Although hemp and cannabis look (sort of) similar, from a functional and chemical perspective, they are distinctive. Understanding cannabis nomenclature and the chemical difference between the two plants is essential to making informed choices about CBD.
What is Hemp?
- In order to be federally legal, it must contain 0.3% THC or less. For the uninitiated, THC is the cannabinoid that causes a high. With so little THC, hemp doesn’t have intoxicating effects.
- Can be used to create products such as textiles, building materials, industrial products, paper, foods, and body care.
- Is typically grown outdoors to maximize the size and yield of the plant. Hemp doesn’t require the same rigorous attention to lighting, humidity, and temperature that cannabis requires, and it can be grown in a range of different climates.
- Tends to be tall and skinny with skimpy foliage, having an appearance similar to bamboo.
What is Marijuana?
- Can contain 0.3% THC or more. Some high-THC strains can have 30% THC or more.
- Is used for recreational or medicinal purposes. You won’t find cannabis plants being used to create hempcrete or denim.
- Is generally grown in carefully managed and controlled conditions. Photoperiodic cannabis requires precise exposure to light in order to flower—its buds contain the valuable, potent compounds cannabis is famed for.
- Tends to appear bushy, with large, full foliage.
Should I Buy CBD from Hemp or Cannabis?
The buzz around CBD has launched it to the forefront of many treatment regimens as a promising product that can effectively treat or manage many symptoms, but what is the difference between hemp-derived and marijuana-derived CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) has become an increasingly common fixture in medicine cabinets and on the shelves of local convenience stores and major drugstores. There is growing awareness that not all CBD products are made the same, nor are they even necessarily derived from the same kind of cannabis.
There are only two sources for CBD: industrial hemp-derived CBD or medical marijuana-derived CBD.
Hemp-derived CBD is sourced from industrial hemp plants, which are grown primarily for their fiber and seeds. Hemp plants tend to differ from marijuana plants in appearance; they are often skinny and scarce in foliage. Hemp is also differentiated from marijuana by its levels of THC, the cannabinoid that possesses intoxicating properties. Under U.S. law, a hemp plant must contain no more than 0.3% THC.
Cannabis-derived CBD is extracted from marijuana plants that have thick, lush foliage and flowers that are generally grown and consumed for their intoxicating properties. The U.S. government defines marijuana plants as those which contain more than 0.3% THC. While most marijuana plants contain THC as its predominant cannabinoid, there are several strains of marijuana that are rich in CBD.
Here’s the tricky thing: Both cannabis and hemp produce CBD. The CBD molecule is identical regardless of its cannabis source. However, from a legal perspective, CBD products derived from hemp and CBD products derived from cannabis are entirely different.
A legal perspective
According to federal law, cannabis—with 0.3% THC content or higher—is classified by the DEA as a Schedule I drug with no accepted medical use. CBD products sourced from cannabis, even those with 0% THC, are illegal at a federal level by virtue of their plant origin.
However, at a state level, the law changes. There are 33 US states which have medical cannabis programs, and CBD derived from cannabis is available from a licensed dispensary to eligible patients. The recreational use of cannabis is also legal in 11 states. In these states, cannabis-derived CBD products are available to those of age.
Industrial hemp, on the other hand, is no longer considered a Schedule I controlled drug. Following the 2018 farm bill, hemp was reclassified as an agricultural commodity. Since then, there has been an explosion of CBD products onto the market, prompting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue a statement that a regulatory framework for CBD products is still in the pipeline, and foods containing CBD, dietary supplements, and products making health claims are considered illegal.
CBD products sourced from hemp, such as oils and tinctures, are legal at a federal level, so long as they conform with other applicable laws. That said, certain states have their own legislation and regulations regarding CBD oil.
If you want to purchase CBD and err on the right side of the law, verify the legal status of hemp-derived CBD and cannabis-derived CBD in your state, so you know what you can or can’t purchase. Generally, hemp-derived CBD represents the more legal option.
One critical point of difference between hemp-derived CBD and marijuana-derived CBD is the resin content of each plant. Cannabis resin is found within the trichomes of buds and to a lesser extent on the leaves.
Marijuana plants usually contain copious amounts of resin, while industrial hemp plants contain significantly lower levels. Following that logic, marijuana offers a more abundant source of CBD than hemp. In order to extract CBD oil from hemp plants, a much larger quantity is needed.
There is an exception to this rule. Some emerging craft hemp varieties possess unusually high concentrations of CBD, such as Cherry Charlotte, Cobbler, and Berry Blossom. These cultivars contain between 12 to 20% CBD content with 0.3% THC or less.
Due to its low THC content, hemp-derived CBD products have no intoxicating effects on the user. In other words, you won’t get high off of CBD hemp products. Instead, you may feel relaxed, more alert, free of physical and mental discomfort, and notice positive changes in your overall well-being thanks to how CBD works in the endocannabinoid system. CBD from marijuana can get the user high, although the psychoactive effects of such products are less intense since CBD counteracts THC’s intoxicating properties. In addition, marijuana-derived CBD acts as a strong analgesic, relaxant, anti-depressant, and can tackle a wide range of chronic, often treatment-resistant, conditions.
Knowing where and how your CBD is sourced will have a major effect in contamination levels. Naturally, hemp is a phytoremedial plant that removes pollutants such as heavy metals and chemicals from soil. But a lack of stringent local regulations surrounding the production and refinement of hemp could lead to highly contaminated CBD products.
For instance, in China, there are few regulations enforced upon the agricultural industry, leading to the production of hemp-derived CBD products that tend to contain high levels of contaminants. Studies show that, due to the country’s mining activities, some regions in China have water and soil that are contaminated with heavy metals.
These contaminants manifest as toxicants within the hemp and may potentially taint CBD sourced from these plants. In order to remove the risk of ingesting contaminated CBD, it is safer to consume hemp-derived CBD products, which are grown without chemical pesticides and third-party tested.
The hemp-derived CBD market is not yet subject to a widely enforced regulatory framework. For this reason, it’s essential to do your homework when buying hemp-derived CBD.
Look out for hemp-derived CBD that has been third-party tested. Products that have undergone this have been checked by an independent group outside of the producer using industry-approved techniques. The tester verifies the cannabinoid content of the product, along with heavy metals, pesticides, or microbes.
Should I Buy CBD From Hemp or Marijuana?
It depends on the intended use. As we said, CBD is CBD. The human body doesn’t care where this cannabinoid is sourced from, but when it comes to CBD , it’s not just about cannabidiol; there are other cannabinoids to take into account as well as terpenes and other phytochemicals. According to studies conducted by experts in the cannabinoid field, all constituents in cannabis work synergistically to produce a unique set of effects in each cannabis strain. These effects are stronger than those produced by each cannabinoid alone. This phenomenon is commonly known as the entourage effect. The ratio between THC, the addition of terpenes, and the number of the so-called minor cannabinoids all determine the way we react to cannabis. Some researchers claim that equal ratios of CBD to THC turn out to be the most effective in treating inflammation, chronic pain, and neurodegeneration, but even a 20:1 ratio of CBD to THC can produce significantly stronger therapeutic effects. If you’re looking for the benefits of THC but don’t want to get as high as from high-THC, low-CBD strains, you may want to try the marijuana-derived CBD oil. But then again, you must live in a state with a legal medical or recreational marijuana market. If, however, you’re looking for a federally legal product that will still offer the full spectrum of cannabinoids — with only trace amounts of THC — then the hemp-derived CBD oil is the way to go.
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