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Marijuana-CBD vs. Hemp-CBD—Is One Better Than The Other?

With CBD oils and products appearing on shelves and on-line stores everywhere, the awareness of this product has increased tremendously. 

With this increase in awareness has come an obvious increase of questions. One of the key ones being, “What is the difference between CBD products? Is hemp-derived CBD or marijuana-derived CBD better? What about full-spectrum CBD vs. isolate? 

The first thing we need to do is to discover that “hemp” and “marijuana” don’t really exist. 

Whoa. Say what? 

Yes, you read that correctly. Hemp and marijuana do not really exist EXCEPT as an arbitrary legal decision. This legal decision was only made just recently with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. This arbitrary is different in Europe. So a hemp plant here in the U.S. may be considered a marijuana plant in Europe.

The Legal Definition of Hemp and Marijuana

Both “hemp” and “marijuana” are varieties of the cannabis plant (more on cannabis later). As cannabis plants, both hemp and marijuana contain hundreds of chemical components. However, there is only one that determines whether or not the cannabis plant is considered hemp or marijuana—tetrahydrocannabinol a.k.a. THC. 

THC is the chemical compound that produces the mind-altering high. And while THC is but one of hundreds of components found in cannabis—it is most certainly the most well known. 

Until the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, there was no clear distinction between the definition of hemp and marijuana. Now, U.S. law states that a cannabis plant is considered to be hemp if it contains 0.3% or less THC and marijuana if it contains over 0.3% THC. 

That is a very fine line of distinction, and if crossed, the plant and the products derived from the plant go from legal to illegal in many states. 

There is an arbitrary line between the legal definition of hemp and marijuana, in fact the legal line in the European Union is crossed at 0.2% THC. However, cannabis with a level of 0.3% THC is considered hemp here in the US and marijuana in Europe. 

Go figure.

THC Levels Today

But the reality is, whether marijuana is sold for medical or for recreational purposes, the THC levels today are much higher than 0.4%. 

Citing Colorado, an early legal state for legal cannabis, the publication Missouri Medicine reported that the THC content of cannabis is not like it used to be. Prior to the 1990s, THC levels of what was considered marijuana were less than 2%. In the 1990s it grew to 4%, and between 1995 and 2015 there was been a 212% increase in THC content in marijuana. 

In 2017 the most popular strains found in dispensaries in Colorado had a range of THC content from 17–28%. The paper goes on to say that cannabis plants producing high levels of THC are incapable of producing much CBD, the protective component of the plant so these strains have minimal CBD. 

Most balanced strains will tend to have CBD and THC levels in the neighborhood of 6-12%.

  CBD Molecule

Are CBD Molecules from Hemp and Marijuana Different?

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” 

Juliet from the play Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespere 

Just as the rose of Juliet’s muse would smell as sweet no matter what you called it—rose, rosa (Spanish), róża (Polish)—so is CBD the same molecule no matter what type of cannabis plant it comes from. Whether it’s hemp-derived CBD with a THC level of 0.3% or below, marijuana-derived CBD with above that level, it makes no difference. The CBD molecule and its pharmacology are the same. 

CBD oil, whether from hemp or marijuana, will have the same anti-inflammatory properties, the same anti-anxiety properties, the same pain relieving qualities and so on.

If the Terms Hemp and Marijuana are Arbitrary, What isn’t Arbitrary?

You may be thinking at this point, “OK, OK. Hemp and marijuana may legally be an arbitrary tenth of a percentage apart—but there ARE different plants, right?” 

And the answer to that is yes, there are. 

So here is the deal. 

If you look at the taxonomy of cannabis (taxonomy being the way that plants and animals are classified and organized) cannabis is part of the plant family Cannabaceae

Under the Cannabaceae family are three categories, or more properly three genuses.

  • Genus Humulus aka hops. Hops are used primarily as an agent in beer, to which, in addition to bitterness, they give floral, fruity, or citrus flavours and aromas. Hops are also used in other beverages and herbal medicine.
  • Genus Celtis (hackberries). Unlike it’s overachieving cousin cannabis, hackberries are good for almost nothing. (Every family has one of these cousins right?) Mostly, people just hack them down—literally. But seriously, hackberry trees do produce edible berries and are occasionally used for landscaping.
  • Genus Cannabis aka hemp and marijuana. The species and varieties of cannabis are used to produce everything from medicine, to fiber, to fuel and bioplastics. Cannabis is truly the shining child in the Cannabaceae family.

That brings us to the three specific species that have been identified under Genus Cannabis. 

Species: Cannabis Sativa 

First described by biologist Jean-Baptist Lamarck in 1785—Sativa strains are large and coarse. They are typically taller (6-12 feet), loosely branched and have long, narrow leaves. They are usually grown outdoors and can reach heights of up to 20 feet. 

