The Straight Dope About Hemp vs Cannabis

Hemp vs cannabis.  Are they the same thing?  

It can get confusing as a lot of older literature (and even some modern) use the terms interchangeably.  

Let's try to take away some of the mystery.

It is true that cannabis and hemp do come from the same plant, Cannabis Sativa.

However, hemp or industrialized hemp contains about 0.3% - 1.5% THC, the intoxicating component that makes you high.  By law to be legally sold on a federal level, it must contain 0.3% THC or less.

Marijuana typically contains 3% - 10% THC.  And these days of legalized cannabis, often much more, as much as 30%.

Throughout this website, unless otherwise noted, hemp refers to the non-psychoactive cousin of cannabis or marijuana.

Yes the terms cannabis and marijuana can be used interchangeably. Some activists insist on calling the plant only by its proper name, cannabis, but we find that a lot of the general public does not know what this is, so we use both in order to leave no doubt.

Hemp vs. Cannabis: What About CBD-Only Hemp Oil Products?

Do not get fooled by the allegedly "legal in all 50 states" CBD-only hemp oil products.  These are NOT the same as high CBD cannabis oils or products.  

Yes it is true that industrial hemp is higher in CDB than THC, technically making these products "high CBD."

But the truth is that hemp is not high enough in either cannabinoid, THC or CBD to be an effective medical treatment.

These products are often manufactured overseas, with no oversight or regulation, and the claims about them are dubious at best.  Likewise, they may not be safe, especially for those with already compromised systems.  

Because industrial hemp contains such small quantities of CBD (cannabidiol), large amounts are needed to extract a small amount of CBD.  

As we will discuss later in this article, hemp is “bio-accumulator” that draws toxins from the ground, so having to process so much plant material to extract such a small amount of CBD can increase the risk of toxic contaminants being passed on to the patient.

The legality of the products are also questionable. Federal law does allow does allow the sale of imported, low-THC, industrial hemp products, provided that these products are derived from the seed or stalk of the plant, as opposed to the leaves and flowers. 

However, according to expert Martin Lee at Project CDB, Cannabidiol can’t be extracted from hemp seeds, only from the flowers and leaves and, to a very minor extent, the stems, putting the legality claims in a legal gray area at best.

Full Spectrum Hemp, the CBD Exception

All the terminology can get confusing and to make it even more so, let's talk about full spectrum or phytocannabinoid rich hemp.  

As we talk about above, we want to avoid industrial hemp.  However these is a new breed of phytocannabinoid rich hemp being cultivated for its high CBD content.

What you should look for in quality CBD products are organic products labeled as full spectrum hemp, or phytocannabiniod rich hemp.  

These products will contain a full array of cannabinoids, minus THC.

Also, know that CBD works better with at least some THC in the mix.  But that's an article for another time.

Hemp vs. Cannabis: Is Rick Simpson Oil Hemp or Cannabis?

The semantics confusion can worsen if one learns about Rick Simpson Oil or RSO.  

Simpson, a Canadian who claims to have cured his own skin cancer and various other types of cancers, popularized a concentrated cannabis oil also known as "Rick Simpson Oil" or "Phoenix Tears."  

Simpson's amazing story is chronicled in the documentary Run from the Cure.

While he did not invent the process of making the oil, Simpson did make it popular.  

There are no doubt, better, safer ways to make cannabis concentrate oil, like using food grade alcohol instead of hexane or napthane, but many who had no alternatives swear by the RSO that Simpson's video internet instructions taught them to make.

What is not known is why Simpson felt the need to confuse the hemp/marijuana issue further, by referring to his oil throughout the film as "Hemp Oil."  

This is not true.  Unlike the CBD-only hemp products we discussed above which are made from phytocannabinoid rich hemp, RSO/Rick Simpson Oil/Phoenix Tears are all made from THC containing cannabis or marijuana.

Hemp Can Save the Our Bodies and Our Planet

hemp twine

Hemp twine

Despite the federal government’s uninformed claims, you will NOT get high smoking hemp.

But you can make over 25,000 products from it including fuel, paper, plastic, fabrics, concrete and much, much, much more.  

It is easy to grow in most every climate and does not require huge amounts of water.  Most of the products can be made more cheaply and in a more ecologically responsible manner than their more traditional counterparts.

Hemp is also one of the world's most nutritious foods.  Sprinkle hemp seeds on most everything to pack a nutritional punch.  

Hemp flour, made from finely ground hemp, can be partially substituted for regular flours in a wide variety of recipes.  

Hemp can help feed the planet as it's easy to grow without a lot of resources.

Nutritionally hemp is not only rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals, it is a complete protein with all 20 amino acids, including the 9 essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce.  Hemp contains a 3:1 balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which promote cardiovascular health, and it is rich in both soluble and non-soluble fiber.

Not only is hemp good for the human body, it is good for the planet.  

Cannabis Sativa can truly be considered the super hero of plants, and I am not even talking about more than the 25,000 plus products that can be made from hemp in a less expensive and more environmentally friendly way than are currently made with paper, plastics, petroleum products and more.  

Hemp has actually been found to absorb nuclear contamination and toxic metals from the soil in a process called phytoremediation. It was used to help clean up the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl and holds promise in helping with Japan’s Fukushima clean up.

What’s standing in the way? Government regulations and bans on growing cannabis and hemp.

Learn More

Learn more about the amazing qualities of hemp and the political obstacles standing in its way at the National Hemp Association's website.

About the author 

Senior Stoner Staff Writer

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