Ahead of News 2’s Thursday special on marijuana, we’re taking a look at the differences between hemp and marijuana.

Both look similar to the untrained eye, but there are clear distinctions.

“All are from the cannabis plant,” said Elliot Altman, Director of Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research. “There are the marijuana variety, there are the hemp variety.”

But even though they come from the same family, Altman and MTSU researcher Shannon Smith said marijuana and hemp are likely wildly different cousins, starting with their anatomy.

“Marijuana is very hairy,” said Smith. “There’s a large concentration of buds that are typically tighter.”

Hemp is often described as growing taller and skinner.

Smith said you can’t trust solely your eyes.

“They have very similar physical traits and it’s very difficult even for experts to tell the difference without chemical testing,” said Smith.

That takes us to composition – both have CBD and THC, the psychoactive ingredient that makes people high.

“In general, marijuana will be high in THC, low CBD, and hemp will flip it, low THC, high CBD,” said Altman.

That psychotropic or high effect, Altman said, is where use differs.

“A lot of people prefer to smoke marijuana to get THC,” he said. “Realistically, what is in a hemp plant is not of interest to someone recreationally because it will not get you high.”

Aside from recreational use, marijuana is also used medically – hemp, as well, but also for other purposes, like foods and building materials.

But when it comes to using the two in Tennessee, hemp and marijuana take on very different paths.

Recreational and medical marijuana are illegal.

Hemp and CBD are legal.