For example, take the newfound surge of interest in medical marijuana and CBD. These substances have already earned themselves a solid fan base, including many in the medical profession as well as patients and people from all walks of life.
But then there is the terminology to wade through. What is CBD versus THC? Is hemp different from marijuana? Is medical marijuana the same as pot? How can you know what to take, how much and when?
In this article, we sort through the jumble of acronyms to help you identify important differences between marijuana, CBD and THC.
The Legal Status of Marijuana
The confusion about the difference between marijuana, CBD and THC began when the federal government passed the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which banned cultivation of commercial hemp along with marijuana.
But what legislators did not fully understand at that time is that hemp and marijuana are two different plant strains within the greater Cannabaceae family of plants. Each plant strain has different active properties and is cultivated for different purposes and uses.
Happily, as of 2018, the government has now lifted the ban against cultivating commercial hemp plants with passage of the Farm Bill.
While cultivating commercial marijuana is not yet legal nationwide, it is legal in a growing number of states.
Even more states now allow use of medical marijuana and that number continues to grow.
What Is Cannabis?
Cannabis is one of several plants belonging to the Cannabaceae plant family. Within the Cannabis genus, there are several related plants. The most important one for our purposes here is Cannabis sativa, or C. sativa.
C. sativa is grown in several strains. Each strain has different active compounds, or properties. In addition, some strains of C. sativa have functional uses as well.
Skilled botanists have carefully cultivated different strains (human-made hybrid plants) of C. sativa to use for different purposes. Just like different strains of coffee plants may produce dark or light roasting beans, different strains of C. sativa have been developed to produce more of some psychoactive compounds and less of others.
Still other strains of C. sativa have been developed for primarily industrial uses, and these plants are cultivated primarily for their fiber (hemp) content.
Some C. sativa strains are high in THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the primary active ingredient found in marijuana. These plants are cultivated to produce marijuana, or “pot” as it is often called among recreational users.
Other C. sativa strains are high in CBD, or cannabidiol, which is the primary active ingredient found in hemp CBD. These plants are cultivated to produce CBD oil and other CBD-based products.
Marijuana Versus Hemp
There is only one basic important difference between the strains of C. sativa that produce marijuana and the strains of C. sativa that produce hemp, and that is the predominant active ingredient in each.
Marijuana has a higher concentration – up to 40 percent – of the active ingredient THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
Hemp has a higher concentration – up to 40 percent – of the active ingredient CBD (cannabidiol).
It is also worth noting that neither THC nor CBD is the only active ingredient in either plant strain. There are more than 113 known active ingredients in both plant strains in addition to THC or CBD.
These additional active ingredients can also provide their own beneficial properties. Concentrations of each active ingredient can vary from one C. sativa plant strain to another.
THC Versus CBD
Perhaps the greatest source of misunderstanding about the difference between marijuana and hemp boils down to these two acronyms: THC and CBD.
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is a psycho-active compound. The word “psycho-active” basically translates to mean “affecting the mind.” THC can produce a mind-altering “high” that has endeared it to many recreational users over the decades (and, arguably, centuries).
THC is the principle active ingredient in marijuana, whether it is used for medical purposes or recreational pot. Different C. sativa strains can have different concentrations of THC, which means that some will have a stronger effect than others.
In states that permit medical THC dispensaries online or locally, knowledgeable staff can help explain the difference between each THC-rich C. sativa strain.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is also an active compound but is not considered to be psycho-active. However, it is a phytocannabinoid, which means it does have beneficial active properties in its own right.
It is important to note that C. sativa plant strains cultivated to make CBD may still have trace amounts of the psychoactive compound THC. Legally, right now in the United States CBD can be legally sold as long as it contains 0.3 percent or less THC (measured by weight).
Reputable manufacturers and distributors will have their CBD products tested so consumers understand exactly how much THC is present in the C. sativa strain used to make the CBD product.
This can be particularly important for people who work in fields that require pre-employment drug testing or random drug testing during employment.
Also, some users who are unusually sensitive to the psychoactive effect of THC will want to be extra-cautious to choose a CBD product that contains the least amount of THC.
The term “THC-free” is used quite a bit in CBD marketing, but chemists say the term “non-detectable” is a more accurate statement since it is not possible to completely erase all natural properties of any botanical.
Why Choose THC or CBD?
Now that you understand that THC is the active compound in marijuana and CBD is the active compound in hemp, it can become quite a bit easier to decide whether an express marijuana card is right for you.
Why Take CBD (Hemp)?
CBD is becoming more and more popular as an alternative to medical THC for one simple reason: hemp C. sativa strains are very low in THC yet are still high in the other beneficial health properties of the Cannabis genus of plants.
CBD strains with non-detectable THC content are generally safe for use even if your employer requires periodic drug testing (always talk with your employer first if you are unsure).
CBD has many of the same health benefits as medical THC along with other health benefits in its own right.
CBD may be the right choice for you if you do not enjoy the high of THC or are sensitive to THC, need to submit to periodic drug testing and are taking it primarily for C. sativa’s known non-psychoactive health benefits.
Why Take THC (Marijuana)?
Researchers are still unclear if there is any sound medicinal benefit from the “high” that the active compound THC produces in users.
In some cases, this feeling of high or euphoria may help ease anxiety. In other cases, the high may actually create anxiety, especially in people who are THC-sensitive.
A marijuana card can also be prescribed for other health reasons. In these cases, the high is generally considered irrelevant. Some strains of C. sativa cultivated for use with an express marijuana card are also lower in THC for this same reason.
If your employer does not require drug testing, you enjoy the high of THC and can benefit from a marijuana card for other health reasons, this might be the right choice for you.
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