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For a long time, there has been confusion among people regarding the terms used for plants belonging to thecannabaceae family and the chemicals in them. Legal issues further complicate the issue.

Cannabis, hemp, and marijuana are all members of the same plant family, but they have distinct characteristics that set them apart from one another and distinct meanings in US law. Understanding these differences is important not only for knowing these plants' particular properties but also to identify which works best for an individual's specific medicinal needs or recreational preferences.

In this article, we will break down the basics and discuss the hemp vs marijuana difference and the difference between hemp and cannabidiol. Let's dive in!

What is Cannabis?

Cannabis is a plant genus that is native to Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, belonging to thecannabaceae family and containing two primary species: cannabis sativa and cannabis indica. 

The plant is known for its psychoactive and medicinal properties, which are primarily attributed to its chemical compounds called cannabinoids delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Hemp plants grown mainly for food or fiber are cannabis, as well. 

Cannabis has been used for a variety of purposes throughout history besides recreational use, including medicinal use, industrial applications, and spiritual and cultural practices. However, this plant genus has a bit of a checkered reputation, thanks to US law and the erroneous belief that cannabis has no uses beyond just getting stoned.

In sum, cannabis is an umbrella term utilized to refer to both hemp plants and marijuana plants, and should not be confused or utilized when discussing the hemp vs marijuana difference or the difference between hemp and cannabidiol.

What is Hemp?

Hemp is a term used to describe a variety of the Cannabis plant that is cultivated specifically for industrial use, but unlike other varieties of cannabis, hemp is characterized by its low concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound responsible for the "high" associated with marijuana.

Prior to 2018, there was barely any differentiation between hemp and marijuana in US law. With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is legally defined as a cannabis plant containing less than 0.3% THC. Hemp can cross state borders and be freely sold, provided it is produced within the guidelines of the law.

Hemp has been used for various purposes for thousands of years. Historically, it was used to make clothing, ropes, and paper due to its strong, durable fibers. The fibers also have natural antibacterial and antifungal properties.

Today, hemp has even more industrial applications. The fibers from hemp can be used to make a wide range of products beyond rope and paper - they can be used in building materials and biofuels. Hemp seeds and oil extracted from them are also rich in protein, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and other important nutrients.

Common Uses

Hemp seeds are a type of nutrient-rich food that has gained popularity due to their versatility and nutty flavor. To preserve their quality, it is recommended to store hemp seeds in a tightly-sealed container away from light and heat. After opening, most hemp products do need refrigeration to maintain their freshness.

Hemp is a versatile ingredient in the kitchen. You can use hemp seed oil to make a vinaigrette dressing, add hemp seeds to dishes such as rice pilafs or yogurt, and even include them in baked goods like whole wheat muffins. People can use hemp seeds and oils to create dairy-free alternatives and hemp protein powder.

Furthermore, cannibidiol (CBD) products extracted from hemp are also readily available online, in supermarkets, convenience stores, and pharmacies across the country. These products are becoming increasingly popular due to their potential therapeutic effects.

Possible Health Benefits

Source of Protein

One notable benefit is their impressive protein content, which includes all 10 essential amino acids. As a result, hemp seeds and products made from them are an especially attractive option for vegan weightlifters and fitness enthusiasts needing an appropriate substance to achieve their daily protein intake goals.

Healthy Fats

Consuming healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, is essential for maintaining optimal nutrition. The three primary O3 acids include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). For individuals seeking a plant-based supplement of concentrated ALA, hemp seeds and oils are an excellent option. 

Men typically requiresomewhere near 1.6 grams of ALA per day, while women need 1.1 grams. With just 30 grams of hemp seeds, or approximately 3 tablespoons, you'll consume 2.6 grams of ALA, which easily surpasses the daily benchmarks laid out by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Moreover, hemp seeds are a rich source of the omega-6 fatty acid called GLA, and hemp oil contains an even higher percentage. This amino acid has been shown to offer a range of potential health benefits, including reduced inflammation and improved skin health.

Magnesium

Hemp seeds are a rich source of magnesium, with just 30 grams containing 210 milligrams of this essential mineral. Magnesium is a crucial nutrient that plays several vital roles in the body, including metabolizing food and synthesizing fatty acids and proteins, as well as assisting in the transmission of movement impulses from nerves to muscles.

Magnesium can also help the body to relax before bed and encourage sleepiness. Though the exact mechanism isn't clear, scientists do know that magnesium and sleep are linked.

CBD

We'll talk more about CBD in the next section, but this compound has exploded in popularity thanks to its touted health benefits. These include relaxation, stress relief, insomnia relief, and many others.

Thanks to the history of US drug prohibition, research on CBD is still in its infancy. But there's still an emerging body of scientific data to back up CBD's reputation as a natural way to ease anxiety, soothe pain, and promote relaxation.

