Treat yourself to a science lesson with this quick primer on cannabis and its most popular ingredients, cannabidiol and THC.
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When browsing major US media outlets on any given day, you’ll likely find a fresh article about cannabis, if not several. Make no mistake about it: When it comes to legal weed, business is booming. Once relegated to the shadows, today the public’s appreciation and desire for the plant known scientifically as Cannabis sativa has surged to historically high levels. And, as a result, modern consumers are now being bombarded by a whole new lexicon of terms. Understanding how hemp and cannabis-derived CBD products stack up can help you make purchase products best suited for your needs.
It can be a bit overwhelming. But before you stress over the nuances of different concentrate forms and dig into the deeper end of terpene research, the best place to start is establishing a firm appreciation for the differences between cannabis and cannabidiol (more commonly known as CBD). When we talk about cannabis, we’re referring to the whole plant. Whereas CBD (short for cannabidiol) is a specific cannabinoid that plant produces. You’re likely already familiar with the other cannabinoid Cannabis sativa naturally produces in high concentrations: THC (short for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol).
Choosing the Right CBD and Cannabis Products
In the simplest of terms, THC is the cannabinoid that makes one feel intoxicated or “high.” CBD, on the other hand, can’t be felt psychoactively. But it can offer many physical and mental benefits, such as easing anxiety or soothing aching muscles. Adding to the complexity is the fact that today’s marketplace is fractured into what one will find at a licensed dispensary and what’s available at your nearest gas station.
The key distinction in that situation stems from the source of the CBD, which can be derived either from hemp or Cannabis sativa. Unlike Cannabis sativa, however, hemp does not naturally produce significant levels of THC, though both are, technically speaking, types of cannabis plants. Thanks to the success of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3% THC) are now federally legal, though some state laws continue to prohibit them.
By contrast, cannabis-derived CBD products remain illegal in the eyes of the federal government but are available in states with legal cannabis markets. Given the CBD produced by both types of cannabis (hemp and sativa) is molecularly identical, you may wonder why it would be necessary to shop at a dispensary—and pay a higher price—for CBD when you could just grab some on your next run to the grocery store.
Consider the Source
There are, it turns out, several valid reasons to consider, including the fact that a lack of regulation on the part of hemp-derived CBD products makes the validity of what you’re purchasing difficult to trust. It could be as advertised, no question, but very little is happening behind the scenes to ensure that is the case.
However, the CBD you’ll find on dispensary shelves and available through licensed delivery services is beholden to strict regulations that include testing for safety and accuracy. Furthermore, there’s another facet of the equation: the entourage effect. The idea behind this concept is that cannabinoids may be the most effective when they’re working together. Thus, taking a form of CBD with no more than 0.3% THC may not be as potent, in the medicinal sense, as consuming cannabis-derived CBD products that also feature minor amounts of a given strain’s other cannabinoids and terpenes. Collectively, such formulas are what’s known as “full-plant medicine,” which remains the gold standard for entourage effect disciples.
Adding ballast to this deluge of information are the encouraging studies and testimonials we’re seeing that highlight the ways in which CBD is helping people live better lives.
At present, the benefits of CBD are being researched in the treatment of everything from epilepsy and seizure disorders to opioid withdrawal. THC, meanwhile, is commonly cited as a treatment tool in relieving conditions ranging from insomnia to pain. Naturally, the two cannabinoids share a sizeable stretch of common ground when it comes to their potential powers, but as researchers continue to probe further, it’s likely we’ll also soon know more about what sets them apart from one another.
Arm Yourself with Knowledge
In the interim, the best course of action is to wield your purchasing power as an informed consumer. Know if what you’re buying is hemp or cannabis-derived CBD. The verdict on CBD’s efficacy is still out, at least in the court of public opinion, so trying to ensure the products you’re using are valid, high-quality reflections of this essential cannabinoid is imperative if we’re to create a marketplace that ultimately consists not of choices between real versus fake, but simply brand of preference.
We may not be there yet, but the day is rapidly coming, so with a full appreciation for the differences between cannabis and CBD, hopefully you now feel empowered to make the most of what this incredible plant — and some of its most notable cannabinoids — have to offer.