What is Cannabis?

What is Cannabis?

 Cannabis is a flowering plant that has:

  • Fibrous stalks used for paper, clothing, rope, and building materials
  • Leaves, flowers, and roots used for medicinal purposes
  • Seeds used for food and fuel oil

 Cannabis? Marijuana? Hemp?

 It’s all cannabis.  All of it.

 There are close to 800 cannabis cultivars that are recognized and stable.  But with so many growers creating new hybrid combinations, there’s an estimated 3600 documented cultivars (cultivated varieties).  If this sounds like a lot, consider that there are over 10,000 cultivars of wine grapes, 7,500 apple cultivars, and more that 3,000 rose cultivars.

When people talk about cannabis, they commonly refer to the different types as strains.  The correct scientific term is actually cultivar. 

  • Marijuana is not a scientific term. It was slang created to demonize users during the prohibition push of the 1930s.
  • Hemp is not a scientific term. It’s currently used to indicate cannabis with a THC level at/below 0.3%, which is far below the threshold at which cannabis becomes intoxicating.

This is an arbitrary measurement used by one scientist during one study in 1976 as a simple way to differentiate cannabis for the purposes of his single study.  It was never intended to be used for differentiating marijuana from hemp in modern-day legislation.

Despite not being an appropriate metric, this one isolated piece of information in a specific context has been repeatedly interpreted and appropriated to the point of losing its original narrow scope.  There are efforts to increase the threshold to 1% which is still below the threshold at which cannabis may provide intoxication.  Several countries have already made this adjustment.

Many people believe that it’s easy to tell the difference between hemp and marijuana plants, and think there is a significant difference in their appearance.  They think that hemp is tall, has skinny leaves and very few flowers.  And that marijuana is bushier, has broader leaves, and many more flowers.

That may have once been true but no more.  While tall, skinny hemp is still being grown for the long fibers needed for rope, twine, and clothing, other types of hemp are being bred and cultivated for their flowers along with the CBD and other cannabinoids those flowers produce.  These growers are producing high resin CBD flower from which they make artisanal extracts, tinctures, topicals, and gummies for the growing CBD market.  Most people are unable to identify any physical difference between cannabis being grown for CBD (hemp) and cannabis being grown for THC (marijuana).

Industrial cannabis field
Called Hemp since it has less than .3% THC content
It’s used to make commercial and industrial products, including rope, textiles, clothing, shoes, food, paper, insulation, biofuel, and bioplastics to name a few.


CBD rich cannabis
Called Hemp since it has less than .3% THC content


THC rich cannabis
Called Marijuana since it has high amounts of THC
Can be intoxicating