What Is Hemp? Benefits, Uses, History, & More

Hemp (Cannabis Sativa L.) is an ancient plant— literally. Originating in Central Asia, the first recorded cultivation of hemp was in China around 2800 BCE. From there, hemp traveled the globe, eventually making its way to the New World in the 1600s. 

In this post, we’ll talk about what hemp is now in the 21st century, some of hemp’s uses, and help delineate it from cannabis.

What Is Hemp? 

As defined by the 2018 Farm Bill, “hemp” means cannabis that contains no more than 0.3% delta-9 THC by dry weight. 

Legal definition aside, hemp is a member of the Cannabaceae family and an annual herb. Hemp plants can grow up to 14 feet tall, but average around 7 feet. Their slender stalks are hollow except at the base and the tip and their large fan-like leaves are marked with many distinctive ridges. 

Fun fact: Unlike many plants, hemp plants can either be male or female and generally don’t need the help of pollinators to reproduce.

Are Hemp And Cannabis The Same Plant? 

Hemp and cannabis are the same plants. The differences between the two lie in what cannabinoids are expressed in each, how they look, and how they’re used. 

Specifically, cannabis flower (a.k.a. Marijuana) comes from flowering female plants expressing high concentrations of THC and THCa. 

Hemp, on the other hand, is cannabis that contains less than 0.3% delta-9 THC by dry weight. This limit was set by the 2018 Farm Bill and is purely legal. 

In other words, while cannabis and hemp are in the vegetative phase of their life cycle, both would legally be considered hemp. But, when said plants begin to mature and produce cannabinoids, the former becomes cannabis while the latter remains hemp. 

Read: What’s the difference between CBD flower vs. Marijuana

What Is Hemp Used For?

The hemp plant has many uses, from its cannabinoid-rich flowers to its fibrous stalk. Smokable CBD-rich hemp flower is a relatively new use of the hemp plant. 

For most of the plant’s existence, hemp has been grown and cultivated for its fiber and its seeds. Hemp fiber can be used for twine, twisted into rope, and turned into malleable textiles for shoes and clothing. Hemp fiber can also be used as an alternative to wood pulp in papermaking.

Hemp seeds are making a comeback in your modern grocery aisles. But before they were considered a superfood based on their high concentrations of Omega-3, hemp seeds had been pressed for their oil to make paint, soaps, and edible cooking oil.

Can You Get High From Hemp?

Eating edible hemp seeds or hemp seed oil will not get you high. That said, because CBD-rich flower contains trace amounts of delta-9 THC, it is conceivable that consuming enough could lead to intoxication. 

The much more common method of getting high from hemp has to do with novel cannabinoids extracted and manufactured from hemp. Because the wording of the 2018 Farm Bill explicitly caps the concentration of delta-9 THC products in hemp, cannabis companies have figured out ways to transform CBD into delta-8 THC, delta-10 THC, THC-O, and more THC analogs. 

While these novel cannabinoids live in a federal gray area, they have allowed people living in certain states to get high with less legal risk.


  1. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “hemp”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 31 Aug. 2022, https://www.britannica.com/plant/hemp. Accessed 7 October 2022.