Cannabis, marijuana and hemp. Is it the same?

Cannabis, marijuana and hemp. Is it the same?

Discover the main differences and similarities between the terms cannabis, marijuana and hemp. Find out how they are classified in Botany and other synonyms.


The most significant difference between cannabis, marijuana and hemp lies on their psychoactive condition. The word Cannabis comprehends the other two terms and does not involve psycho-activity in the plant. Whereas Marijuana is directly related to psychotropic activity, Hemp shows very low or absent psycho-activity.
Since the first formal cataloging by Linnaeus in 1753, the scientific term to refer to this plant has been Cannabis Sativa L. At present, the taxonomic debate still persists on whether it is a single plant species or there are several. That is why the term Cannabis has been standardized over time as a more neutral and general form.
In Botany, within the Cannabis genus of the Cannabaceae family, all plants of the species or subspecies are included, regardless of their purpose or psychoactive properties. The most widely accepted and botanically differentiated species or subspecies would be Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica, as suggested by Schultes in the 1970s. Cannabis Ruderalis could be a common ancestor of both, but other sources suggest that it is another subspecies.



Weed, pot, ganja are just three ways of referring to Marijuana. The term was originated in Mexican Spanish and then spread to English speaking countries. The origin of the word, though, is not clear. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term may come from the Nahuatl mallihuan, meaning "prisoner" although it may have been popularized as a campaign against the drug. Some ethymologists also point out it may be Chinese (ma ren hua, hemp seed flower). And since there are no records of Marijuana before the Spanish colonization, the word is definitely not indigenous.

The most distinctive feature is that marijuana refers to plants grown for psychoactive uses. Both for therapeutic-medicinal and recreational purposes. This has led to the use of the term marijuana to refer to both concepts: the whole plant and certain parts of it, such as flowers or extracts that contain the precious psychoactive resin.

Marijuana is also classified by the width of its leaves. Broad leaf drug (BLD) plants are often associated with indica varieties. On the other hand, the narrow leaf or narrow leaf drug (NLD) are related to sativa varieties on the market.



There are other ways of naming the cannabis plant based on its end use. Hemp is the usual way to refer to Cannabis plants destined for industrial uses. Generally, they are slightly or no psychoactive. The absence of psychotropic activity is due to the fact that the amount of THC does not usually exceed 1%. In addition, hemp cannabinoid and terpene profiles are less variable and have lower concentrations.

This crop has historically been popular by the valuable fibers of its stems and the seeds of its flowers. In the documented references of hemp, the narrow-leaf varieties or narrow-leaf hemp (NLH), historically grown in Europe, predominate over the broad-leaf or broad-leaf hemp (BLH) typical of Asia. The two have been intertwined naturally over time and also by human selection to improve performance.

The rapid growth of hemp, requiring little water, allows the plant use and ecological sustainability. It can produce biofuel, cosmetic products and infinite industrial possibilities, beyond the production of fibers for ropes, textiles and other food, handicraft uses, etc.


Throughout history, you can find different ways of referring to this plant. Human communities that have traditionally used or cultivated cannabis in their territories present numerous terms that describe the differences between cannabis, marijuana and hemp. Popular terminology has also been influenced by stigmatization and prohibition in the 20th century.

In this group the cultural and historical importance of the word ganja or ganjah is indisputable. This form is used mainly by people who follow the Rastafarian religion or reggae culture. The term connects with ganja from ancient Sanskrit and Hindi which also refer to the cannabis plant.

A common slang word is the English form weed and its plural weeds, which literally means all kinds of plants that grow in unexpected places. This can be confusing because it does not refer solely to cannabis and is more pejorative. In each language we find synonyms to talk about marijuana covertly. Some examples would be pot and grass.

In conclusion Cannabis, Marijuana and Hemp are different names for the same plant species. But outside botany there are differences in the final uses and in the existence or not of psycho-activity.

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