Understanding the Difference Between Delta-9 THC from Marijuana and THC from Hemp

Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) is the primary psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant. It is one of over 100 cannabinoids naturally occurring in Cannabis sativa L. (1). Once Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), the biosynthetic precursor to Δ9-THC, undergoes decarboxylation (typically through heating or aging), it becomes the intoxicating Δ9-THC (2).

The primary difference between Δ9-THC from marijuana and THC from hemp lies in the legal definitions and the allowable concentrations of THC in each type of cannabis plant. Here, we break down these distinctions to provide a clearer understanding of the two sources of THC and their respective uses.

Compounds derived from hemp, with a maximum of 0.3% Δ9-THC by dry weight, are federally legal under the 2018 Farm Bill in the United States. However, some states may restrict the sale of these goods. In contrast, Δ9-THC sourced from cannabis plants with a potency exceeding 0.3% remains illegal under federal law.

Delta-9 THC from Marijuana

THC Concentration: Marijuana plants (Cannabis sativa with >0.3% Δ9-THC) typically have higher concentrations of Δ9-THC, often ranging from 10% to 30% or more (3), which is responsible for its psychoactive effects. This high concentration is what gives marijuana its potent effects and popularity among recreational users.

Legal Status: Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act, making it illegal at the federal level in the U.S. However, many states have legalized marijuana for medicinal or recreational use, creating a patchwork of regulations across the country (4).

Uses: Marijuana is commonly used for both recreational and medicinal purposes due to its higher Δ9-THC content. Its psychoactive properties make it popular for recreational use, while its potential to alleviate chronic pain, nausea, and other medical conditions has made it a valuable option for some patients (5, 6).

THC from Hemp

THC Concentration: Hemp plants (Cannabis sativa with ≤0.3% Δ9-THC), by legal definition in the U.S., must contain no more than 0.3% Δ9-THC on a dry weight basis (7).

Legal Status: The 2018 Farm Bill legalized the cultivation and sale of hemp and hemp-derived products at the federal level in the U.S., provided they meet the 0.3% Δ9-THC threshold (8).

Uses: Hemp is primarily grown for its fibers, seeds, and CBD (cannabidiol) extraction. The low Δ9-THC content means products made from hemp are generally used for therapeutic purposes without the intoxicating effects. Hemp-derived CBD is used in a range of products from oils and tinctures to edibles and topicals, touted for its potential health benefits such as reducing anxiety, pain, and inflammation (9, 10).

Summary of Differences

  • THC Concentration: Marijuana has high Δ9-THC content (10-30%+), while hemp has low Δ9-THC content (≤0.3%).
  • Legal Status: Marijuana is federally illegal in the U.S. but legal in some states; hemp is federally legal if it meets the THC threshold.
  • Usage: Marijuana is used for its psychoactive effects and medicinal properties; hemp is used for industrial purposes, CBD extraction, and products with less psychoactive effects.

In essence, the distinction primarily revolves around the concentration of Δ9-THC and the legal frameworks governing each type of cannabis plant. Understanding these differences can help consumers make informed choices about the products they use and their legal implications.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Russo, E. B. (2007). History of cannabis and its preparations in saga, science, and sobriquet. Chemistry & Biodiversity, 4(8), 1614-1648.
  2. Dussy, F. E., Hamberg, C., Luginbühl, M., Schwerzmann, T., & Briellmann, T. A. (2005). Isolation of Δ9-THCA-A from hemp and analytical aspects concerning the determination of Δ9-THC in cannabis products. Forensic Science International, 149(1), 3-10.
  3. ElSohly, M. A., Mehmedic, Z., Foster, S., Gon, C., Chandra, S., & Church, J. C. (2016). Changes in cannabis potency over the last two decades (1995-2014) - Analysis of current data in the United States. Biological Psychiatry, 79(7), 613-619.
  4. National Conference of State Legislatures. (2023). State Medical Cannabis Laws. Retrieved from https://www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-medical-marijuana-laws.aspx
  5. Hill, K. P. (2015). Medical marijuana for treatment of chronic pain and other medical and psychiatric problems: A clinical review. JAMA, 313(24), 2474-2483.
  6. Whiting, P. F., Wolff, R. F., Deshpande, S., Di Nisio, M., Duffy, S., Hernandez, A. V., ... & Schmidlkofer, S. (2015). Cannabinoids for medical use: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA, 313(24), 2456-2473.
  7. United States Department of Agriculture. (2021). Hemp Production. Retrieved from https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/hemp
  8. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2019). FDA Regulation of Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products: Questions and Answers. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/news-events/public-health-focus/fda-regulation-cannabis-and-cannabis-derived-products-questions-and-answers
  9. Corroon, J., & Felice, J. F. (2019). The biosynthetic and molecular logic behind the therapeutic properties of cannabidiol. Biochemical Pharmacology, 163, 1-17.
  10. Xu, D. H., Cullen, B. D., Tang, M., & Fang, Y. (2020). The composition of hemp seed oil and its potential as an important source of nutrition. Journal of Nutritional Science, 9, e2.

Our products meet the federal threshold for Δ9-THC content, ensuring they are safe, legal, and effective for your wellness.