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Cannabis, Hemp, Marijuana and CBD, How and What to Choose

Maybe it’s just me, but recently I have noticed a huge uptick in the presence of hemp and CBD products where I live. This is probably because I live in a prohibition state and it can be a little shocking for me still when I see a bright green weed leaf on a product label in my local grocery store. Sitting at the table with a friend the other night, they pulled out a tub of topical cream. With hemp in the name and the increased legality and availability of CBD products nationwide, I took a look at it. They said it was great for their joint pain and I was glad it was helping, but it wasn’t a CBD product at all, like I had imagined. The active ingredient in the cream was 10% trolamine salicylate, a topical analgesic. The product does contain hemp seed extract, but that seems to be the extent of it’s cannabis content. The absence of anything other than hemp seed extract was a surprise to me and my friends, and this made me wonder what’s going on with hemp-extract-this and CBD-oil-that products with no real explanations? Is there a difference between hemp sourced and marijuana sourced CBD? So, let’s cover cannabis, hemp and marijuana, and how to tell the difference between products.

Cannabis, Hemp and Marijuana: Starting at the Beginning

Cannabis, hemp and marijuana are often used interchangeably, and for the most part, that can work, but specificity can be super important when trying to find the right CBD products for you. The difference between cannabis, hemp and marijuana, for the most part, comes down to science and legality. Scientifically, cannabis is the genus of the plant, generally accepted to have three species: cannabis sativa, cannabis indica and cannabis ruderalis. If you are familiar with cannabis, sativa and indica should be familiar to you, with most strains being a hybrid of the two. Ruderalis is typically low in THC and high in CBD.

Different strains of cannabis can have different percentages of THC and CBD, which is what legally differentiates between hemp and marijuana.

Hemp, or industrial hemp, is often cultivated for its fibers and seeds, and in the United States, must contain 0.3% THC or less to be considered hemp. Industrial hemp is incredibly versatile, as well as being one of the oldest cultivated fiber plants. Fibers from the stalk can be used in things from clothing to building materials. Hemp seeds, which are about 30 percent oil, are a good source of potassium, magnesium, vitamin E, fiber and protein and you can usually find hemp seed oil in your local health food store to use for salad dressing or cooking.

Marijuana, on the other hand, is a slang term popularized during the early 1900s prohibition movement. An anglicized version of the Spanish terms for cannabis “marihuana” or “mariguana”, it’s often used to refer to the intoxicating varieties of cannabis and has been generally accepted as a common term for cannabis.

Legally, hemp cannot contain more than 0.3% THC to be considered hemp, but industrial hemp and marijuana usually contain varying percentages of CBD.

Are you ready for the complicated part? Good, me too.

So, the most basic difference between hemp and marijuana is THC content, but it’s not the only difference. Industrial hemp plants are primarily cultivated for the stalks and seeds, and often appear skinny with fewer leaves. Marjuana plants, however, are grown for their flowers and the intoxicating and medicinal properties, and are generally more lush plants with flowers and thick foliage.

Now that we’ve gone over all of that, is there a difference between CBD cultivated from hemp and CBD cultivated from marijuana?

CBD Sourcing: Hemp vs. Marijuana

Molecularly, no, there’s no difference. A CBD molecule from a hemp plant will be identical to that of a marijuana plant, but there are some other things you might want to consider when it comes to sourcing CBD for the product you are looking for.

The production of CBD products is not limited to the US, and agricultural regulations in the area where your CBD is being sourced can affect the purity. Environmental hazards and lax regulations can lead to a contaminated source, which means a contaminated product. When looking for hemp-derived CBD products, try to find products that are tested by a third party and grown without chemical pesticides.

Following that thread of logic, states with medical marijuana legislation typically have stricter regulations for growing and testing products.

