In A Nutshell
Hemp and marijuana both come from the same species of plant—cannabis. However, hemp is generally harvested from a subspecies of the Cannabis genus, which, unlike marijuana, has virtually no psychoactive properties. Hemp varieties are grown for their seed, oil, and fiber, whereas marijuana is grown for medicinal, recreational, and spiritual purposes.
The Whole Bushel
Although hemp often gets a bad rap because of its association with marijuana, in reality it has countless uses and is perfectly harmless. The confusion between the two arises from the fact that they both come from the species Cannabis sativa. But, just like Canis lupus has subspecies that range from wolves to poodles, Cannabis sativa includes a large assortment of plants with different characteristics.
The varieties grown for hemp are valued for their high fiber content and, because they have extremely low levels of the chemical THC, are unsuitable for medicinal or recreational use. On the other hand, the subspecies grown for marijuana has poor fiber quality but high enough levels of THC to cause physical or psychological effects.
Hemp is a highly versatile product and is used to make textiles, clothes, paper, building materials, and more. It’s a sustainable, rapidly growing crop which produces two to four times as much usable fiber as trees or cotton. Still, it is illegal to grow hemp in some countries, including the US, because of the worry that growers could easily hide the drug plant in a group of fiber plants.