What’s the difference? Why does it matter?

In recent years, you’ve probably noticed cannabis-based products online or maybe even in some pharmacies or grocery stores.

Medical marijuana law reform in the USA is blazing from state to state now, but federally, the plant is still illegal. So, how are all of these marijuana products being sold legally all over the country?

How hemp happened

In 2014, the United States Congress passed H.R. 2642, also known as the US Farm Bill, which removed hemp from the DEA’s controlled substances list (as long as it contained no more than 0.3% THC).

It allowed for state institutions and universities to grow hemp for “agricultural and academic research”.

The following year, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act was passed, allowing US farmers to grow industrial hemp legally, again, as long it contained no more than 0.3% of THC.

By default, the laws legalized CBD (or cannabidiol) if it had been derived from the stalks of industrial hemp. Kind of… There was a loophole in the law. It opened the doors for an unregulated market of hemp oil manufacturers.

State and federal agencies have cracked down on hemp and medical marijuana industries this year. After several raids in different states, 2017 ignited a slew of court cases.

Some producers have been prosecuted for mislabelling legal products, and others for allegedly operating outside of accordance to state or federal law.

How big is the hemp industry?

In 2016, the hemp-derived CBD market reached US$202 million. Over the next three years it’s estimated to grow by an astounding 700%, reaching $2.1 billion in 2020.

CBD industry giants are making huge profits from their products. But behind all the marketing claims, what’s really being sold to the masses?

Marijuana, cannabis or hemp?

In order to understand the answer to that question, you have to first learn a little bit more about cannabis. Marijuana is a slang term that originally referred to the dried cannabis flowers.

Today it’s used more generally, and can refer to the plant, its flowers, and its derived medicines. It can also be used to differentiate between cannabis and hemp plants.

Cannabis is the appropriate term to refer to the plant and its flowers, which are classified into three species: Indica, Sativa, and Ruderalis. Each species has countless variations, or strains, and each produces varying amounts of cannabinoids like CBD and THC.

Hemp simply refers to any cannabis that is very low in THC. Industrial hemp, from which the majority of CBD oil on the market is derived, differs greatly from regular hemp for various reasons.


Industrial Hemp

  • Grown for fibre, food, fuel, and other resources.
  • Produces low amounts of resin and CBD.
  • Tall and thin, resembling bamboo.

Marijuana / Hemp

  • Grown for resins and oils found in its flowers.
  • Produces high amounts of CBD rich resin.
  • Bushy, with thick flowers, resembling marijuana.

Industrial hemp and CBD extraction

Demand for CBD oil in the US has increased exponentially in the past few years, but local farmers have only just started growing it legally.

Farmers can’t possibly supply enough to meet the demand for the US hemp industry. The majority of cannabis extract that supplies the hemp oil industry comes from industrial hemp grown in China, Russia and South Korea.

They’re the leaders of the world in industrial hemp agriculture, accounting for some 70% of global production. Canada also sells about $10 million in hemp products to the United States each year.

Problems with industrial hemp

A serious concern about CBD oil sourced from industrial hemp is based on the fact that cannabis is a known bioaccumulator.

That means it absorbs things like radiation and heavy metals from the environment. Some countries have actually grown the crop in an effort to reduce radiation levels in the land.

In order to produce viable CBD extract from industrial hemp, a vast amount of the plant has to be grown and processed, increasing the risk of contamination.

Because of cannabis’s ability to absorb heavy metals and other toxins, CBD extracted from industrial hemp has a high potential to be contaminated with toxins.

Toxic contamination found in industrial hemp-based products

In order to extract CBD from the tons of industrial hemp needed to produce it, various chemical solvents are used. Residue from these chemicals can remain in the extract and contaminate it.

This was the case for an industrial hemp oil, RSHO, sold by the company HempMeds.

“Real Scientific Hemp Oil” was called into question after allegations that it had made several people ill, primarily Jaqie Warrior. She claimed that the oil caused severe gastrointestinal problems.

