In today’s legal cannabis market, hemp-derived CBD supplements, especially CBD hemp oil, are a rapidly growing industry. Considered federally legal in the United States as a dietary supplement, hemp-based CBD companies have the ability to ship to all 50 states, gaining a market share legal cannabis-producers cannot… e-commerce. However, with so many products available in the market, the choices can be overwhelming.

With the opportunity for imposter products and even toxic additives, it’s important to understand the differences and make an educated decision before buying any product.

The Difference Between Marijuana and Hemp

Oddly, marijuana and hemp are the same species of plant, Cannabis Sativa, which doesn’t make explaining the difference any easier. A common misconception refers to hemp as the male sex of the cannabis sativa. This simply isn’t true. Hemp has both male and female plants the same as marijuana. Just as with marijuana plants, the female hemp plant produces the goods, in this case, seeds and fibers. However, the actual differences are more complex and lie in several categories.

Chemical Composition

While the molecule of cannabidiol, or CBD, is exactly the same whether it’s extracted from hemp or cannabis, the overall cannabinoid content makes a difference in the separation of hemp and cannabis plants. Industrial hemp is required to have less than .3% THC by specific government regulations, while medical grade cannabis can reach 30% or more in ideal growing conditions.

On the other hand, industrial hemp is also relatively low in producing CBD with an average around 3.5%, yet medical grade cannabis can reach 20%+ in CBD content depending on genetics and stringently controlled environmental conditions. In addition, hemp doesn’t have the same terpene profile as cannabis, which plays a role in the effects of cannabis, both medicinally and recreationally.

Even in appearance, hemp and cannabis do not compare. Hemp is taller, lighter in color with thinner leaves, and plants are grown closely together, which makes the plant look bamboo-like in appearance. From a distance, the flowers can appear similar, but hemp flowers are bursting with seed pods, while medical cannabis plants are usually bursting with white, glistening trichomes. Cannabis plants are usually a full, darker green plant which more resembles a small tree or bush.

How It’s Grown

Part of the difference in the chemical composition of the plants has to do with how the plant was cultivated. Industrial hemp is grown in large outdoor fields, planted by machinery, and harvested with tractors. This crop is relatively easy to grow and takes little maintenance. In fact, industrial hemp isn’t held to the same cultivation standards as regulated cannabis. Therefore, be aware that some hemp extracts could contain contaminants and toxins.

Hemp is a bio-accumulator, meaning it draws the toxins out of the soil its grown in. With little testing required for ‘dietary supplements’ by FDA standards many CBD hemp oils, especially those grown in other countries, could contain dangerous chemical toxins left behind by pesticides and herbicides used during the season.

Medical-quality cannabis plants, on the other hand, are nurtured in a controlled environment. While there are many large outdoor cultivation facilities in California, a majority of cannabis for medical purposes in the United States is grown indoors. In Colorado, it is required by law all cannabis is grown indoors.

Master growers put time, attention, and love into their crop. Plants are usually given between three and six feet of space to grow, and most crops are harvested by hand. A delicate blend of nutrients is used, along with high-tech lighting systems, and automated grow management systems to produce specific cannabinoid yields.

Extraction Process

Because the amount of CBD found in hemp is much less than that found in CBD-rich cannabis, it takes a large amount of material to produce a small amount of CBD hemp oil. Plus, by federal regulation, the extraction must come from stalks and seeds only, whereas cannabis CBD is extracted from the flowers of the plant where the cannabinoid content is the highest.

Most extraction methods require the use of solvents which can leave residue behind the final product. Again, without testing standards supplied by a regulated cannabis market, there’s a risk of many harmful byproducts slipping into the dietary supplement market.

Whole-Plant, Full-Spectrum CBD’s

Many of the products available online claim 100% pure CBD oil. By extracting the CBD molecule alone, consumers are missing out on other vital terpenes and cannabinoids from the plant which work with CBD to produce its amazing benefits.

Science has shown, cannabinoids and terpenoids behave differently together than they do alone. This is called the entourage effect, a synergistic relationship between various compounds within the plant, which work together to produce enhanced effects or benefits.

Armed with this knowledge, many CBD oil manufacturers are starting to produce full-spectrum, whole plant extracts which include other cannabinoids such as CBN, CBG, and CBC. These cannabinoids are found in smaller quantities in the plant, but all have their own set of medicinal properties.

Research has shown CBN is excellent for insomnia, while CBG and CBC are powerful antibacterial and antifungal agents with the promise of fighting treatment-resistant infections, like MRSA according to a study published in 2008 in the Journal of Natural Products by researchers at the University of London.

CBD is CBD, regardless of what plant it is extracted from – the molecule doesn’t change. However, regulations and federal government requirements, along with how it’s grown and how it’s processed is really what defines the differences between CBD hemp oil and cannabis-derived CBD oil.

Hemp CBD is less efficient, taking much more plant material to produce the same amount of product, plus it may be missing other vital terpenes and cannabinoids, or worse it may be contaminated due to industrial farming practices or chemical-laden soil.

Taking time to research where your CBD supplement originated will help ensure you receive a quality product.