The increasing attention given to Cannabidiol (CBD) and its very potential therapeutic effects has led to a proliferation of products and, inevitably, confusion about their sources and their benefits. The intricacies lie in the terminology and the origins of CBD — primarily, whether it is derived from hemp or what many people call “cannabis.”
To elucidate these differences, it is essential to know and understand the terms “marijuana,” “cannabis,” and “hemp.”
1. Cannabis: The general term for all of them
The word “cannabis” refers to a plant species, which includes both what we commonly call hemp and marijuana. In scientific terms, there are no differences between hemp and marijuana; both of them fall under the cannabis category. The primary difference between the two of them is their chemical composition, especially the levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) they contain.
2. Marijuana: More Than Just THC
Though it is often used interchangeably with cannabis, the term “marijuana” has a racially charged history behind it. In the early 20th century, it was associated with Mexican immigrants, leading to widespread negative stereotypes about them. This misinformation played a very significant role in cannabis prohibition. From a legal standpoint, marijuana refers to cannabis with more than 0.3% THC content by dry weight. It is this THC concentration that gives marijuana its very psychoactive effects, or the “high.”
Marijuana contains both THC and CBD, among other compounds. Despite coming from the same plant species, marijuana usually has a very higher THC content and less CBD compared to hemp. While THC is highly known for its intoxicating effects, CBD is non-intoxicating and it is known for its various potential health benefits, from pain relief to alleviating depression for its consumers and potential consumers.
3. Hemp: More Than Just CBD
Legally defined, “hemp” refers to cannabis containing 0.3% or less THC content by dry weight. This low THC content would then mean that hemp-derived products typically don’t produce the psychoactive effects associated with marijuana. Hemp has been cultivated for centuries throughout world history for a variety of purposes, including clothing, food, and more recently, CBD extraction.
It is the THC level in hemp, which is much lower than in marijuana, that makes it very different and subsequent legalization in the 2018 Farm Bill. Now, hemp-derived CBD products containing less than 0.3% THC are federally legal in most of the U.S. today.
The amount of CBD and THC in hemp and marijuana is the primary difference. To put it more simply, marijuana has much more THC and lesser CBD, whereas hemp has much CBD and less THC. Regardless of the source, the ability and potential benefits of CBD remain consistent whether derived from hemp or Marijuana.
Clearing the haze around cannabis nomenclature is vital to know and understand the origins, legality, and effects of the products consumers consume. With increasing research and legalization trends, consumers and patients can make very informed decisions about CBD and its sources.
Dr. Jason O’Donnell works at Holy Cross General Hospital. He is a General Practitioner with extensive experience in cardiology, geriatrics, adult medicine, and internal medicine. Dr. O’Donnell studied at the UCL Medical School and holds a Doctor of Medicine in London in the UK. He also completed an internal medicine internship at London Imperial College. From here he went on to complete a residency in internal medicine at St. George’s London University. He is currently practicing adult medicine, cardiology, geriatrics, and internal medicine at Holy Cross General Hospital. Before he performs any operation, he first assesses the patient’s medical goals and concerns. After the surgery, he monitors the recovery of the patient and makes adjustments to the treatment program, when necessary. Dr. O’Donnell is also a proud member of Health for Humanity where he volunteers his skills in medicine for people in need across the globe.