Resin content is another important factor in sourcing CBD. Trichomes are the little hairs that grow on cannabis plants and certain trichomes have resin glands. These resin glands produce the terpenes, CBDA and THCA (the non-activated forms of CBD and THC) and other phytocannabinoids that can have therapeutic or intoxicating effects. Industrial hemp plants usually have significantly less resin than a marijuana plant, making marijuana plants a far more abundant source of CBD oil. There are, however, some “craft” hemp strains that can contain between 12 – 20% CBD with 0.3% THC or less.

CBD Oil: Full Spectrum, Distillates and Isolates

When looking for CBD products, you’re likely to find them labeled “full spectrum” or “whole plant” and CBD isolates.

Full spectrum, or whole plant, CBD oils and products, are extractions of all of the components of the plant – cannabinoids, terpenes etc., including low levels of THC.

CBD extracts can be made using CO2, ethanol, or hydrocarbons like butane or propane. In their unrefined form, all extracts will contain some amount of THC. Some states still consider even trace amounts of THC illegal, regardless of the source, which makes THC-free distillates and CBD isolates a good option in those areas. THC-free distillates are made by distilling the unrefined CBD extract with high heat and vacuum pressure, capturing only the CBD. Isolate is even further refined using pentane, which causes the CBD to crystallize. Once crystalized, the CBD is filtered and dried, leaving a product that is up to 99.9% pure CBD.

The Entourage Effect

While THC-free distillates and CBD isolates are great for THC sensitivity or strict THC regulation, there is something to be said for the benefits of full spectrum or whole plant CBD oils.

According to Jeremy Riggle, Ph.D., chief scientist at Mary’s Medicinals, “The entourage effect is essentially the synergy, in terms of outcome, that has been observed when cannabinoids are combined with other minor cannabinoids and terpenes. The combined effect is more pronounced in combination than in isolation, helping to prolong or enhance the overall effects.”

Various studies suggest that when CBD is administered in combination with other cannabinoids and terpenes, the desired effect can be more pronounced or prolonged. According to a meta-analysis paper published in September of 2018, epileptic patients responded better to cannabis extracts high in CBD that were complimented with other cannabinoids and phytonutrients. Patients also needed lower doses and reported fewer side effects with full spectrum CBD than isolated CBD. Although it’s complicated and we still have a lot to learn about it, the evidence strongly suggests that cannabinoids work better when combined with other cannabinoids or terpenes.

Keep in mind that while hemp may not have as diverse of a terpene profile as marijuana, it can still provide an entourage effect.

Dr. Herve Damas, a physician specializing in CBD treatment of professional athletes and director of Grassroots Herbals has treated patients with hemp and marijuana CBD products and cannot vouch to one being more effective than the other, but “I can concur that most of my patients find that having THC, even the 0.3% found in hemp derived CBD products more effective than products with 0% THC.”

What to Choose

Now that you, hopefully, understand the difference between hemp and marijuana derived CBD products, you have a choice to make. What’s best for you? Firstly, if you’re in a state where medical or adult use is legal, congratulations, you should have access to marijuana derived CBD products! These products will most likely have a higher THC content than hemp derived CBD, so keep this in mind if you have a sensitivity or are trying to avoid THC all together. If medical or adult use marijauana is illegal, like it is here, you’ll only legally have access to hemp derived CBD extracts.

As with all cannabis products, some trial and error will be involved. Try to find products that are produced organically and tested for quality and purity by a third party. Remember that full spectrum products will have a variety of cannabinoids in addition to the CBD, and that may have an entourage effect.

Start with low concentrations and work your way up. Have some fun finding what works best for you. I’ve even seen CBD isolates used in bowls or joints. Now that you’re armed with the knowledge to know the difference between a hemp oil, a CBD oil, a hemp derived product and a marijuana derived product, I hope you’re ready and able to find a CBD product that’s right for you.

Kelly Mahoney worked at a medical cannabis Co-op with her mother, Laura Mastropietro, dealing mainly with helping new patients acquire their medical cards and helping them find the best strains and methods. Diagnosed at a young age with spinal muscular atrophy, she was also a medical cannabis patient and still advocates for the incredible benefits, and downright fun, of cannabis. She now lives in a prohibition state as a cat mom and gamer wife.


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