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What is cannabis? 

“Cannabis” refers to a genus, or category, of plants in the 170-species-strong family of flowering Cannabaceae plants. This plant has a lengthy and storied history; archaeological evidence points to its use in human civilizations around the globe for millennia. It’s only for the better part of the last 100 years that cannabis has been criminalized and driven underground. Now, as Prohibition relaxes in the U.S. and in other countries, cannabis is experiencing a resurgence as medicine, recreation, and more.

How does cannabis work? 

Cannabis contains many compounds, including aromatic terpenes and phytocannabinoids. Scientists have discovered more than 100 phytocannabinoids in cannabis so far, the most common being Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). These phytocannabinoids behave similarly to the endocannabinoids your body produces naturally. Certain phytocannabinoids and your body’s endocannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which works to keep your body in a state of homeostasis. This system has receptors from head to toe, impacting your nervous system, skin, brain, and digestive system, among many other organs.

Are Marijuana, Hemp, and Cannabis the same thing?

Cannabis is a genus of flowering plants that include hemp, often called the “sober” cousin due to its low THC content, and marijuana, which is a slang term for high-THC cannabis. While hemp and marijuana are indeed both cannabis plants, they have some key differences that are important to understand.

The first difference is a legal one. In the U.S., a plant is only considered hemp if it contains less than 0.3% THC. If a plant contains higher levels of THC, it is legally classified as marijuana. Cannabis with THC content over 0.3% remains federally illegal, although many states operate legal medical cannabis programs, and some states like Massachusetts operate legal adult-use cannabis programs. While this THC threshold is largely arbitrary, it does get to the heart of a true chemical difference between hemp and marijuana. Hemp varieties of cannabis produce more CBD, while marijuana produces higher levels of THC. 

The second difference is what the plants look like. Hemp plants generally grow differently than marijuana, appearing taller and stalkier with a thick stem. The leaves generally have seven long and skinny points. Marijuana, on the other hand, does not always reach the same heights. Depending on the variety,  marijuana can appear short and bushy, taller and stalkier, or a combination of traits. The leaves also vary, appearing short and fat or long and skinny. 

The third and final main difference is how each plant is used in the U.S. today. Hemp is cultivated and harvested for many purposes, including for its bast fibers sourced from the thick stem. These fibers are used in many industrial applications like textiles and paper. These plants are also sources of hemp seed and hemp seed oil for cooking and eating. Hemp plants are also bred for high CBD content, harvested from its resin-rich flowers. Marijuana is mainly cultivated for the development of cannabinoid products, harvested for its THC-rich flowers. While other parts of the plant can be used, marijuana’s highly-regulated nature makes it difficult to source and use leaves and stalks for other purposes.

Cannabinoid contentHigh CBDHigh THC
AppearanceTall stalks, skinny leavesTypically shorter, but appearance varies
Common usesCannabinoids, food, industrialCannabinoids

If you believe cannabis can help improve your quality of life, we at Ethos want to be your guide. We want you to be empowered by what you know about cannabis, and through our expertise and experience in cannabis, we can show you how. At Ethos, we pledge to be with you every step of the way as you learn more about this powerful plant and how it can help you feel better.


 “Hemp vs Marijuana: Is There a Difference? | Articles ….” 2 Sep. 2019, Accessed 6 Jul. 2020.

 “7 U.S. Code § 5940 | U.S. Code | US Law.” Accessed 6 Jul. 2020.

 “The Farm Bill, hemp legalization and the status of CBD: An ….” 14 Dec. 2018, Accessed 6 Jul. 2020.

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