What, exactly, is the difference between hemp, or cannabis, and marijuana? CBD products including oil can be derived from both hemp and marijuana plants. Hemp plants and marijuana plants are variants of the same species. So, the difference is largely in the legal definition. From that perspective hemp is defined as a cannabis plant that contains 0.3 percent or less THC. Marijuana is a cannabis plant that contains more than 0.3 percent THC.
It’s a common misconception that hemp and marijuana are two different species of plant. But in actuality they are just two different names for cannabis, a type of flowering plant in the Cannabaceae family. Science may not differentiate between “hemp” and “marijuana” but the legal system does.
The legal focus is on tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content. THC is one of many chemicals found in the cannabis plant listed as cannabinoids. Why 0.3 percent?
In 1979, biologist and biochemist Ernest Small published a scientific study entitled “The Species Problem in Cannabis: Science & Semantics.” In this study he argued that it’s difficult to distinguish hemp and cannabis because there’s no actual taxonomical difference between the two. He noted that a 0.3 percent rule might be a possible solution. He also acknowledged that it was an arbitrary number. Still, this number was used as a base standard for the legal definition of hemp in state and federal laws.
With the increasing relaxation of laws that made the establishment of stores such as The Bud Farmacy in Needles, California possible there was a need to adjust statutes on cultivation. The 2018 Farm Bill made it legal to grow hemp, or cannabis containing less than 0.3 percent THC, throughout the United States. It also made hemp-derived CBD products federally legal.
Hemp, or cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC, are grown to create an array of products. These include textiles used for clothing and related products, paper, animal feed, and plastic. There are also food products such as hemp milk, hemp oil, and protein powders. As hemp is a fast growing plant, it is increasingly being considered to be a more sustainable way of making disposable products.
The uses for cannabis seeds add another dimension to the story. The seeds contain no cannabinoids in measurable quantities. But hemp seed is quite nutritious as it is a complete protein that is high in fiber. The concentration of cannabinoids are found in flowers, leaves, and stalks. And so people looking to experience the beneficial or recreational effects prefer the cannabis flower that can be smoked or extracted into tinctures and edibles.
This legal hair splitting associated with marijuana can be quite confusing. State laws vary widely. Some states allow cannabis, marijuana and CBD products to be used used medically or recreationally. But in a neighboring state they may only be used medically. Then in another state you can be arrested for having products purchased legally.
Then there is Cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabinoid that’s become increasingly popular with legalization initiatives. Medical studies, rumors and urban legends claiming health benefits associated with CBD oils and related products have fueled an explosion of interest. But, again, there are misunderstandings.
All cannabis plants contain some amounts of CBD. That means it can be derived from either hemp or marijuana. But CBD products are only legal if they are derived from hemp that contains less than 0.3 percent THC.