Understanding the difference between Cannabis and Hemp

Updated: Jul 14

A question we at Koi are often asked is: What is the difference between Cannabis and Hemp? Read on to educate yourself. Please enjoy and let us know what you think!

Both are part of the same genus, Cannabis Sativa, and both are equally praised for their wide versatility and many purposes, and for good reason. To be able to distinguish between the two, we need to understand the different sub-types of the cannabis plant, how the two differ in their appearance, how each is used, and what the situation is regarding their legality.


Sub-types refer to the breeding of the plant species for specific purposes.

Essentially there are three sub-types:

  • One: Grown for fiber with larger stems and fewer branches.

  • Two: Grown for seeds to be ingested or pressed into hemp oil for wellness and medicinal purposes.

  • Three: Grown for their active cannabinoids to be used either for medicinal or recreational purposes.

Cannabis has a low fiber content which makes it not suitable for fiber production, whilst being abundant in psychoactive properties due to the Cannabinoid delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) it is therefore used for recreational purposes, as well as a wide variety of medicinal purposes.

Hemp generally refers to the fiber-producing strain cultivated for both industrial and medicinal purposes. As its THC content is little to none, it does not have the same psychoactive effect as cannabis does. Taking this into consideration, we could say that sub-types one and two tend to be hemp, while sub-type three tends to be cannabis.

Physical Appearance & Uses

Although similar in appearance to the untrained eye, aesthetically cannabis and hemp are incredibly different. Hemp has skinny leaves, growing upright and containing five to seven jagged edge leaflets. Under cultivation, hemp plants can reach between two to four meters, but the plant is able to reach up to nine meters in height!

Cannabis plants have more side stems as well as a much bushier appearance, especially Indica dominant varieties. Cannabis leaves typically have seven jagged edge leaflets, depending on the strain, which varies tremendously.

Cannabis plants are able to reach five meters in height when pushed to their maximum. (Think plenty of root space and regular nutrients) Both hemp and cannabis plants have their male and female counterparts. In the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes, the female flowers produce significantly higher quantities of cannabinoids than the male flowers.

There is archaeological evidence of mankind using hemp from as early as 8,000 BC. Hemp has traditionally been cultivated for many purposes, providing crucial resources such as biofuel, food products, paper, clothing, building materials and oils. Today, it is commonly cultivated to produce a wide variety of THC-free CBD products to meet the growing demand for CBD.

Millions of people use cannabis for medicinal as well as recreational purposes.

Users of both Hemp and cannabis are an extremely diverse group of individuals whose demographics vary tremendously. However, they do have one thing in common – recognition of the powerful healing properties both hemp and cannabis has to offer.

Both cannabis and hemp have proven instrumental in providing users with relief from chronic pain, easing the gloom of depression, assisting to manage chronic conditions, and a wide variety of other wellness benefits.


It is illegal to cultivate hemp in South Africa, and a permit is required before one can plant hemp. The South African Minister of Trade and Industry has publicly stated that the relevant government departments have recognized the potential commercial value of producing and selling hemp-related products. This means that those wanting to acquire a license to grow hemp, especially on an industrial scale, can expect a hefty price tag.

In terms of CBD products the original gazette which was released on the 23rd of May 2019 excluding CBD from the Schedules for a period of 12 months was amended on 22 May 2020 to read:

Cannabidiol (CBD) is listed in Schedule 4, except:

in complementary medicines containing no more than 600 mg cannabidiol per sales pack, providing a maximum daily dose of 20 mg of cannabidiol, and making a general health enhancement, health maintenance or relief of minor symptoms (low-risk) claim; or processed products made from cannabis raw plant material intended for ingestion containing 0,0075 percent or less of cannabidiol where only the naturally occurring quantity of cannabinoids found in the source material are contained in the product.

Due to the psychoactive properties of cannabis, it is still illegal in most parts of the world, but as the perception of cannabis changes, and scientific research begins to prove its effectiveness, it is now becoming legal in some parts of the world.

On the 18th September 2018, in South Africa, the Constitutional Court decriminalized the use, possession, and cultivation of cannabis for adults in private premises for their own personal consumption. And processed products derived from cannabis which contains less than 0,001 of THC.

Now that you have begun to understand the differences between cannabis and hemp, let's conclude:

Historically, hemp was criminalized due to its association with cannabis, despite lacking the psychoactive properties which made cannabis prohibited. Due to this, many individuals are very confused regarding the significant differences between hemp and cannabis, as well as lacking an understanding of the "Entourage Effect."

To touch on this subject to further your understanding - Cannabis is MUCH more than just THC, containing over 85 active Cannabinoid compounds. Cannabinoids have been found to work in conjunction with one another to provide relief. In other words, they work synergistically.

We will be doing an in-depth look at the "Entourage Effect" in the future to further explain this phenomenon.

Both hemp and cannabis have become notorious for many reasons, and are arguably the most talked-about plants in history. As perceptions change, society will begin to understand and accept both hemp and cannabis for more than what has traditionally been perceived. These opportunities will become more abundant and easier to exploit.

This is why, if you are thinking of adding CBD to your lifestyle it is extremely important to do your research about the brand you decide to use. A great starting point to begin implementing CBD into your life is daily use of our Koi Naturals Tinctures, all of our products offer full traceability from start to finish.

Available in 250mg and 500mg and 6 different flavours (one being flavourless).Browse our range of oils & tinctures here: Oils & Tinctures | Koi CBD South Africa

Thank you for taking the time to read our first blog post! Follow us on Instagram & Facebook @koinaturals_southafrica for educational CBD content, product promotions and future giveaways.

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