A tray of hemp seedlings. Text says "What is hemp?"

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, it traveled the globe, eventually making its way to the New World in the 1600s. 

In this post, we’ll cover the abbreviated history of hemp including,

  • What is hemp in the 21st century
  • Its uses
  • How it’s different than cannabis

What Is Hemp? 

The 2018 Farm Bill defines “hemp” as 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 that can grow up to 14 feet tall but averages around 7 feet. Hemp’s slender stalks are largely hollow and their large fan-like leaves are marked with distinctive ridges. 

A sativa hemp fan leaf marked with it's distinctive ridging
A late-harvest fan leaf from a Sativa-dominant plant

Fun fact: Hemp plants can 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 which cannabinoids they express, which terpenes dominate their aromatic profiles, and how each plant is 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. In other words, while marijuana and hemp are in their respective vegetative phases, both would legally be considered hemp because of their low THC concentration. But, when said plants begin to mature and produce cannabinoids, the former becomes cannabis while the latter remains hemp. 

Read: Differences 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. Its 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.