Her mother Brittany filed a complaint with the FDA about the product in 2014. Several labs analyzed allegedly contaminated batches of the RSHO and found significant levels of heavy metals, including:

  • Nickel
  • Selenium
  • Molybdenum
  • Arsenic
  • Silver

Another case of alleged hemp oil poisoning comes from a child patient who was undergoing chemotherapy for leukaemia.

The hemp oil in question was from the same company, HempMeds. The contaminated oil was analyzed for toxins and found high amounts solvent residues, including:

  • Hexane
  • Pentane
  • Butane
  • Ethyl acetate (nail polish remover)

All of these are toxic, especially to children whose health is already compromised.

Full-spectrum CBD Oil

As we discussed, cannabis has varying strains. They can all grow to produce different levels of cannabinoids and terpenes. For at least 50 years, medical marijuana growers have been selectively breeding cannabis strains, developing what’s known as high-CBD strains.

Medical marijuana

In places like northern California, southern Oregon, and British Columbia, the norm for CBD content in medical marijuana strains like ACDC is upwards of 20%.

Breeders can also create strains with high amounts of both CBD and THC, but most high-CBD strains have as little as 4% or 5% THC, or lower.

The difference

Industrial hemp isn’t grown for its flowers, but rather its fibrous stalk. When hemp is grown for its flowers, the resulting resin is referred to as whole-plant extract.

Hemp flowers produce copious amounts of a sticky resin, and in that resin lays the medicine. CBD oil sourced from flowers will have a full-spectrum of secondary cannabinoids and terpenes that work synergistically, enhancing the plant’s medicinal potential.

Cannabinoids and terpenes produce a complex medical phenomenon called “the entourage effect”. To learn more about it, read my article linked here .

Learn all about making homeopathic cannabis infusions in my article here .

Whole-plant vs. isolate extract

Isolate limitations

Scientific research into CBD extract has shown that, by itself, isolated cannabidiol is clinically limited by its bell-shaped dose response. That means that increasing dosage doesn’t increase the medicinal effect.

Breaking the barriers

However, recent findings from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have discovered how to overcome this limitation. At the same time, they validated the importance of whole-plant full-spectrum CBD oil as a therapeutic medicine.

Researchers from the study looked at the difference in the effect of purified CBD isolate versus whole plant CBD extract in reducing pain and inflammation. They published their findings in the journal Pharmacology & Pharmacy, stating:

CBD has been shown to be a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety drug, without exerting a psychotropic effect…

“In stark contrast to purified CBD, [whole-plant extract] , provided a clear correlation between the anti-inflammatory and anti-nociceptive responses in the dose…

“… with increasing responses upon increasing doses , which makes this plant ideal for clinical uses .”

Marijuana and medicine

Oil and CBD products derived from industrial hemp merely represent a legal loophole. Those who boldly stepped into the hemp industry have made a path for cannabis awareness.

However, the only reason for CBD to be sourced from industrial hemp, and not whole plants, is due to issues of cannabis’ legality. Where there is demand, someone will always supply.

After the era of marijuana prohibition, the need to source CBD from industrial hemp will become obsolete.

CBD oils are safest and most effective when ethically sourced from organically grown cannabis flowers and extracted using non-toxic methods.

CBD products can contain varying ratios of terpenes and cannabinoids. According to research, CBD’s medicinal effects are greatly enhanced by the presence of a full-spectrum of terpenes and cannabinoids.

Learn more about cannabis

You can learn more about this in my article on the entourage effect .

To learn more about how to find the right CBD oil that’s the most effective and safe for you, read our article linked here .

What do you think about marijuana being used as a medicine? Have you ever used hemp oil or whole-plant derived cannabis oil to treat any medical conditions?

Become a part of the discussion in the comments section below and share with us your experience with cannabis-based medicines.