The words hemp, cannabis, and pot (and all of Mary Jane’s other nicknames) have commonly been used interchangeably, and this has resulted in some confusion about what the plant actually is. The short story is this: the kind of cannabis that gets people high is not the same as hemp, even though both plant varieties come from the species cannabis Sativa.
Cannabis strains that contain significant levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabinoid responsible for weed’s psychoactive effect, are bred from sativa, indica, and hybrid strains of the cannabis Sativa plant. Hemp, on the other hand, is typically distinguished from psychoactive weed if it has a THC content of 0.3% or less. That’s not enough to get you high. In fact, if you smoked a pound of hemp, you’re more likely to have a massive headache than a noticeable high. Most medical and recreational strains have a THC content of at least 5% and at most 30%, a much higher amount of THC than what hemp contains.
Hemp Flower—the Non-Psychoactive Bud
It is certainly possible to breed weed strains to have low THC to CBD to ratios (meaning strains that have a higher quantity of CBD than THC). But there is an easy way to get THC-free CBD, and that’s to use hemp. Although hemp contains .3% or less of THC, it has significant amounts of CBD (anywhere from 10% to 20% CBD) as well as other non-psychoactive cannabinoids and terpenes, volatile compounds responsible for a plant’s smell as well as a unique profile of therapeutic benefits.
Producers like Empire Wellness, Tweedle Farms, and CBD Hemp Direct ship their product to all 50 states under the protection of the Farm Bill. Because the hemp flower they produce and distribute comes from industrial hemp, it is technically legal. If you do choose to purchase hemp flower and you live in a state that has not legalized any kind of cannabis, be prepared for potential pushback or legal intervention since hemp CBD flowers look and smell just like high-THC cannabis buds.
The Dangers of Synthetic CBD
Whether the CBD-rich product you’re interested in comes from a high-THC strain of cannabis or hemp, odds are it will be far more beneficial to consume than synthetic CBD, or a cannabinoid-like compound created in a science lab. Because CBD has gained a massive amount of attention in the recent years due to its medical properties, some companies are trying to profit off of that hype by marketing their products as CBD when in reality, they are made with substances that are not derived from the cannabis plant. This puts both patients and the industry at risk. As Michael Bronstein, co-founder of American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp said, “This situation is akin to someone filling drinking bottles with gasoline and selling it under the label of ‘vodka’.”
Nothing beats natural cannabis, and synthetic cannabis can actually be dangerous. A year ago in Utah, the topic gained attention when 50 people became sick after consuming what they thought was CBD. It turned out that the product they had been using was mislabeled—it was actually a product containing a synthetic cannabinoid called 4-cyano CUMYL-BUTINACA, or 4-CCB for short. In addition to getting people sick, synthetic products labeled as natural CBD delegitimize a nascent industry that continues to be a politically divisive.
If CBD is your aim, make sure it comes from cannabis. Be it a low-THC hemp product or a strain containing psychoactive amounts of THC, your best bet is the real thing.
Why Would Anyone Want Low THC Cannabis?
THC isn’t the only cannabinoid housed in the cannabis plant. There are about one hundred cannabinoids, but the second most well-known of these fascinating compounds is cannabidiol, or CBD. CBD is a non-psychoactive molecule loaded with a range of therapeutic attributes. CBD has been identified as an anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, neuro-protective, analgesic, anxiolytic, anti-proliferative substance with the enormous perks of being naturally produced and causing almost no side effects. Although THC is therapeutic in its own right, it does induce a mind-altering effect that some people are uncomfortable experiencing. Medical patients, for example, may be more interested in consuming a low-THC cannabis product so that their medication does not interfere with their day-to-day responsibilities. This is especially true for pediatric patients since the science on cannabis use among children suggests that THC could have some negative effects on cognitive development.
A preference to avoid psychoactive effects isn’t the only reason that consumers and companies are increasingly interested in CBD products. There is a legal benefit to it as well. Although both CBD and THC are designated as federally illegal according to the drug schedule, over half of the country has legalized cannabis for medical use. The catch is that not all cannabis has been legalized for medical use in these states. Many states have strict CBD-only requirements that exclusively provide patients access to medicine with extremely small amounts of THC. That’s problematic in its own right—the synergy between CBD and THC leads to the most potent medicinal effects. Even so, CBD is a powerful therapeutic compound in its own right, and an increased availability of CBD products will benefit people who live in states with these kinds of restrictions.
Additionally, while hemp was banned for years as well, its import and sale are legal. Cultivating hemp is in a legally gray area in the US—the Agricultural Act of 2014 made it possible for state-approved programs to cultivate hemp for industrial use or research, and most states have taken advantage of this law. Regardless of whether a state allows the cultivation of hemp, it’s common to find hemp products at most grocery stores. This creates the possibility for people who live in states with no legal-cannabis options to potentially purchase hemp-derived CBD products without breaking the law. Another advantage to hemp products is that the trace amounts of THC they contain are not easily detected by drug tests, so medical cannabis users who could lose their jobs if a drug screen for THC came back positive (a problem for patients even in states with legalized cannabis) can continue to medicate without the fear of termination.