Species: Cannabis Indica 

Again, first described in 1785 by Lamarck)—Shorter, densely branched and have wider leaves. They are better suited for growing indoors. 

Species: Cannabis Ruderalis 

First described by botanist D.E. Janischewsky in 1924—Very short. Not commonly grown for industrial, recreational or medicinal use.

  Hands Holding Marijuana Flower

Cannabis—An Unstable Species

OK—now for the bad news. In spite of the nice, clean description given of the Cannabis species above, and the very clear visual distinction between the three types of cannabis, it is not quite as clear as it looks. 

The fact is, there is no consensus among scientists about how to precisely define a species, and likely never will be. Scientists even admit it themselves. 

So from here, it gets messy. 

In fact, it gets messier and messier every year. 

As cannabis continues to be cultivated for a variety of purposes, the three species above have been interbred to retain desirable traits like hardiness. Cannabis species have also been cultivated to produce hybrids with specific chemical make-ups. Some hybrids are cultivated to produce exceptionally high levels of the cannabinoid CBD, THC or one of the other hundred cannabinoids found in cannabis.

Clearing up the Hemp Identity Crisis

When talking to Fusion CBD Founder Adam Kurtz on this subject, he expressed the difficulty in getting the true information about hemp-derived CBD and marijuana-derived CBD understood. 

“I hear the statement that marijuana CBD is somehow superior to hemp CBD most from dispensary workers. People that make this statement do not understand this area,” explained Adam. “They think industrial hemp is tall skinny stalks, and that the CBD contained in those plants is not as good because it does not contain the full spectrum of other cannabinoids and terpenes found in marijuana.” 

Adam said that they might have had a point 3 or 4 years ago but it is not the case now. The cannabis plants that are grown under industrial hemp laws in the U.S., which is about 80% of the cannabis grown, have been bred to lower the THC, while preserving CBD, minor cannabinoids and terpenes. The result is a more “marijuana-like” CBD, for lack of a better term.

Where the Heck did the Terms Hemp and Marijuana Come From?

The term hemp has been used to describe cannabis—especially species Cannabis Sativa, the tall skinny one used for fiber—since the time of colonial America. Marijuana as a word came into common use in the U.S. much later. 

The term marijuana entered the U.S. between 1900 and 1930. It was brought by Mexicans who migrated to this country and brought with them the concept of smoking cannabis. As a result of the fear generated by this new use of cannabis in the U.S., the first bill passed against cannabis cultivation came in 1913. Later, Harry Anslinger, the Commissioner of Narcotics, made the abolition of all cannabis his mission. Anslinger used the foreign-sounding word “marijuana” when waging his war against the plant and made this term a household word. 

Hemp and marijuana became inextricably intertwined at that point. They were only just recently detangled as a result of the 2018 Farm Bill. 

Because of its racist, pejorative history, many prefer not to use the term marijuana at all. Health Canada, which has regulated medical marijuana since 2001, stopped using the word marijuana in its most recent set of rules, Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations, adopted in 2016. Instead, they refer to it simply as cannabis. The word cannabis does not suffer from the negative connotations that the word marijuana has suffered from historically.

  CBD Oil

What Kind of CBD IS Better?

Now that we have made it clear that there is absolutely no difference between the molecule CBD regardless of what type of cannabis plant it comes from, there is a little more information you should have. 

The real choice in CBD products is not between hemp-derived CBD and marijuana-derived CBD. The real choice is between full-spectrum CBD and CBD isolate. 

It is important to know that cannabis contains A LOT more than just CBD or THC. Cannabis actually contains several things. In a full-spectrum CBD oil product, all of these are present in one quantity or another and work together in the body.

What is in Full-Spectrum CBD

  • Cannabinoids – There are about 100 different chemical compounds called cannabinoids. Research suggests that cannabinoids reduce anxiety and inflammation, relieve pain, control nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, kill cancer cells, slow tumor growth, relax tight muscles, and stimulate appetite and improve weight gain in people with cancer and AIDS. Exactly what each individual cannabinoid does is not fully known. More research in this area must be done. The cannabinoid CBG, for example, is known for its relaxing effects.
  • Terpenes – These are fragrant essential oils. They are widely used for medicinal purposes and have been found to help alleviate a variety of non-optimal health symptoms like insomnia, inflammation, pain among many others.
  • Flavonoids – Flavonoids are a group of nutrients found in plants. They are most known for providing vivid non-green color pigments to the plant kingdom such as the blue in blueberries and the red in roses. Flavonoids in cannabis also produce a range of effects. Flavonoids produce antioxidant and cardiovascular health benefits as well as positive effects on cholesterol levels.

Research has shown that full-spectrum CBD creates what is called the entourage effect. Because of the entourage effect, CBD works better when left together with everything else naturally occurring in hemp.

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