With an increasing number of U.S. states allowing the sale of medical marijuana, more and more individuals are becoming interested in the potential health benefits of the cannabis plant. Beyond its medical use, many people are interested in learning more about how they can access the health benefits of cannabis without experiencing the negative psychoactive effects that are often associated with marijuana. This is possible with hemp — a close relative of marijuana that has some key differences that allow it to be used for a variety of products. For CBD users, it’s important to understand the difference between marijuana and hemp so you can be a smart consumer.
As the CBD industry has grown to become a booming market, it is independent yet still closely related to the cannabis industry. The cannabis plant consists of three main species: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. Marijuana is the dried flower of cannabis plants from the Cannabis indica or Cannabis sativa species, while hemp comes exclusively from the Cannabis sativa family. Although hemp and marijuana are commonly referred to as “strains” or “species” of cannabis, they are actually broad classifications of cannabis. Hemp refers to any variety of cannabis that contains 0.3% or less THC content by dry weight, while marijuana refers to varieties of cannabis containing more than 0.3% THC. Cannabis ruderalis also has low levels of THC and high levels of CBD. The increased THC content in marijuana induces psychoactive effects in its users and has led to the negative reputation of cannabis in general. While the amount of THC in the plant tends to be the defining characteristic between marijuana and hemp, there are other notable differences between the two.
The chemical composition of hemp and marijuana varies in levels of THC as well as in levels of other cannabinoids. Hemp contains significant amounts of CBD; along with its low THC content, this makes it a popular source for extracted CBD. THC functions by binding to the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system, inducing the psychoactive effects referred to as being “high” which are commonly associated with marijuana. Because of these effects, marijuana is more commonly recognized for its recreational uses. CBD cannot bind to these receptors and therefore does not induce the feeling of intoxication. Therefore, hemp plants are able to offer the therapeutic properties of CBD without the negative effects from THC.
Hemp can be harvested to produce a myriad of products including cooking oil, hemp flour, CBD oil tinctures, and CBD-infused topicals. Hemp’s fibrous stalks are also useful for producing rope or textiles. The CBD industry is a relatively young one, but one making large headways in the media and health outlets. One constant area of confusion, however, has been its legality. Are CBD products really legal? It depends on what kind of plant it is sourced from. Although the CBD itself is technically the same molecule whether it’s derived from hemp or marijuana, only CBD extracted from hemp plants is legal in the United States. The Agricultural Act of 2018, or the “2018 Farm Bill”, signed into law by president Donald Trump on December 20, 2018, fully legalized hemp and hemp-derived products. This includes hemp-derived CBD, as long as it contains 0.3% or less THC.
The legality of marijuana is still currently up to the states to decide. The 2014 Farm Bill legalized hemp, but it did not remove hemp from the Controlled Substance Act. Though the Farm Bill overpowers the Controlled Substance act in terms of legality, it left many consumers confused over its legal status. The 2018 Farm Bill removes any of that uncertainty over hemp, but what about CBD? CBD is legal in all fifty states: as long as it does not contain THC. Because marijuana plants have high levels of THC content, extracting CBD oil from them is cost inefficient. Therefore, most CBD products consumers see on the shelf are extracted from hemp.
Though many consumers purchase CBD isolates for CBD’s effects alone, consumers looking to experience the effects of other cannabinoids alongside CBD may look into broad and full spectrum CBD products. Full spectrum, or whole plant, CBD contains numerous cannabinoids contained in the cannabis plant, including THC, CBDA, CBG, CBGA, CBC, CBCA. THCA. and THCV. The effects of each of these cannabinoids individually is not fully known, but it is generally accepted that the concoction of cannabinoids, flavonoids, terpenes, and fatty acids increases the beneficial effects of CBD oil, a phenomenon known as the Entourage Effect. Consumers have many options within full and broad spectrum CBD. Many distributors offer products with different ratios of CBD and THC for those wishing to experiment with how they impact their particular condition or even just for generalized purposes such as stress or pain relief.
Because the terms “hemp” and “marijuana” are used in a legal context, it is important to understand what they mean, their differences, and their relation to cannabis. Having a full understanding of these differences can help you understand your legal right to use hemp-derived CBD and avoid potential legal complications when choosing and using CBD products.