There is a lot of confusion about hemp and what we popularly know as “marijuana.” Most people assume that hemp and marijuana is the same thing. Historically, the government has lumped them together as banned substances. It doesn’t help that some medical cannabis proponents refer to it as “hemp oil.”
What is hemp and how is it different from medical cannabis?
Although hemp is technically a cannabis plant, it is a very different variety from the cannabis that is used recreationally and medicinally. The website, HempEthics, defines hemp in this way:
The term ‘Hemp’ commonly refers to the industrial/commercial use of the cannabis stalk and seed for textiles, foods, papers, body care products, detergents, plastics and building materials.
Hemp is an amazingly versatile and useful plant, not unlike its medical cannabis cousin in this regard. However, the similarity might end there. In addition to usage, there are several other ways that hemp and recreational/medical cannabis differ, according to HempEthics.
- Unlike recreational cannabis that has been bred over the years to yield high THC (the psychoactive compound responsible for feeling “high,” as well as having a number of documented medical benefits), industrial hemp is very low in THC.
- In hemp, it’s the stalks and seeds that matter. The stalk provides strong fiber for making rope, paper, textiles, and building materials and the seeds can be turned into cooking oil and food products, body care products, and biofuel. In recreational/medical cannabis, the prized parts of the plant are the buds and flowers of the female plant, the source of THC and CBD and other beneficial components.
- Hemp and marijuana plants look entirely different. Hemp more closely resembles bamboo in the length and woodiness of the stalks and grows to an average height of 10-15 feet before harvest. In contrast, marijuana plants grow to an average height of 5 feet, with leaves and buds that grow out rather than up. Hence, hemp can be grown packed closely together whereas marijuana plants require a lot of space.
- The growing conditions and environments also differ for each kind of plant. Recreational/medicinal cannabis plants need warm, humid environments to grow. The more delicate parts of the plant—the buds—require a lot of handling which make them suited for indoor cultivation. Hemp plants, on the other hand, are hardy and can grow in a wider range of areas. They thrive in fields that grow crops like corn and produce higher yields than other cannabis plants.
Recently, however, the lines between hemp and recreational/medical cannabis use have become blurred and consumer confusion has spiked as a result of new entrepreneurs—most motivated more by greed than by a genuine interest in wellness—attempting to find a new use for hemp as medicine.
Hemp and the CBD Craze
Marijuana entrepreneurs hoping to cash in on the new demand for CBD and circumvent the federal marijuana ban have increasingly turned to industrial hemp grown in other countries as an alternative source for CBD since importing hemp products is legal. However, while it’s true that hemp contains trace amounts of CBD, these quantities pale in comparison to the high-CBD strains of cannabis.
Unfortunately, rather than being a viable source of CBD for medical cannabis patients, it was revealed recently in a Project CBD report that people have gotten seriously sick as a result of taking contaminated hemp products marketed for its CBD.
The risk of contamination runs high in commercial hemp cultivation since hemp is known for sucking up heavy metals, solvents, pesticides and other toxins from the soil. These toxins then become concentrated and passed along through extraction into the final product.
Let me expose the enterprise of manufacturing CBD-infused hemp products for what it really is – get rich quick schemes riddled with fraud and corruption.
The Hemp Industries Association’s Official Position
The Hemp Industries Association (HIA), concerned about the misrepresentation and misbranding of CBD products marketed as “hemp oil,” issued a June 2014 statement (PDF) to clarify the issue. In it, they state:
It is important for American farmers and processors of hemp to understand that most CBD in products mislabeled as “hemp oil” is a co-product of large-scale hemp stalk and fiber processing facilities in Europe where the fiber is the primary material produced at a large scale.
The HIA defines “hemp oil” as hemp seed oil, (a cooking oil and ingredient in food and body care products) and further states that:
CBD is not a product or component of hemp seeds, and labeling to that effect is misleading and motivated by the desire to take advantage of the legal gray area of CBD under federal law.
The stalks and fiber of hemp don’t contain CBD either, so where does the CBD in hemp come from? “Indirectly, as a co-product of flowers and leaves that are mixed in with the stalks during hemp stalk processing for fiber,” states HIA.
What this means is that hemp has not been grown or processed specifically for CBD, but rather CBD has been an incidental by-product. The hemp processed for fiber is not meant for direct consumption. Hence, up until its dual purpose with CBD extraction, the consequences hadn’t been noticeable if it was grown in contaminated soil.
In a surprising twist, the federal government introduced a 2014 Farm Bill with a provision that takes advantage of the fuzzy definition of “hemp” to also include high CBD cannabis strains with less than .3% THC in their flowering tops. As a result, research can now be done without the plants being treated federally as “marijuana.” This provision also allows “industrial hemp” (the high CBD strains under .3% THC) to be grown for the purpose of producing and selling CBD extracts in states where hemp cultivation is legal. The HIA differentiates these from general hemp, which it clearly states is “not suitable for producing CBD.”
Do the states that permit hemp cultivation understand this difference and offer consumers protection in the event that profiteers decide to extract CBD from the usual hemp variety with the dubious value and hazards that it entails? Obviously not
High quality CBD oil comes from the buds and flowers of CBD-rich strains of cannabis, not from by-product plant material.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER