Cannabis Science - Cannabis Studies
March 21, 2019

The Difference Between Hemp and Cannabis CBD

Mel Perron
6 min

The cannabis industry has a lingo all of its own, which can be intimidating when discerning which product is right for you.

Cannabis is full of substances called cannabinoids which interact with receptors in your body. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the cannabinoid responsible for the intoxicating effects of cannabis that individuals experience.

Cannabidiol (CBD), on the other hand, does not contribute to intoxication, and may actually soften the effects of the high produced by THC in some instances (2). CBD is a cannabinoid that is building a reputation for having positive effects on many ailments, such as pain, anxiety, and inflammation (4). This makes it a wonderful option for those seeking natural wellness solutions.

“Perfect,” you’re thinking, “I would love to try CBD to ease my [insert relevant ailment here].” But purchasing CBD products may prove to be a little more confusing than one might expect, and it’s easy to get lost in the wave of options that are popping up. Beginning your search for CBD, you will likely see labels like  “Hemp CBD” as well as “Cannabis CBD.”

growing cannabis from seed

What is the difference? Aren’t hemp and cannabis the same thing?

Hemp vs Medical Cannabis

Hemp and medical cannabis are both from the Cannabis Sativa plant, however, the distinction between the two is in the cannabinoid concentrations present in each. To put it simply, cannabis has higher amounts of all of the cannabinoids, while hemp contains a very small amount. Some Cannabis plants are very high in THC, while other plant varieties have very low quantities of the intoxicating cannabinoid. Hemp plants are classified as such because they contain no more than 0.3% THC (3)

Medical cannabis, the plants used to make the Cannabis CBD products you may be considering, are plants with greater THC present in their leaves and flowering heads. To compare, any THC concentration greater than 0.3% bumps the plant out of the industrial hemp classification; medical cannabis may contain quantities as great as 30% THC. This is why you may find hemp products more widely distributed and easily accessible; from a consumer perspective, they are not controlled as highly as medical cannabis products, since hemp cannot be used to create products with an intoxicating property (4).

hemp growing outside as an industrial supply not medicine

Wait a minute — you aren’t looking for THC now, are you? You are looking for CBD, so why does all of this matter?

While CBD levels present do not affect the classification of hemp vs medical cannabis, hemp generally has less CBD in it than its more highly controlled counterpart. This means that it is easier to harvest CBD from medical cannabis than hemp. CBD oil is often produced as a byproduct of hemp, as the plant is typically grown for another purpose.

While reducing waste and working efficiently is noble, CBD extracted as a secondary purpose of the plant is lacking in regulation and therefore may be mingling with pesticides or solvents. Additionally, all cannabis plants absorb toxins from the soil. Since cannabidiol levels are lower in hemp, it requires more plants in order to extract any CBD, increasing the possibility that contaminants or toxins may be present in your finished CBD product (5).

CBD oil in bottle medical cannabis not industrial hemp

But you really want to know how they compare in terms of effect. Which one is best for your personal needs?

That is going to depend on what you’re looking for. Hemp CBD may be right for you if:

  • You are wanting something you can waltz into a health food store and pick up at a lower price point
  • You do not need a high concentration of CBD for medical use or treating symptoms
  • You do not want any notable presence of THC
  • You know the hemp CBD is sourced and extracted well, or you are not concerned with the possible presence of contaminants
  • Cannabis CBD may be right for you if:

You desire a higher concentration of CBD for medical use

  • You are interested in the synergistic properties of pairing THC with CBD
  • You prioritize finding a more heavily regulated product with minimal contaminants
  • A licensed healthcare provider has recommended medical cannabis for your ailment
  • Hold up. What does “synergistic properties” mean?

While it can be extracted for independent use, CBD can also compliment THC and other compounds of cannabis quite nicely. That may make medical cannabis a better option for you than hemp. It’s been noted that many of CBD’s positive attributes often shine best in the presence of THC (and vice versa) as part of whole plant medicine. For example, a combination of equal parts CBD and THC has been reported to be very effective in pain relief for many individuals (1). This is something to take into account when deciding which type of CBD best suited for you.

cannabis grown for CBD distillation medically

What Next?

There is a lot to consider when choosing a CBD product, and the beautiful thing is that the variety of options allow you to select something just right for your individual needs. If you have questions about whether or not medical cannabis or cannabis CBD are right for you, it is a good idea to speak with a physician or Patient Educator about your needs. An individual trained on the medical benefits of cannabis can answer your questions and help you navigate the world of medicinal cannabis.

Works Cited

  • Firefly. (2017, February 23). Maximizing CBD’s Effects and Benefits: 5 Experts Weigh In. Retrieved March 2019, from Leafly:
  • Health Canada. (2018, November 07). Hemp and the hemp industry Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved March 2019, from
  • Health Canada. (2019, February 28). About cannabis. Retrieved March 2018, from
  • Natural Health Services. (2017, October 18). CBD hemp versus CBD cannabis. What’s the difference? A lot. Retrieved March 2019, from Natural Health Services:
  • Project CBD. (n.d.). Cannabis, Hemp & the Law. Retrieved March 2019, from Project CBD:

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