Hemp versus Marijuana

What is the difference between Hemp and Marijuana?

This is the million-dollar question quite literally!  And, there is a lot of confusion surrounding this issue.  So let’s take a step back.  Near the turn of the 20th century, the term Marijuana was virtually non-existent.  It was simply referred to as Cannabis.  But so is Hemp. Both Hemp and Marijuana are variations of the same genus of a plant called Cannabis.  It is a wide categorization since both plants contain CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). To add more confusion, they often look exactly alike as well.

There are 4 main differences between Hemp and Marijuana

Composition: The Agricultural Act of 2018 defines the difference between the variations and it is quite significant.  Hemp contains a large amount of CBD but its THC level does not exceed 0.3% (by dry weight).  Marijuana contains a large amount of CBD but its THC level does exceed 0.3% (by dry weight).  In fact, Marijuana can contain up to 30% THC.  Both structures have the same chemical composition (21 carbons, 30 hydrogens, and 2 oxygens).  However, their structure varies slightly and this makes ALL the difference in how the body responds to the chemical.

Cultivation: Of course environment, soil condition, humidity, and light are typical concerns for growing most plants.  However, hemp is grown mainly for yield.  Consequently growing it outdoors most common.  Marijuana is not just grown but it is selectively bred to obtain various properties.  The growth of marijuana is highly specialized and therefore control of environmental conditions is a much more critical factor. (1)

Purpose: Both CBD and THC are found in the Cannabis plant.  CBD and THC are similar in structure,  But, they are decidedly different as to effect within the human body. The body has its own cannabinoids as part of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS).   Part of the ECS is the receptors CB1 and CB2.

THC – THC is known to bind to CB1 and CB2  receptors making it a powerful psychoactive compound. THC can help reduce pain, inflammation, and increase appetite, but it can also have the less desirable effects of paranoia, memory loss, slower reaction times, and coordination issues. Since the marijuana plant can contain up to 30% THC, it lends itself to medicinal as well as recreational uses.

CBD – Less is known about how CBD interacts with the body’s ECS, but it is known not to bind with either CB1 or CB2 in the same way as THC does. Some suspect it may even bind with another receptor not yet discovered. (2)   Research suggests that CBD can aid in many of the same things as THC but without all the undesirable side effects. Most adverse side effects come from drug to drug interactions with CBD. (3)  The Hemp plant contains only 0.3 % or lower THC, and mostly CBD, therefore, it lends itself to over the counter and online sales medicinally.  It also has many uses in the food and industrial segments of the market as well.

Legality: One might be tempted to say CBD is CBD no matter its source. And, that would be a correct statement.  However, the Agricultural Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill) clearly states that hemp and hemp-derived products (including hemp CBD) is what is legalized.  CBD from Cannabis (marijuana) is NOT legal.  DEA guidance still considers CBD from marijuana as a schedule I controlled substance.


The important take away from this discussion is two-fold:

1. Only Hemp-derived CBD products can be used and sold legally in all 50 states.
2. Hemp-derived CBD products sold over the counter and online must not exceed the 0.3% THC level.

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