Hemp vs Cannabis

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If you’ve been looking into CBD (Cannabidiol), you have probably come across products containing CBD from hemp, as well as products containing CBD from cannabis. What’s the difference?

The answer is simple -- but also confusing. What we call “Hemp” and “Cannabis” share the same botanical classification: they are examples of Cannabis sp, a plant that evolved in Central Asia before being domesticated thousands of years ago in China and India. Since then, breeders have been refining Cannabis sp strains for many different purposes, including fiber, seeds, oils, and medicine.

In our own era, cannabis prohibition starting in the early twentieth century established the mindset that a single molecule produced by Cannabis sp -- THC -- is the most important feature of Cannabis sp.

The result is a more-or-less international rule stating that any plant of Cannabis sp that contains more than 0.3% THC in its flowers is “cannabis” while those that contain less are “hemp.” It’s simply a legal distinction, not a botanical one.

Agriculturally, “industrial hemp” is Cannabis sp that contains less than 0.3% THC in its flowers and has also been bred to maximize fiber and seed production. It is typically grown outdoors, very close together to yield tall spindly plants (lots of fiber) and easy mechanical harvesting. “industrial hemp” typically yields 3% to 7% CBD production in its flowers.

Meanwhile, “cannabis” is Cannabis sp containing more than 0.3% THC in its flowers -- often substantially more: some modern varieties can reach 30% THC. “Cannabis” cultivation is much more labor intensive than Hemp cultivation, even when it takes place outdoors. Plants are widely spaced to promote branching, and they receive close personal care including frequent trimming to maximize flower production.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen the emergence of a new kind of hybrid -- Cannabis sp that is classified as hemp because of its THC levels, but that is grown in a style more similar to cannabis. This kind of hemp is grown for CBD, a molecule related to THC so similar cultivation techniques help to maximize yield. This type of “hemp” usually includes plenty of “cannabis” genes and can yield CBD levels well above 20%.

Why does this matter for consumers?

“Hemp” and “cannabis” are treated differently in the marketplace. In the United States, cannabis and cannabis products can only be legally sold through state-licensed dispensaries (and it is still Federally illegal). Meanwhile hemp and hemp products can be sold in a wide variety of retail locations, including online. While there are some remaining regulatory questions, the distribution of hemp products is definitively legal across the United States.

To consumers, this means CBD from cannabis is more expensive than CBD from hemp due to its more limited supply, intensive cultivation practices, and state taxes. It also means that CBD from hemp is much more widely available. But it also means that consumers who want more than trace THC with their CBD have far fewer options.

Here at Cultivating Wellness we work with brands using CBD from hemp, focusing on creating the highest standards in the sector. We provide consulting services and also wholesale products containing CBD from hemp. If you’d like to learn more, we’d love to hear from you!