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

What is hemp?

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.

What is hemp?

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 industrial hemp?

What is CBD?

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

It’s been shown to have a range of positive effects, including supporting individuals experiencing pain, inflammation, anxiety, and sleeping issues.

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.

Hemp vs marijuana vs CBD

Naturecan HempMarijuana
FormPlantPlant Cannabinoid
THC Content 
CBD Content 
Legality in UK/EU 
Legal, provided THC content is below 0.2%Illegal, except for special medical use

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,

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.

What are the potential benefits of CBD oil?

CBD oil is sought after for its potential to promote relaxation, stress management, and overall well-being. It's being studied for various potential benefits, including pain relief, improved sleep, and mood support.

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.


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 may 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.

Whats the difference between cbd oil and hemp oil 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