Marijuana vs CBD vs Hemp Compared: How Do They Differ?

CBD vs Marijuana vs Hemp Differences

Although CBD, Marijuana and hemp come from the cannabis plant family, they are all different things. Many people get confused about these differences.

Medical Marijuana in Australia

Frequently, these terms are misunderstood or used interchangeably, which isn’t accurate. Cannabis sativa is a complex plant with many cultivars, strains, unique cannabinoids and categories of use.

Different forms of cannabis plants, such as hemp or Marijuana, are used for entirely distinct applications. They also have differing effects on the body, risks, effects, legality and benefits.

CBD vs Cannabis Products

Cannabinoids like CBD from these plants are not the same as the plants themselves; they are chemicals each can produce. Let’s demystify the different types of Cannabis, including hemp and Marijuana. We’ll also cover how CBD differs from Cannabis and why this matters when considering CBD oil in Australia.

Understanding the Cannabis Plant Family

Cannabis Sativa Plant

The term’ cannabis’ refers to a genus or family of species called Cannabaceae in biology. Cannabis comprises several distinctive plant species and cultivars. The three main cannabis species are sativa, indica, and ruderalis, while the primary cultivars are hemp and Marijuana.


Hemp plant in water

There are three ‘species’ of Cannabis, each with differing properties. Sativa is the most popular and commonly cultivated of these.

Cannabis sativa trichome

Sativa species of Cannabis have a high ratio of THC compared to CBD. Due to this, they are typically the most psychoactive. When the buds or flowers of the plant are consumed, they cause a euphoric, uplifting high. Many describe this feeling as ‘energetic’ and ‘creative’. 

Sativa plants are tall and spindly. Their leaves are finger-shaped, symmetric and light in colouration. These plants can grow several metres tall, making the sativa species the largest and tallest cannabis type.

Indica bud close up

Compared to Sativa, Cannabis Indica has several distinct characteristics. It contains much greater levels of CBD versus THC. Due to this, it’s considered more for ‘relaxing’ or sedative applications like getting to sleep more easily.

Scientist holding cannabis oil

Most people also describe indica as having a ‘body high’ in contrast to the ‘head high’ of sativas. Indica plants are shorter, bushier and stockier than sativa. They are usually under 1.5m in height. Their colouration is also darker. Indica leaves are much darker in colour versus the light green of sativa. They’re also broader and less delicate in appearance.

Cannabis ruderalis shrubs

The lesser-known species of Cannabis is ruderalis. It has very high amounts of CBD and meagre THC quantities. Mostly, it’s grown for medical applications. Most ruderalis strains can’t get you high because of their minimal amounts of THC. These plants are the smallest in stature compared to sativa or indica, measuring less than 60cm tall on average.

Australian medical cannabis in a jar

They’re also the rarest species, originating in Central Asia’s mountains. Growers of ruderalis prize it for its resilience against the environment. Ruderalis plants are incredibly hardy and can grow in harsh conditions. This makes them famous for cultivation overseas, particularly in Eurasia, where they are native.


Farmer cultivating cannabis

Cannabis cultivars aren’t the same as its species. A cultivar is a selectively bred form of a species created over generations by cultivators. These cultivators carefully choose particular traits or characteristics they want to develop in the plants. By repeatedly selecting them from the plant’s population, they alter the genetics and characteristics of the plants over time. Hemp and Marijuana are the two main cultivars of Cannabis. Both have distinct properties.

Tall hemp plants in farm

The Hemp cultivar of Cannabis is selectively bred to produce very low THC. It’s also cultivated to have high resilience and strength as a farm crop. In most countries like Australia, hemp cultivars are referred to as ‘industrial hemp’. These plants contain under 0.3% THC and can’t cause intoxicating effects when consumed.

While they can be used to produce low-THC CBD oil, they are also valued for their commercial applications. For instance, hemp crops can be used to harvest the stems and stalks of the plant. These are excellent in producing hemp concrete or hempcrete, biofuels, and sustainable energy sources. Hemp can additionally be applied in textiles for clothes, fibres, or bags. Modern uses of hemp are pervasive.

