Dear Herb: What’s the difference between hemp CBD and marijuana CBD?

Two different types of cannabis, one chemical compound


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Dear Herb: What is the difference between CBD from hemp and CBD from marijuana? — Confused, But Determined

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/04/2019 (1380 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Dear Herb: What is the difference between CBD from hemp and CBD from marijuana? — Confused, But Determined

Dear CBD: Excellent question. Everyone’s talking about CBD (cannabidiol) these days: it’s a cannabinoid with therapeutic applications, but it doesn’t get you high.

Adding to the excitement is the fact that CBD can be extracted from hemp, a variety of cannabis that’s been bred for industrial purposes and contains almost no intoxicating THC. It’s possible to grow large amounts of hemp outdoors at relatively low cost, so hemp-derived CBD looks attractive from a business perspective.

Herb answers your questions about legal consumption and growing, the law, etiquette — you name it, he'll look into it.

(For the rest of this article, I’ll be distinguishing between hemp and “drug-type cannabis,” the kind of cannabis that’s bred for its intoxicating effects or for medical purposes. So far, Canada’s regulated cannabis industry is mostly growing drug-type cannabis indoors, not outdoors.)

Back to your question: Is there a difference between hemp-derived CBD and CBD extracted from drug-type cannabis? I asked botanist Jonathan Page, who’s the chief science officer with Aurora Cannabis.

“At a molecular level, there’s absolutely no difference — they’re completely indistinguishable. In fact, if you had CBD purified from hemp and you had CBD purified from drug-type (cannabis), and it was, say, 99.9 per cent pure, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference,” he said.

But there’s a catch, explained Page. Cannabis consumers can’t go out and buy pure CBD molecules; instead, consumers can buy whole plant extracts that contain CBD along with other cannabinoids, odiferous plant oils called terpenes, and other natural compounds such as flavonoids. According to a theory called the “entourage effect,” taking all of these plant-produced compounds together might make them more effective than simply taking one compound (like CBD) on its own.

So even though the CBD molecules extracted from hemp plants are identical to the CBD molecules extracted from drug-type cannabis plants, it’s possible that other chemical compounds in those whole-plant extracts could change their therapeutic properties in meaningful ways.

CBD remains a controlled substance in Canada, but products purporting to contain hemp-derived CBD aren’t hard to find. To my knowledge, though, no licensed Canadian cannabis producer is currently offering a product that contains CBD extracted from hemp. If you’re buying a regulated CBD product from a licensed cannabis store in Canada today, the CBD almost certainly came from drug-type cannabis, not from hemp.

Page also notes some cannabis users might be looking for products that contain both CBD and THC in various ratios. Because hemp has been bred specifically not to contain a significant amount of THC, cannabis oil extracted from a hemp plant will never contain much THC either.

One last note: hemp-derived CBD oil is entirely different from hemp oil, which is a food product pressed from hemp seeds. Any hemp oil that you find at a grocery store shouldn’t contain a significant amount of CBD. It tastes great on salads, though.

Got a question about cannabis? Herb answers your questions about legal consumption and growing, the law, etiquette — you name it, he’ll look into it.

First, please check this list of questions already answered by Herb. Then, email, or to submit anonymously, fill out the form below. Please include an email address if you’d like to be notified when Herb answers your question:  


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