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A Simple Guide on the Differences Between Hemp, Cannabis & CBD

Guest post by Bruce Smith – Content editor at Fenocan. Edited by Leafwell.

There has been a huge rise in hemp-derived CBD in recent years. Cultivators are growing it, transporting it, and selling it on a daily basis. Humans are buying it and using it on a daily basis as well, and not just for themselves but also for their pets. Hemp products are used in a wide range of industries, from the food industry to the textile industry. Now, the health and wellness industry as well (and some would argue once again).

As the demand for hemp products is increasing, the number of online and offline retailers is also increasing. Today you can purchase hemp products such as hemp oil in many ways, and in some instances you can even find it in pharmacies! Many people suffering from insomnia, chronic pain and arthritis are starting to try CBD.

Various CBD and hemp products and hemp oil, in particular, have many benefits for the human body, both as a dietary and wellness supplement. Here, we have answered some of the most frequently asked questions on the internet about hemp and CBD. The ultimate hemp and CBD guide we prepared includes:

  • Is hemp/CBD a drug?
  • What exactly is hemp?
    Is hemp illegal in the US?
  • Can you smoke hemp?
  • Does hemp have CBD in it?
  • Is CBD from hemp effective?
  • Can you take too much CBD?
  • Is hemp oil addictive?

And a few more questions besides.

Hemp; weed; cannabis; pot; marijuana; green; garden; growing.
From Male hemp/cannabis sativa plant.

Is hemp/CBD a drug?

Before going into details on what hemp is, let’s make something clear. Hemp, or more specifically hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD), is a drug, just as acetaminophen is a drug. The term “drug” has many negative connotations with it, even though it is a word used to describe all sorts of things we find in pharmacies.

We say that because CBD has no overdose potential and has no serious side effects reported on users. Hemp has many benefits and the most important is the health and medicinal benefits. To say it in a more definite way: it is hard to find a more beneficial plant than hemp. This Cannabis Sativa variety has impressive potential.

What exactly is hemp?

To make it as simple as possible: hemp is a Cannabis sativa variety that is different from the psychoactive variety of cannabis we often call “Marijuana”, mainly due to the fact that hemp is grown for its fiber and seeds as a material and food source. The two are, however, related in that they share the same ancestors and essentially come from the same stock of plants. They became differentiated by human selection. Psychoactive cannabis was and is grown for its flower and cannabinoid production.

The other main legal difference between Marijuana and hemp is the amount of THC inside these two varieties of Cannabis sativa. Psychoactive cannabis (marijuana) tends to contain more tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In order to grow hemp legally, a farmer must have a licence and grow hemp plants that contain less than 0.3% THC.

Here’s where it can get a little bit confusing, as any hemp variety that contains above 0.3% THC is considered “marijuana” and illegal. There are also many varieties of psychoactive cannabis that contain plenty of CBD and little THC, but are still illegal and considered “marijuana”. This makes the distinction between hemp and “marijuana” more a social, legal, economic and political matter than a scientific one.

Is hemp illegal in the US?

No. Hemp is not illegal, but you do require a license or you will likely be put under a Stop Sale Order. Industrial hemp that contains 0.3% or less THC is legal. This license will give you the opportunity to grow hemp that fulfills the legality prescriptions like the amount of THC in the hemp plant. So, if a cannabis strain has 0.4% THC, it is not classified as hemp, but as “marijuana”, and is illegal. Hemp’s federal and state legal status is legal, with appropriate licencing.

Can you smoke hemp?

You can if that is your intention. You can smoke hemp but you won’t get “high”. Smoking hemp is not necessarily the best way to benefit from its health potential, and it is not recommended. But, that does not mean it is not being smoked by people. In fact, smoking hemp’s popularity is growing, and there are many hemp flowers being sold in shops around the world.

Does hemp have CBD in it?

Yes, hemp has CBD. It is potentially high in CBD and low in THC. To be more precise, hemp can contain up to 20% CBD, and by law less than 0.3% THC. CBD is often the most prominent cannabinoid found in hemp. It is possible to have a “marijuana” plant that contains more CBD than THC in it.

CBD Cannabidiol Numbering
CBD’s chemical formula.

Is CBD from hemp effective? How does it compare to psychoactive cannabis (marijuana)?

As psychoactive varieties of cannabis are grown for their cannabinoids, they can be a more ready source of cannabinoids. This includes CBD. Technically, it is possible to create a variety of cannabis where the focus is on the flower, contains less than 0.3% THC, and is determined to be hemp.

CBD from well-grown hemp plants is potentially very effective for some people. The only concern is that higher doses of CBD may be needed for efficacy when the THC levels are low (it is possible to use some THC with little-to-no psychoactivity – the entourage effect is very real). Another concern is that, as hemp plants are not necessarily grown for their cannabinoids, the end products can sometimes contain little CBD.

On top of this, harsher extraction methods to get CBD can sometimes be used, which means more plant waxes in the end product. Also, if the hemp is not of good quality and/or was used to suck up industrial pollutants, then these chemicals can end up in the end product.

CBD has impressive properties such as neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, antipsychotic. One of the most attractive properties of CBD is that it is not as psychoactive as THC as it does not affect the CB1 receptors. This also means that CBD is unlikely to have any major potential for addiction.

In fact, CBD may even help buffer THC’s psychoactive effects, and unlike THC could even be potentially used as an antipsychotic for schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Can you take too much CBD?

It is recommended to start small. Besides, before starting it is better to consult your doctor, because if you are using other medications it may cause unwanted effects, and you do not want that. However, starting small does not mean you will immediately feel the difference and results will not be as expected. In fact, we recommend you increase the dosage step by step until you find the perfect percentage of CBD for your body and mind. This kind of procedure removes the possibility to exceed the recommended dose or as professionals like to call it, the therapeutic dose.

It is certainly possible to take too much CBD, but thankfully this is unlikely to be deadly for many people. Some negative effects reported include fatigue, diarrhea, drowsiness, dry mouth, anxiety and changes in appetite. Some have reported a more energetic or “edgy” feeling when that was not the effect desired.

Is CBD hemp oil addictive?

Hemp oil which has less than 0.3% or no THC at all, will more than likely have no psychoactive effects on users. By swallowing this oil, you won’t feel the need to use it on a daily continuous basis. This oil is not addictive. CBD does not affect CB1 receptors, meaning that it will not produce the psychoactive effects THC does, and hence is unlikely to have any addiction potential. There’s also CBD oil for pets, which can help your pet in numerous ways.

Can you explain the distinction between hemp and marijuana a bit more?

Of course! As noted, the main difference between hemp and psychoactive cannabis (marijuana) from a scientific perspective is the purpose for which they were bred for. Hemp is a plant mainly grown for its stalk and seed for materials and seeds, as well as a bioremediator. Hemp contains many of the same cannabinoids and terpenes as marijuana, but often in much lower concentrations.

Marijuana is grown with the flower and the trichomes in mind. This means much higher cannabinoid concentrations. Many breeders selected for THC and specific terpenes to increase psychoactivity and obtain certain flavor profiles, but in the last two decades other cannabinoids like CBD, cannabigerol (CBG) and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) have started to become focus points for their unique therapeutic properties.

Psychoactive varieties are all Cannabis sativa, with some people calling it Cannabis sativa Linneaus in order to differentiate it from hemp varietals. Cannabis sativa Linneaus is then grouped into three or four subtypes: sativa, indica, afghanica (not always) and ruderalis, usually in reference to their growth patterns and the region they come from. Cannabis ruderalis is not psychoactive and contains high levels of CBD, and its inclusion with the other subtypes if debated. Hemp, meanwhile, can contain plenty of CBD, but not necessarily so.

There is also another debate regarding the subtypes, as the terms indica, sativa and afghanica do not tell us precisely which cannabinoids and terpenes are found in the plant. Technically, from a chemotype point of view, an indica and a sativa can have the same cannabinoids. The subtype distinction is a rough one, and some would say based on erroneous labelling.

Cannabis; marijuana; leaf; growing; weed; pot.
Author: Lode Van de Velde

Is hemp safer or more dangerous than cannabis/marijuana?

As long as care has been taken in the growing of the plants and the making of the products derived from them, and lab-tested and distributed appropriately, then there shouldn’t necessarily be a difference in safety. There are some hemp-derived products that are of very good quality, but they unfortunately do not make up the majority of the market at the moment. The main problem is in unscrupulous producers and distributors, and rarely the plants themselves.

Psychoactive varieties of cannabis should not be demonized, and have their own therapeutic uses when used appropriately. Whilst we should certainly err on the side of caution when it comes to psychoactive compounds of any sort, as well as learn more about long-term effects of any cannabinoid psychoactive or not, we must also look at the plant’s potential objectively. There are many people and companies making amazing products that would be considered federally illegal.

Can you tell me a little bit about how CBD works?

CBD’s chemical formula is C21H30O2. CBD is one of at least 150 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. CBD is one of cannabis’s major phytocannabinoids, and accounts for up to 40% of the plant’s extract. CBD works in tandem with the cannabis/hemp plant’s many other cannabinoids and terpenes.

CBD does not have any great affinity for CB1 or CB2 receptors, but can affect their activity in an indirect manner. CBD also affects serotonin, TRPV1 and opioid receptors in various ways. You can read more about how CBD works here.


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Written by
Dipak Hemraj
Dipak Hemraj - Chief Research Officer

Dipak Hemraj is a published author, grower, product maker, and Leafwell’s resident cannabis expert. From botany & horticulture to culture & economics, he wishes to help educate the public on why cannabis is medicine (or a “pharmacy in a plant”) and how it can be used to treat a plethora of health problems. Dipak wants to unlock the power of the plant, and see if there are specific cannabinoid-terpene-flavonoid profiles suitable for different conditions.

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