Medical marijuana bush

Unlike hemp cultivars, Marijuana is bred to contain high amounts of the THC cannabinoid. It is infamous from a historical standpoint due to its high psychoactivity. Most Marijuana is grown for medical or recreational purposes. Its cannabinoid-rich flowers or ‘buds’ are most helpful for these outcomes. These are incredibly rich in the cannabis trichome structures that secrete cannabinoids and terpenes. There is a vast variety of consumable forms of Marijuana. For example, it can be smoked, consumed in THC edibles, vaped, infused into THC gummies or concentrated into shatters. 


cannabis secreting cannabinoids

Cannabinoids are chemical compounds made in special glands within the cannabis plant’s trichomes. Trichomes are tiny, crystal-like stalks that cover the plant’s leaves and buds. These trichomes also produce other compounds, such as terpenes and flavonoids. Each of these contributes to the plant’s taste and scent. Different cannabis strains will contain varying quantities and types of these compounds, differentiating them. Cannabinoids work on the cannabinoid receptors in the human body and brain. They are crucial in producing Cannabis’s physiological effects on the brain and body.

CBD oil with cannabis

It’s theorised that cannabinoids are defensive compounds in Cannabis. Like caffeine, they are designed to ward off pests, animals, and other plants chemically. In addition, their anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects shield cannabis from microscopic pathogens. Cannabinoids have a versatile role in the biology of Cannabis. From resisting disease to preventing predation and avoiding environmental harm, they are potent protective chemicals.

CBD vs Marijuana

CBD vs medical cannabis product

A common point of confusion and question amongst people choosing CBD oil in Australia is whether CBD is Marijuana. While these two concepts are related, CBD isn’t the same as Marijuana.

CBD itself is a cannabinoid compound. It has no psychoactive effects and can’t get you high. CBD doesn’t interact with the CB1 cannabinoid receptors in the brain. This is what THC does that results in euphoria. Most CBD is derived from hemp plants that contain low THC. But it can also be found in marijuana cultivars (albeit in a lower ratio to THC).

Medical cannabis products in Australia

On the other hand, Marijuana is a cultivar of Cannabis that has been specifically cultivated to increase its psychoactive effects. This is done by maximising its content of THC. THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid that causes a ‘high’. Unlike CBD, Marijuana is a plant as opposed to a cannabinoid.

Hemp vs Marijuana Differences

Cannabis buds

How do hemp and Marijuana differ? Let’s examine where their characteristics diverge and why this matters.


Cannabis plant parts

Hemp and marijuana cultivars look different physically. Hemp plants are tall, thin, and lean. They are characterised by their simple, ‘top-heavy’ structure. They have long stalks with minimal branches and leaves. The leaves are narrow, light, smooth, and serrated on their edges. As this might suggest, hemp is mainly grown commercially for its stalks, which is reflected in the size and height of the plant. 

Marijuana is significantly different in appearance. It has more extensive branches, leaves, and dense flowering buds. Unlike hemp, the plant branches extend up its stem. Additionally, it has thick resinous flower clusters throughout its structure. Marijuana plants also have much larger quantities of buds, which contain far more trichomes than hemp. 


CBD Skincare products

Cannabis farming operations cultivate hemp and Marijuana differently. Hemp is a very resilient crop, resistant to heat, light, weather, and pests. This means it can be grown in various conditions, requiring little upkeep versus comparable commercial plants. Farmers favour hemp because of its low maintenance and high yield. Hemp plants are grown close together in fields. They don’t need as much space or resources because of their hardiness. Growing them together improves yield further and makes the plants easier to harvest. Because their branches are found at the top of the plant, they’re straightforward to harvest with specialised machinery.

CBD oil extraction in Australia

On the other hand, Marijuana is grown in more controlled, environmentally regulated environments. This is because marijuana plants are much more temperamental. They need far more care and attention to develop into mature, budding, high-yield crops. Light, heat, moisture, soil quality, and humidity are all factors that must be finely tuned for these plants. The plants are also spaced out far more to encourage branching. Marijuana requires meticulous grooming and cultivation to maximise flower production. Harvesting them is more difficult because of the plants’ spacing and low-down heights.

THC Content

Cannabis oil drops

Possibly the most significant factor that distinguishes hemp and Marijuana is their tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentrations. Hemp farmed in Australia is regulated to contain 0.3% THC or less. These rules mean it has no psychotropic effect on consumers, making it safe for industrial applications. On the other hand, Marijuana contains high amounts of THC and varying amounts of CBD. The level of THC in Marijuana can vary greatly, sometimes reaching 30% or more, depending on the strain. 


