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Hemp Versus Marijuana: What are the differences?

If you have walked into a legal dispensary in the US or abroad, you have probably witnessed the literal litany of varieties of edibles, tinctures, balms, drops, blends, powders, and smokables that is available. But where does it all come from? A lot of it is marketed as CBD, but does that come from hemp or marijuana? For an easy breakdown of how hemp and marijuana are used in the legal pot business, let’s take a look at the breakdown of raw products.

What is hemp?

Hemp and marijuana are technically the same plant. They are just different varieties. It’s like having different coffee plants that grow slightly different beans. Brazilian beans come from a different variety of coffee plant as compared to Ethiopian beans. Hemp and marijuana are both part of the flowering plant genus Cannabis. Potentially, from either central or southern Asia, the Cannabis genus has only a few plant family members that include Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis.

So, when someone mentions hemp, you can confidently say that it is in fact a Cannabis plant. But what is the difference? Why has hemp been used for fibers, seeds, oils, and other goods for decades but not marijuana? It all has to do with the amount of naturally occurring tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Does hemp have THC?

By legal definition or natural fiction, society grew Cannabis with low THC to satisfy the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. So, basically, THC was a recognized narcotic by 1961. In order for growers to be able to grow and sell Cannabis as a functional fiber product, they needed to breed the THC out of the plant. Thus, hemp was created. Hemp does not have THC naturally in it by design and specific cross breeding. Further, hemp, by definition of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), also doesn’t include CBD, the other compound in Cannabis used as a health supplement. However, there have been changes to the US law as it defines both hemp and marijuana. Learn more about hemp to know how the differences matter to you.

Did the 2018 US Farm Bill Legalize Hemp and Marijuana?

Prior to 2018, the US legal system did not differentiate between hemp and marijuana when it came to CBD, THC, or any cannabis derived compound. The US Farm Bill passed in 2018 changed the landscape of what hemp could be and how it is different than marijuana. The Farm Bill does two very important things: first it defines what hemp is, and second, it details how it can be grown.

Hemp wasn’t just taken off the list and allowed to be wildly grown anywhere. Rather, it was placed on a regimented diet of state and federal approvals. Each state was given the authority to register and approve all hemp production under a state created regulatory system. This regulatory system would have to be approved at the federal level before it would be allowed to go into effect. This means that each state would have control over its hemp production. If it didn’t want hemp produced it could make the laws stringent. If it wanted more freedoms for grows, the regulations could be relaxed.

But how did the 2018 US Farm Bill define hemp? The boom in CBD and THC popularity, production, and sales driven by Colorado and California proved to the FDA that hemp was different that marijuana. The main difference wasn’t in the plant subspecies, but rather in the amount of Cannabis derived medicinal compounds. The FDA knew that THC would be required to stay a Schedule 1 narcotic. CBD, on the other hand, wasn’t a hallucinogenic and thus, significantly less dangerous. Thus, hemp, as defined by the 2018 US Farm Bill, is any Cannabis plant with less than 0.3% THC. Anything over this limit is considered a non-hemp Cannabis, marijuana, and shares no protections under that bill. There is no restriction on CBD, just THC. Your CBD only products may be a result of hemp production allowed under the 2018 US Farm Bill.

What is the difference between CBD and THC?

So, if hemp is allowed to have CBD but not THC, and marijuana is allowed to have both under some state laws, then what is the difference between THC and CBD? Why is that difference important to the definition to hemp and marijuana?

Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are both Cannabinoid compounds found in cannabis. There are over 144 different cannabinoids in Cannabis. However, the main psychoactive compounds in Cannabis are CBD and THC. These compounds are psychoactive because the human body produces its own cannabinoids. Because plant derived cannabinoids are slightly different, they interact with the human mind slightly different that the naturally produced ones. Cannabinoids produced in the body naturally are called endocannabinoids.

These compounds replace the human derived versions at membrane-bound receptors, primarily in the brain. Currently, there are only two known receptors that accept human and plant derived cannabinoids, and they occur mainly in the brain. The CB1 and CB2 affect different functions and systems of the body including the immune system, nervous system, mental activities, and “whole” body health. So, why do CBD and THC differ?

CBD and THC differ because their chemical and molecular structure are different enough to cause the receptor to act differently when the molecule attaches to it. Let’s walk through the process. Normally, the body produces endocannabinoids, and they attach to either the CB1 or CB2 receptors in a way that is recognizable. You would never really know when they do because your body feels the same. When CBD or THC is introduced into your body, these plant-derived cannabinoids replace the endocannabinoids on those CB1 and CB2 receptors. The receptor, not being used to this new compound, sends out a different signal to the brain and nerve endings depending on if it is CBD or THC. This is why THC will give you that classic high and CBD doesn’t. Each is like a key that fits in the receptor in a way to open a different door.

While THC stimulates the brain to produce larger amounts of dopamine, CBD only stimulates portions of those brain functions. So, what is the difference between hemp and marijuana? The main difference is how the US legal system has regulated the production of CBD versus THC. However, the fundamental difference are the therapeutic effects on the body based on the cannabinoid make-up of the product you are buying. CBD from hemp or marijuana is the same. However, don’t buy a product that says it is hemp if it has a large amount of THC. That is a lie.

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One Comment

  1. CBD Expert CBD Expert December 2, 2020

    Very informative post! Kudos!

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