Entourage Effect

CBD and a tiny bit of THC aren't the only potentially beneficial compounds in hemp. Natural hemp features a wide range of substances called terpenes, as well as some compounds chemically similar to CBD.

This produces what the CBD community calls the “entourage effect.” Terpenes and other compounds help to modulate and sometimes strengthen CBD's effects. This is the real difference between hemp and cannabidiol and why more natural hemp products are best - they contain more of these compounds that may be part of pain relief and other benefits.

Precautions for Use

Hemp oil, seeds, CBD, and other products derived from the plant are generally considered safe to consume and carry few or no adverse side effects. This is part of the hemp vs marijuana difference.

While hemp seeds offer numerous health benefits, they also contain compounds that can impact mineral absorption in the body. Phytic acid is one such compound, and one such study conducted in 2020 found hemp seeds to be particularly high in this substance. Phytic acid can hinder the absorption of iron and other essential minerals, potentially leading to nutrient deficiencies.

Furthermore, research conducted in 2007 found that hemp seeds can slow platelet formation and interact with blood thinners, increasing the risk of dangerous bleeding. As always, consult with your physician before consuming large amounts of hemp seeds or hemp-derived products. 

CBD can also cause some changes in liver markers in blood tests. While these aren't uncommon (acetaminophen-containing drugs can cause this, too) and are generally not a concern, talk with your doctor if you have a compromised liver before starting CBD.

The Difference Between Hemp and Cannabidiol

Hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) are both derived from the cannabis plant, but they are not the same thing. As mentioned previously, hemp refers to strains of the cannabis plant that contain less than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive compound that produces a "high." CBD, on the other hand, is merely a compound found in both hemp and marijuana. 

Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive and does not produce a "high." Instead, it is believed to have a range of therapeutic effects, including reducing anxiety, inflammation, and pain. CBD can be extracted from both hemp and marijuana plants, but it is typically derived from hemp because of its lower THC content.

It is worth noting that while hemp and CBD are distinct from each other, the terms are sometimes used interchangeably in the natural wellness space. The difference between hemp and cannabidiol may be seen as one of marketing - saying CBD emphasizes the scientifically-proven properties of the plant while saying hemp emphasizes how natural and historical the plant is. 

What is Marijuana?

Hemp's more psychoactive cousin, marijuana (also referred to as weed), is a plant in the cannabis genus and is used for various purposes, including recreation, medicine, and spirituality. It contains high levels of THC (as opposed to hemp), which is primarily responsible for marijuana's psychoactive effects (i.e., giving users the "high" feeling).

Marijuana can be consumed in different forms, including smoking, vaporizing, and ingesting, and the effects of the drug can vary depending on various factors, such as the dose, the potency of the plant, the method of consumption, and the user's tolerance, as well as other consumer-specific variables.

The plant has a long history of use, with evidence suggesting that it was used for medicinal and spiritual purposes in ancient civilizations. While modern American views on marijuana have changed tremendously since the 1990s, the plant is still mostly or completely illegal in 11 states. Most of the rest place it under greater scrutiny, allowing purchases only at licensed dispensaries and sometimes requiring a doctor's note.

Common Uses

Marijuana can be consumed through a variety of methods. The most traditional way is to grind the flowers and leaves and smoke it in a pipe or rolled cigarette. Extracted oil can be vaped, smoked, or used in cookies, candies, and other “edibles.”

Most marijuana users feel the effects of the drug in as little as five minutes by smoking the plant, whereas those who ingest it via edibles can experience the “high” in as much as 1 to 2 hours after ingesting it.

Possible Health Benefits

The vast number of chemical compounds found in marijuana – of which many are body-benefitting cannabinoids that can also be found in hemp – have given rise to the plant's new legal status in most states. As with hemp, while more research is needed to fully understand all of the drug's effects, the current body of research's findings are promising.

Chronic Pain Relief

According to a 2022 review, clinical research has shown that medications containing both THC and CBD can be effective in treating chronic pain, specifically:

  • Neuropathic pain (pain caused by damaged nerves common to fibromyalgia and diabetes)
  • Nociceptive pain (pain caused by inflammation in your body or organs)
  • Nociplastic pain (pain that's highly modulated by the brain and nervous system)

The study further suggests that this combination of cannabinoids is generally better tolerated, safer, and less addictive than opioid-based analgesics.

These healing properties that marijuana seemingly possesses have made the plant a popular recovery supplement for high-performance athletes. This is especially true for those in contact sports that need their muscles to recuperate from the endless amounts of body blows that their bodies will sustain over the course of a season or their careers as a whole.

