BY DEANNA DEBARA
Cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD, has emerged as one of the most popular (and promising) cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. The compound has loads of benefits which is why you’ve seen it go from a dispensary staple to mainstream favorite: it’s everywhere from pharmacy shelves to grocery stores to high-end department stores.
But what, exactly, is the difference between the CBD flower you get at the dispensary and the CBD oil you get at the drugstore—and why is one legal to sell anywhere while the other is restricted to licensed dispensaries?
The answer lies in the source of the CBD and where it was derived from. When we use the term cannabis, we’re usually talking about the psychoactive plant. But cannabis actually refers to a genus of plants and within that genus are three different species: indica, sativa, and ruderalis. Hemp is a type of sativa that has no psychoactive effects. You can derive CBD from hemp, or it can come from other cannabis species. The latter may have psychoactive effects.
If you’re looking to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of cannabidiol, here’s what to know about the difference between CBD derived from hemp versus CBD derived from other cannabis species.
Why is the 2018 Farm Bill important?
Before we jump into the differences between CBD derived from hemp versus other cannabis species, it’s important to understand how both are legally classified.
Throughout history, the cannabis plant (and, more specifically, hemp) has been used for a huge variety of purposes. A staple in American agriculture during the 17th century, hemp was one of the country’s most in-demand commodities and was used to manufacture a variety of textiles and materials, including rope, clothing, and sails.
Then in the early 1900s, a propaganda campaign against cannabis swept the country which meant that producing, or possessing cannabis—including hemp—was made illegal. It wasn’t until the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, which removed hemp from the federal list of controlled substances and reclassified it as an agricultural commodity that it became legal.
The Farm Bill also made a clear legal distinction between hemp and other cannabis products. The former is now defined as cannabis with no more than 0.3% THC. So, any cannabis with a THC concentration of 0.3% is now considered hemp and federally legal under the bill, while anything with more than 0.3% THC falls under the “marijuana” umbrella—and, as such, would remain illegal at the federal level.
Marijuana is a controversial term with racist origins that has since fallen out of use by cannabis advocates. However, for the sake of this article, we’ll use the term “marijuana-derived’ CBD as that is the current way it’s classified and defined on a federal level.
What’s the difference between hemp-derived CBD and marijuana-derived CBD?
Now that you understand the difference between hemp and “marijuana”, let’s jump into the differences between CBD products derived from each.
On a molecular level, cannabidiol is the same regardless of its source but there are some major differences between hemp-derived CBD and marijuana-derived CBD products, including:
One of the major differences between hemp-derived and marijuana-derived CBD products is availability. Because the former is legal nationally, you can find hemp CBD products at traditional retailers (like pharmacies or grocery stores) or for purchase online across the country.
Marijuana-derived CBD products on the other hand, are still federally illegal, so you can only purchase them at licensed dispensaries in states where it’s legal.
The most common hemp-derived CBD products are oils or infused lotions or salves, so you’ll see these sold online or in most stores. On the other hand if you visit a dispensary, you’ll find marijuana-derived CBD products which could include flower, vape pens, concentrates, and edibles (both food and beverage).
The molecular structure of CBD may be the same in hemp-derived CBD products and marijuana-derived CBD products, but that doesn’t mean both products will produce the same effects. And the reason? A theory known as the entourage effect.
The other compounds in cannabis—including terpenes, flavonoids, and other cannabinoids, including THC—have significant therapeutic value. And when CBD is combined with all these other compounds into a full-spectrum CBD product, evidence suggests that the compounds work together to offer greater therapeutic benefit, known as the entourage effect.
You can find full-spectrum CBD products that are derived from hemp or from marijuana but because cannabis has a higher concentration of THC and typically contains more terpenes, there may be an added benefit to choosing a cannabis-derived CBD product.
Efficacy and safety
States have strict rules and regulations on cannabis, which includes CBD flower, edibles, and other products. In order for anything to hit dispensary shelves, they have to go through a rigorous testing process and abide by clearly outlined labeling requirements—so when you use the product, you know exactly what you’re getting.
The regulations around hemp-derived CBD aren’t as clear cut. While the Food and Drug Administration is attempting to regulate them, there isn’t a clear set of testing, labeling, or licensing requirements so it can be more challenging to determine the efficacy and safety of CBD products you buy online or at a traditional retailer.
Which one is right for you?
Ultimately, the choice comes down to what’s legal in your state. But should you be in a location where both are available to you, you can make the right decision based now that you know the difference between marijuana-derived CBD and hemp-derived CBD.