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New York recently became the 15th U.S. state to legalize cannabis for recreational use. While 67% of U.S. adults support marijuana legalization, public knowledge about cannabis is low. A third of Americans think hemp and marijuana are the same thing, according to the National Institutes of Health, and many people still search Google to find out whether cannabidiol – a cannabis derivative known as CBD – will get them high, as marijuana does. Hemp, marijuana and CBD are all related, but they differ in significant ways. CBD oil and hemp oils are a growing presence on the health care landscape – what are they and do they really work?

CBD, marijuana and hemp: What is the difference among these cannabis products, and which are legal?

This article was written in The Conversation by Trey Malone, assistant professor in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and extension economist at Michigan State, and Brandon McFadden, assistant professor of applied economics and statistics at the University of Delaware.

New York recently became the 15th U.S. state to legalize cannabis for recreational use.

While 67% of U.S. adults support marijuana legalization, public knowledge about cannabis is low. A third of Americans think hemp and marijuana are the same thing, according to the National Institutes of Health, and many people still search Google to find out whether cannabidiol – a cannabis derivative known as CBD – will get them high, as marijuana does.

Hemp, marijuana and CBD are all related, but they differ in significant ways. Here’s what you need to know about their legality, effects and potential health benefits.

Hemp, marijuana and cannabanoidals

Both hemp and marijuana belong to the same species, Cannabis sativa, and the two plants look somewhat similar. However, substantial variation can exist within a species. After all, great Danes and chihuahuas are both dogs, but they have obvious differences.

The defining difference between hemp and marijuana is their psychoactive component: tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Hemp has 0.3% or less THC, meaning hemp-derived products don’t contain enough THC to create the “high” traditionally associated with marijuana.

CBD is a compound found in cannabis. There are hundreds of such compounds, which are termed “cannabinoids,” because they interact with receptors involved in a variety of functions like appetite, anxiety, depression and pain sensation. THC is also a cannabinoid.

Clinical research indicates that CBD is effective at treating epilepsy. Anecdotal evidence suggests it can help with pain and even anxiety – though scientifically the jury is still out on that.

Marijuana, containing both CBD and more THC than hemp, has demonstrated therapeutic benefits for people with epilepsy, nausea, glaucoma and potentially even multiple sclerosis and opioid-dependency disorder.

However, medical research on marijuana is severely restricted by federal law.

The Drug Enforcement Agency categorizes cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance, meaning it handles cannabis as if there is no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Scientists don’t know exactly how CBD works, nor how it interacts with other cannabinoids like THC to give marijuana its added therapeutic effects.

Retail CBD

CBD comes in food, tinctures and oils, just to name a few. Here are some commonly used terms used to describe CBD products in the store.

While the terms “CBD tincture” and “CBD oil” are often used interchangeably, the two are actually different. Tinctures are made by soaking cannabis in alcohol, while oils are made by suspending CBD in a carrier oil, like olive or coconut oil.

“Pure” CBD, also called “CBD isolate,” is called that because all other cannabinoids have been removed. So have terpenes and flavonoids, which give marijuana its strong aroma and earthy flavor.

“Broad spectrum” CBD typically contains at least three other cannabinoids, as well as some terpenes and flavonoids – but still no THC. “Full spectrum” CBD, also called “whole flower” CBD, is similar to broad spectrum but can contain up to 0.3% THC.

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In states where recreational marijuana is legal, the list of cannabis-derived products greatly expands to include CBD with much higher THC content than 0.3%.

There is no standardized dosage of CBD. Some retailers may have enough knowledge to make a recommendation for first-timers. There are also online resources – like this dosage calculator.

Consumers concerned about content and the accuracy of CBD products, which are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, can look for certification from independent lab testing or by scanning a QR code on product packaging.

Note that CBD oil is different from hemp oil – which comes from pressing cannabis seeds, and may not contain CBD – and hempseed oil, which is a source of essential fatty acids and contains no CBD. It’s a nutritional supplement, more like fish oil than CBD oil.

Legal status

Another big difference among hemp, marijuana and CBD is how the law treats them.

Though 15 states have now legalized recreational marijuana, it remains illegal federally in the United States. Technically, those in possession of marijuana in a legal weed state can still be punished under federal law, and traveling across state borders with cannabis is prohibited.

Hemp, on the other hand, was made legal to grow and sell in the United States in the 2018 Farm Bill.

One would assume, then, that hemp-derived CBD should be federally legal in every state because the THC levels don’t surpass 0.3%. But CBD occupies a legal gray area. Several states, such as Nebraska and Idaho, still essentially regulate CBD oil as a Schedule 1 substance akin to marijuana.

Our recent study found that Americans perceive hemp and CBD to be more like over-the-counter medication and THC to be more like a prescription drug. Still, the average person in the U.S. does not view hemp, CBD, THC or even marijuana in the same light as illicit substances like meth and cocaine – even though both are classified by the DEA as having a lower potential for abuse than marijuana.

The current federal prohibition of marijuana, in other words, does not align with the public’s view – though state-based legalization shows that society is moving on without the blessing of politicians on Capitol Hill. U.S. recreational marijuana retail sales may reach US$8.7 billion in 2021, up from $6.7 billion in 2016.

As interest in other cannabinoids, like cannabigerol, or CBG – which some are touting as the new CBD – continues to grow, so too grows the need for further medical research into cannabis.

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CBD oil and hemp oil have different scientific elements, but both claim to fight common ailments that are giving the oils a growing fan base.

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With marijuana usage rising as more U.S. states legalize the controversial but commercially available herb, a cottage industry has developed around the use of marijuana with various claims of healthy attributes on multiple medical fronts.

