Hemp Vs Tobacco: Perhaps the Most Widely Used Plants in the World

hemp vs tobacco

Posted on October 26th, 2020

In any discussion of the world’s most widely used plants, hemp vs tobacco will always be a popular comparison. This conversation is very much in flux given recent changes in legalization and health concerns. These changes have occurred at both state and federal levels. Both plants have seen use for centuries, and both have always experienced tremendous respect and severe vilification. Keep reading to learn more about the usefulness and concerns about hemp vs tobacco.

Hemp Vs Tobacco: The Basics

Hemp is a plant scientifically known as Cannabis sativa. You might already know that as the marijuana plant. Hemp and marijuana are closely related, but not not quite identical as many people may think. A compound called delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is responsible for the mind-altering (psychotropic) effects of marijuana. Hemp doesn’t have nearly as much THC.

The cutoff line distinguishing them is 0.3 percent THC. Higher amounts than that qualify the plant as marijuana. 0.3% THC or lower means it is hemp. Hemp won’t get you high like marijuana, although it does have a lot more cannabidiol (CBD).

Alternatively, tobacco is a plant that has leaves with neither CBD or THC. Nicotine is the star of the show when it comes to tobacco. Tobacco leaves have high levels of nicotine, an addictive chemical. The plant is harvested, cured, aged, and then processed into a variety of products. The most popular uses of tobacco are smoking, dipping, chewing, and snuffing.

hemp vs tobaccoHemp: History, Uses, And Legality

Having covered the basic differences between hemp vs tobacco, it’s time to take a closer look at each. Starting with hemp, there are many things to know about its history, uses, and legality.


Hemp is thought to have originated somewhere in Central Asia. There are recordings documenting the cultivation of hemp for fibers in China around 3,000 BCE. However, archaeologists found a piece of hemp fiber in Mesopotamia that is thought to be up to 8000 years old. The practice of using hemp spread to the Mediterranean in the early AD years, with the knowledge and use of it throughout Europe by the Middle Ages. Hemp was planted in South America by the 1500s, and in North America by the 1600s. Industrial hemp was at one time a predominant crop in North America. Hemp growth was in fact widespread in places like Jamestown, Virginia. 


At first it was used for cordage, paper, and textiles. Eventually its uses grew to include ship sails, covering pioneer wagons, biofuels, construction materials, clothing, and plastic composites. Industrial hemp started seeing decline during the Great Depression and was outlawed by 1970. The decline was due to confusion with marijuana and aggressive efforts by law enforcement. Overall, the uses for the hemp plant are so numerous and beneficial that in the future we will wonder how the plant was ever banned in the first place.


The 2018 Farm Bill turned things around for the legality in the hemp industry. Previously, federal law had banned hemp because it didn’t distinguish it from marijuana. New legislation opened up a small window for many farmers, though misconceptions still abound. The new law allows state and federal agriculture departments to fund pilot programs that permit studying industrial hemp and small-scale cultivation.

CBD is a derivative of industrial hemp cultivation. It’s readily available across most of the United States, as it is federally legal if it contains 0.3% of THC. State legislation does vary on restrictions, though the restrictions are not habitually enforced. For example, in Virginia you technically need a prescription to purchase CBD. Even before the Farm Bill, the FDA had relaxed regulatory requirements for research into CBD trials back at the end of 2015.

hemp vs tobaccoTobacco’s Road


Tobacco has a history and story just as rich as hemp. Also known as Nicotiana, tobacco has at least 60 different documented species. Many of them are indigenous to the Americas, although a handful appear to have genetic roots going back to Australia. That suggests the plant was around millions of years ago before the continents split.

Nicotiana rustica was especially carried around much of the world from North America, but most modern commercial tobacco production is Nicotiana tabacum, likely from South America. Columbus’ 1492 expedition into the Caribbean was likely how tobacco was introduced to Europe and the rest of the world. He and his crew witnessed the indigenous peoples of Haiti and Cuba smoking the leaves.

Natives used tobacco to smoke to clear their breathing. Burning torches of the plant were also used for disinfection purposes or warding off illness. A snuff was perhaps used as an anesthetic. Native Americans were even known to mix tobacco with chalk or lime to make toothpaste.

Modern tobacco use revolves around sniffing, chewing, and smoking. Smoking is popular with cigars and cigarettes, whereas chewing products include dip and snuff.


For many years, the minimum age for selling tobacco products to anyone in the United States was 18 at the federal level, although perhaps higher in some states and municipalities. As of December 2019, a new amendment to the Federal, Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act raised that minimum age up to 21 for all Americans. This applies to any retail establishment without exception.

The Benefits Of Hemp

Given how many uses industrial hemp has, you could fill pages and pages with its benefits and effects. It is estimated to be used in the development of between 20,000 – 40,000 different products in many different commercial sectors.

Apart from the many textile applications of hemp, CBD shows great promise in its potential effects on the human body. CBD’s effects on pain relief have been the subject of many recent studies. Due to its interaction with receptors in the endocannabinoid system, it is believed that CBD could act similarly to ingredients in common pain medication. 

In addition to pain relief, people claim that CBD helps with reducing symptoms of both anxiety and depression. The WHO lists depression as the biggest global contributor to disability, and they also list anxiety disorders in the top 10.

Another potential benefit of CBD is for cancer patients. While there is no hard evidence that says it prevents or cures cancer, it has become a popular solution for patients dealing with nausea from their cancer treatment.

The FDA has approved one CBD-based pharmaceutical medication. It’s called Epidiolex and is used by people who suffer from certain types of epilepsy. It has been shown to help reduce the occurrence and severity of seizures.

CBD does have some occasional side effects. Diarrhea, fatigue, weight/appetite changes, and medication interactions are all worth a conversation with your doctor or physician.

Effects Of Tobacco

The health impacts of tobacco are numerous, and most of them are not good. There is minimal evidence suggesting nicotine has a preventative effect on Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, but the negatives greatly outweigh the positives.

Tobacco has long been a threat to users’ health. Though it had a period of unhindered popularity in America all the way through the late 1900s, its risks have long been widely documented. There are several effects of tobacco use. The first and most obvious effect is that smoking can increase the risks of heart disease. Smoking can also increase the risk of stroke.

Another consequence of tobacco use is an increased risk of certain cancers such as lung, oral, and pancreatic cancer. There are also increased risks of respiratory infections and heart attacks.

Although these are the most well-known of tobacco effects, some reports go into much greater detail about the damage that tobacco can do. For example, tobacco can cause serious damage to the heart, lungs, brain, kidneys, and nervous system. It can cause short-term symptoms, such as cough, fever, or chest pain.

If you are concerned about your tobacco use, it is important to speak to your doctor about stopping and controlling your smoking. You may need to quit for life, or you may need to cut back to a low level that may at least mitigate the damage done. The main thing to remember about quitting your tobacco use is that it takes commitment. There are many reasons why a person becomes a smoker. Sometimes it is peer pressure from other people, and sometimes it is simply because they like the nicotine buzz and the way it makes them feel.

Hemp vs Tobacco: Final Thoughts

Hemp and tobacco have both been around for thousands of years, and they will still be around for thousands of years. One thing that’s certain is that people’s opinions on them will continue to evolve and change. While it seems lately that tobacco use will disappear soon, there will never be a shortage of people looking for ways to ease the stress of life. Some may discover that CBD products help relieve their stress. Some may prefer the cheap, easy tobacco buzz regardless of the danger. All you can do is learn what you can about hemp vs tobacco and decide for yourself if either has a place in your own personal life.

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