Improving Sleep Quality

It's no secret that marijuana (particularly the indica strain) makes people rather sleepy, which has made the plant a useful sleep aid for those who struggle to get some shuteye or fall into a deep sleep.

In 2018, a study reported that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) patients who took a synthetic form of THC called dronabinol before bedtime experienced a decrease in the frequency of their breathing interruptions during sleep. The study observed that the 10-milligram dose was more effective than the 2.5-milligram dose and the placebo in achieving this result, and the participants who took the drug also reported more pronounced feelings of drowsiness.

Increased Appetite

Apart from its ability to induce euphoria, the increase in appetite that marijuana can cause is perhaps one of its most widely recognized effects, often referred to as "the munchies". Historical records suggest that people as far back as 300 BCE recognized that cannabis could stimulate the appetite, particularly for sweet and savory foods.

This is because THC activates the CB1 receptors in various parts of the body that regulate appetite, including the basal ganglia, limbic forebrain, stomach, small intestine, hypothalamus, and rhombencephalon. By activating these receptors, THC can decrease levels of peptide tyrosine tyrosine, increase levels of ghrelin, and activate the mTOR pathway, all of which can increase your appetite.

Moreover, the cannabinoids found in weed have been suggested to have the potential to alleviate various health conditions, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Inflammation
  • Pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting associated with chemotherapy
  • Muscle tightness in MS patients

They've even been purported to stimulate appetite and weight gain in cancer and AIDS patients. These cannabinoids may have the ability to kill cancer cells and slow down tumor growth.

Precautions for Use and the Hemp vs Marijuana Difference

The list of precautions, when comparing the hemp vs marijuana difference, is naturally far more extensive for the latter because of the nature in which it is regularly consumed and the plant's potentially harmful properties.

The risks of smoking cannabis are the same as smoking any substance - it can cause breathing difficulties and lead to lung cancer, among other risks. Individuals with pulmonary disease should be cautious when smoking cannabis or any other substance due to the potential risks involved. 

Moreover, while marijuana isn't a physically addictive drug in the same way that alcohol or heroin are, it still has the potential for dependence. People may be preoccupied with getting and taking marijuana and may feel that they can't cope without the drug. Quitting may induce symptoms like increased anxiety and trouble sleeping.

Thankfully, marijuana dependence can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy and other interventions. Users should be aware of the risk of dependence and their own patterns of use.

Most marijuana strains contain both CBD and some of the terpenes responsible for the entourage effect. This means that consuming hemp products and supplements may be a less risky way to get the health and calming benefits of marijuana use. The hemp vs marijuana difference is all about THC - the plants both contain many of the same beneficial chemicals.

Hemp and Marijuana - Two Different Entities

Understanding the hemp vs marijuana difference is crucial for anyone looking to explore the world of cannabis products. While both come from the same cannabis genus, they have distinct characteristics that make them unique and better suited for specific individuals and preferences.  

Hemp is defined by the 2018 Farm Bill as containing 0.3% or less of THC and is often used for industrial purposes. It's also legal in all 50 states, though states may put restrictions on products derived from hemp. Marijuana is commonly associated with recreational and spiritual use and has a more complicated legal status in the US.

By taking the time to educate yourself on the difference between hemp and cannabidiol and the hemp vs marijuana difference, you be better able to enjoy the medical benefits of both!

Learn more about our hemp-derived products for sleep, pain relief, and relaxation by following our Doctor's Desk blog!

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Babak Larian, MD, FACS

Dr. Babak Larian, Clinical Chief at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, is a renowned expert in minimally invasive head and neck surgery. Board-certified and active in global medical missions, he also oversees surgical operations at the La Peer Surgery Center and PathMD pathology laboratories.

Dr. Kiarash Michel, MD

Dr. Kia Michel, a globally acclaimed Urological Oncological Surgeon, founded the Comprehensive Urology Medical Group in Los Angeles, known for his expertise in robotic and minimally invasive therapies. Alongside his medical achievements, he contributes to businesses like La Peer Surgery Center, finding joy in nature and bringing smiles to loved ones.

Kamran Jamshidinia, DPM, FACFAS

Dr. Jamshidinia, a certified Foot and Ankle Surgeon and Fellow of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, founded Tower Foot & Ankle Surgery and co-founded successful enterprises, including La Peer Health Systems. His involvement in medical research and the cannabinoid medicine market, highlights his multifaceted contributions to the field.

Siamak Tabib, MD

Dr. Siamak Tabib, a Board-Certified Gastroenterologist in Beverly Hills, holds a medical degree from UCLA Geffen School of Medicine and serves as Assistant Clinical Professor at UCLA.

He actively contributes to research in digestive diseases, co- founding healthcare entities and advocating for adaptive sports opportunities through his advisory role at Angel City Sports.

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