Officially, marijuana is deemed as Schedule I herbal substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, meaning the drug offers “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the federal government. That categorization was adjusted after the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which included a provision that separated hemp from marijuana, as noted in the Controlled Subject Act.

Millions of users and a growing number of health specialists disagree with any negative tone, noting that marijuana (Cannabis) has health-improving components that deserve a closer look by the medical community.

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According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. The plant contains the mind-altering chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other related compounds. Extracts can also be made from the cannabis plant.”

Virtually all of the health care products derived from the cannabis plant centers around two primary components – CBD (Cannabidiol) oil and hemp oil. Each is used and sold as natural health remedies and, even as they share certain characteristics, they have some important differences, too.

CBD Oil. vs. Hemp Oil

Let’s take a closer look at hemp oil and CBD oil and see how they compare – and how they differ.

What Is CBD Oil?

CBD oil is derived from the Cannabis sativa plant and is known scientifically as cannabidiol. CBD is one of 120 known chemical compounds embedded in marijuana plants and differs from hemp in that it contains Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the primary psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis.

THC levels vary from plant to plant and CBD is largely considered by scientists not to be psychoactive on its own, but foes contain health-improving components that aid individuals suffering from a wide array of medical issues, including high blood pressure, anxiety, and trouble sleeping, among other maladies.

What health care providers want from CBD is the oil – the main component in the growing number of CBD-based alternative health care products on the marketplace.

CBD oil is extracted from the cannabis plant and then mixed with other herbs and oils to create the CBD oils most often seen in health care products and sold to the public, with varying degrees of validation from health care professionals.

What Is Hemp Oil?

Hemp oil is also derived from Cannabis sativa, which contains the chemical element trans-delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabis component that gives marijuana its psychosomatic kick. Hemp oil is extracted from the leaves, petals and seeds from a hemp plant.

Yet Cannabis sativa plants have different levels of THC and that is a major factor in defining hemp oil versus CBD oil. Basically, any cannabis sativa plant that contains more than 0.3% of THC is considered to be marijuana. Anything less than 0.3% THC is considered hemp.

Thus even though Cannabis sativa and hemp a derived from the very same plant species, they are different based on the levels of THC embedded in the plant.

What both CBD oil and hemp oil do have in common is neither is linked to THC and therefore won’t provide that psychological “high” so often attributed to THC.

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Instead, the human body manages cannabinoids through its endocannabinoid system, also known as ECS, which can process CBD and hemp oil through the body and is managed by the human brain, which uses cannabinoids to regulate the body’s physiological reactions to the herb, and help better manage key human elements like eating, sleeping, dealing with pains and illnesses, and improving mood.

Structurally, the primary variance between hemp oil and CBD oil is that hemp oil can only be extracted from a hemp plant. That’s not the case with CBD oil, which can be extracted from a variety of plants, including hemp plants, marijuana plants, and select other plants, as well.

CBD Oil and Hemp Oil Potential Uses

CBD oil and hemp oil do share similar chemical attributes and are touted as health care solutions to various ailments. CBD oil and hemp oil are often used as a natural supplement to improve human health in the following areas:

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Anxiety. CBD oil is known as a relaxant, with little or no side effects with regular usage.

Depression. According to a number of clinical studies, CBD seems to positively impact serotonin receptors in the human brain, which improves a person’s emotional state and supports better emotional well-being. That’s a helpful attribute for anyone suffering from depression.

Pain relief. Some health experts say that CBD oil can help alleviate chronic pain, primarily by curbing inflammation that can trigger waves of pain on the human body. The oil can also promote better sleep, which can, in turn, fight back against sleep interruption for people experiencing chronic pains, and help cure insomnia in the process.

Skincare. CBD oil is also known to improve a variety of human skin issues, including acne, wrinkles, brown spots. CBD has the anti-inflammatory ingredients to help clear up and prevent acne, while it also has the anti-oxidants to curb aging skin.

Blood pressure. Scientists say that CBD can also aid the lowering of blood pressure in humans, mainly by reducing the body’s systolic pressure in the arteries as the human heart pumps blood. By taking a moderate dosage of CBD oil, some health experts say, an individual can improve blood flow, lower the heart rate and reduce the anxiety the stress often found in patients with high blood pressure.

As a vitamin supplement. Hemp oil, in particular, holds high doses of important vitamins, like Vitamins E, B, B1 and B2. Hemp oil is also an invaluable source of protein and antioxidants and contains high levels of helpful body supplements like potassium, magnesium and fatty acids. (which can also help cure maladies like acne and psoriasis, and is known to improve the human body’s cholesterol levels.

Proper Usage of CBD Oil and Hemp Oil

What are the best ways to use and inject cannabis oils? While delivery mechanisms can vary, the safest and most productive method of taking cannabis oils are as follows:

Ingest the oils orally. CBD oil consumers can also take doses orally, usually by the chewing of hard candy, mints or gummies. Oral usage takes full advantage of the sublingual gland, located right under the tongue, which helps take in the oils faster and more completely, but in a safer and easier manner than injection.

Via beverages. You can also drink cannabis-related beverages (like tea or juices) to intake the oils, but just know that anything that has to pass through the body’s digestive system reduces the bioavailability impact of cannabis oils.

Whatever course you take, keep your general practitioner in the loop and make sure to thoroughly vet any CBD or hemp oil products before hitting “buy” on your phone or dishing out cash at an alternative health product store.

Like any other over-the-counter health care product, CBD oils and hemp oils can vary in the quality of the product, and there are certainly plenty of fly-by-night operators out there looking to rip you off with a no- or low-quality cannabis-based product.

Do your due diligence, read up on cannabis oils, and ask around among family and friends to get their take on cannabis oils they’ve used.

After all, the more research you do, the higher your chances of optimizing your CBD or hemp oil experience.

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