediately after a hemp harvest without a fallow period.

Since the term ‘cotton is king’ was coined in 1858, cotton reaped the benefits of being the world’s primary fabric, but much evidence suggests that cotton shouldn’t be the fabric of our daily lives. Hemp has been used to produce durable textiles for thousands of years, but its durability and efficient production aren’t the only reasons we should reconsider cotton consumption.

Cotton is an incredibly thirsty crop that puts a strain on freshwater sources. It can take more than 5,000 gallons of water to produce two pounds of cotton – the equivalent of a single t-shirt and pair of jeans. Hemp uses far less water than cotton, with an estimated 2,600 gallons of water to producing a little over two pounds of hemp matter.


Industrial hemp has the ability to clean contaminants found in soil through a process known as phytoremediation. The term phytoremediation was coined in the 1990s by the scientist Ilya Raskin, a member of a team that tested hemp’s ability to accumulate heavy metals from the soil in contaminated fields near Chernobyl. Similar and more recent tests have been conducted in the western United States in an effort to clean up high levels of selenium found in soil.

Almost any type of plant or organic material can be converted to fuel, and the advantages these alternative sources have over fossil fuels are huge. As a crop, hemp exhibits good resistance to pests and has a much lower water requirement when compared to other crops making it a great option for producing biomass fuels.

Air Quality

Because hemp farming has the ability to reduce our dependence on carbon producing, non-renewable resources like fossil fuels, lumber and plastic, it’s great for air quality. In fact, for every ton of hemp that is produced, 1.63 tons of carbon are removed from the air. Much like other plants, hemp is especially helpful for absorbing CO2 through natural photosynthesis, making it carbon-negative.

The History of Hemp

While hemp has deep roots in world history, its story in the United States is far more complicated. What used to be a primary crop and textile resource in the early 1700s was quickly prohibited because of its relationship to marijuana and the mind-altering effects feared by the general public. This timeline highlights some of the most important dates through hemp history in the United States, especially as we see hemp turn a new leaf with policy reforms and the need for more research.

• 1700’s: The first U.S. hemp plantings in took place in Jamestown, Virginia – growing hemp became mandatory

• 1776: The Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper

• 1900’s: Hemp-derived cellulose was promoted as an affordable and renewable material for plastics

• 1937: The Marihuana Tax Act passed

• 1942: U.S. government runs the Hemp for Victory campaign to promote hemp production for war supplies

• 1958: The last crop was grown in Wisconsin

• 1970: The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) formally prohibited cultivation

• 1999: Hawaii grows the first industrial hemp crop since the passage of the CSA

• 2000: The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) adopts a hemp policy that urges the DEA and USDA to recognise the distinction between hemp and marijuana

• 2002: Hemp bills introduced in seven states

• 2014: U.S. President Barack Obama signs the Federal Farm Bill with hemp amendment, allowing states with hemp legislation in place to grow hemp for research purposes

• 2018: Hawaii issues the first licenses for industrial hemp research and cultivation

As a result of this long-term prohibition, most people have forgotten the industrial uses and benefits of hemp. So the next time someone asks you what is hemp used for or how it differs from marijuana, you will be able to explain to them. Much like anything else, education is the cornerstone to changing attitudes and reshaping the image of hemp. Hemp is an amazing plant and should be recognised as such.

*This is an edited version of the full article which you can read on the below website.