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What Is Hemp?

NIDA. “What Is Hemp?.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 4 Nov. 2015,

NIDA. What Is Hemp?. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. November 4, 2015.

Maybe you’ve heard that marijuana is similar (or identical) to something called hemp. If you’ve seen hemp necklaces or hemp shampoo on store shelves, or heard that Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, grew hemp, you may have wondered: Wait a minute, you mean I can wash my hair with liquid marijuana? Our third president grew weed?

The answer is more complicated than you might think.

Here are some facts on hemp and its relation to marijuana:

What exactly is hemp?

“Hemp” is another name for the Cannabis sativa plant and its products. This same species of plant is also called marijuana.

Is hemp the same thing as marijuana?

Yes and no. Hemp and marijuana are both names for the Cannabis sativa plant, but people usually use these terms to talk about two different varieties of the plant.

Varieties grown to make hemp rope and other products you see on the shelves (including the varieties Jefferson and others grew during the 1700s) have a whole lot less of the chemical that makes marijuana users feel high. Those varieties are sometimes called “industrial hemp.”

Varieties grown for use as a drug have been specifically bred to have lots of THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the chemical that makes users feel high.

What is industrial hemp used for?

The stalks of industrial hemp—remember, that’s the kind with low levels of THC—can be made into rope, paper, wax, and cloth for furniture or clothes. Sterilized hemp seeds can be made into oil for shampoo, soap, or body lotion. The seeds can also be mixed in with food for animals.

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Is hemp illegal?

Cannabis sativa is usually illegal under U.S. federal law, but there are exceptions to that rule for products made from hemp that do not contain THC, like paper and shampoo. The U.S. imports some industrial hemp products, and some states also allow farmers to grow industrial hemp.

What’s the short answer?

Hemp rope and joints of marijuana come from different varieties of the same plant. The hemp that’s made into rope or jewelry won’t make a person high.