Australian woman holding CBD oil

Hemp farming has been federally legal in Australia since 2016 for specifically approved purposes, including scientific research, commercial applications and medicines. Industrial hemp cultivation, however, is regulated at the state level. Tasmania was the earliest state to recognise and legalise hemp farming. It legalised hemp farming in 1995. The legalisation of hemp agriculture in Australia spawned a new industry. Today, the regulation surrounding hemp and products derived from it continues to develop. For example, CBD oil was legalised in 2021 and can now be purchased in pharmacies. High-strength CBD products are still prescription medications, however, requiring a doctor’s approval to obtain.

Despite these developments for hemp, Marijuana is still heavily restricted in Australia. It’s only grown for medical purposes via medical cannabis plants. These are heavily regulated, controlled and audited growing operations that require specialised licenses to set up. Medical Cannabis is not available without a prescription, like CBD oil. It is a Schedule 3 drug, with heavier penalties involved for illegal sale or use. No form of recreational Cannabis is legal in Australia. Unlike countries like Canada or particular US states, it can’t be purchased legally today until laws develop.


Hemp protein powder

The commercial uses of hemp and Marijuana are very distinct. Hemp tends to have a much wider variety of potential applications than Marijuana. Its stalks are used in ropes, clothing, textiles, paper, and construction materials. For example, hemp fibres are used in concrete mixtures to improve their strength, flexibility, and resilience to weather. Hemp seeds are valued for their healthy fat and antioxidant content.

Hemp fibres close up

Oil from the seeds can be infused into creams, balms, skincare, food, and recipes when extracted. It’s excellent for the skin and hair when applied topically. Hemp seed extracts are a fantastic source of nutrients, particularly omega-3 fatty acids, reinforcing heart and brain health. Nutritionally, hemp is extensively consumed already. It’s used for hemp proteins, flour, powders, dietary hemp oil supplements, and cooking.

Marijuana doesn’t have these broad-ranging commercial applications. As a plant, it’s much less resilient, strong or fibrous. Primarily, Marijuana in Australia is used medically for chronic pain, nerve conditions, nausea, appetite improvement and sleep difficulties.


CBD oil drop

There are significant distinctions between CBD, Marijuana and hemp. These are all connected terms for related things, but each is different. Cannabis is a collection of differing plant species and cultivars. Hemp and Marijuana are two such cultivars of the plant. They have differing appearances, methods of cultivation, cannabinoid content, legal treatment and uses (therapeutic and commercial). Hemp plants are taller and thinner and are used more for their fibres. They contain very little THC but can be bred for CBD.

In contrast, Marijuana is shorter, more bushy and dense, with abundant cannabinoid-rich buds. These plants have much higher THC-to-CBD ratios, making them more useful for medical or recreational use. CBD is distinct from Marijuana as it is a cannabinoid from the cannabis plant, as opposed to a cultivar. Understanding these vital distinctions in cannabis terminology is essential. Keep them in mind when shopping for CBD oil in Australia or exploring what’s around.


  1. Hartney, E. (2011). How to Recognize 6 Types of Marijuana. [online] Verywell Mind. Available at:
  2. Pollio, A. (2016). The Name of Cannabis: A Short Guide for Nonbotanists. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, 1(1), pp.234–238.
  3. The National Cannabis Industry Association. (2023). Member Blog: Cannabis Strain, Cultivar, or Variety? What Is the Correct Term? |. [online] Available at:
  4. Wang, X., Shen, C., Meng, P., Tan, G. and Lv, L. (2021). Analysis and review of trichomes in plants. BMC Plant Biology, 21(1).
  5. Fletcher, J. (2023). CBD vs. THC: Differences, benefits, and effects. [online] Available at:
  6. Yano, H. and Fu, W. (2023). Hemp: A Sustainable Plant with High Industrial Value in Food Processing. Foods, [online] 12(3), p.651.


Steve Jacobs Author Headshot

Originally from Byron Bay (Australia), Steve Jacobs is a writer and expert on the world of hemp. His passion for hemp products developed from working with organic hemp cultivators and sustainable skincare brands in Byron. Inspired by these eco-friendly approaches to crafting superb products, Steve realised the opportunity at the intersection of aromatherapy, natural skincare and the magic of hemp. He founded Bondi Hemp to bring this dream to life, bringing rejuvenating hemp extracts, refreshing botanical hemp topicals and revitalising essential oils to everyday Aussies. True to his Byron roots, Steve infuses every drop of his responsibly produced hemp products with the rich terroir of the Byron Region, resulting in unsurpassed quality without harming the earth. Today, Steve continues to write and speak about hemp, skincare, and aromatherapy from his family’s home in Northern NSW.