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Marijuana, cannabis and hemp - what is the difference?

Marijuana, cannabis and hemp - what is the difference?

Because of the huge development in the cannabis extracts and isolates market, we are seeing numerous website pages, social media groups and pages that are currently devoted to this market, and with that comes uncontrolled false information propagated by individuals that have no studies or that are pushing an agenda. Regardless the reasons, the problem is that the false and contradictory information is leaving the customers confused and doubtful. These products have a huge medical potential but unfortunately, in social media groups, exist a never-ending battle against myths and rumors.

Different opinions

Numerous individuals still don't understand that marijuana and hemp are the same plants with the same genus and species, namely either Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica.

Recently, hemp is defined as genetic strains that are higher in Cannabidiol (CBD) and marijuana is defined as the strains that are higher in tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC). CBD and THC are the principal cannabinoids (among several) found in cannabis.

Another explication separates the terms and the products based on the part of the plant and also based on how it is used. The term "hemp" is reserved for the industrial/commercial use of the cannabis stalk and seed for textiles, foods, papers, body care products, detergents, plastics and building materials while the term “marijuana” is used for the recreational and medicinal use of products derived from the flower and leaves.

A third opinion seems to consider hemp as a plant with low cannabinoid content and cannabis as a plant with high cannabinoid content.

Clearly, these perspectives can prompt contradictions because, under one definition, a material with high CBD would be called hemp and under another worldview the same would be called cannabis. Because of this, a lot of people are confused, and we should stop using the trivial names and adopt the chemotype nomenclature from the essential oil industry. For instance, there are numerous chemotypes of basil fundamental oil most every one of them originating from similar family and species Ocimum basilicum. Basil oil that is high in linalool is called Basil ct. linalool. Basil oil that is high in methyl chavicol is alluded to as Basil ct. methyl chavicol. It will be easier if we simply talk about Cannabis ct. CBD or Cannabis ct. THC. This emphasizes that we are discussing the same plant just different strains that produce a different major cannabinoid when extracted and would lead to much less confusion. This brings us to the difference between CBD and THC. THC. While both are very important cannabinoids they have very different observable effects in the human body. It is vague now which is more medically valuable but what is clear is that THC has the additional inconvenience (or advantage contingent upon your point of view) of getting you high. Since CBD does not have the psychoactive effects that THC does, it is thought by many to be the more medicinally useful cannabinoid, at least from a practical usage sense, because the amount needed to be really potent for dealing with serious medical conditions such as seizures or chronic pain can be many hundreds of milligrams per day. If you use a big dosage level of CBD there is no problem, but 100 milligrams of pure THC would turn most people into a zombie for at least 12 hours if they didn’t vomit it out from nausea before then. We aren’t saying that THC isn’t medically useful but there is still much work to be done. Also, there are cases when the combination of both would be an optimal medicinal value. There seems to be a lot of competition between the old-school producers of “marijuana” (Cannabis ct. THC) who have transformed their once illegal activities into huge cash cow businesses in states like Colorado and the relative newcomers on the market who are concentrating on extracts of Cannabis ct. CBD. This contention leads to misinformation that is spread in the world and this is because of the lack of education or because of the economic interests.

Examples of different false statements

For example, you will often hear claims like ” CBD from hemp is not as high quality as CBD from cannabis”. This statement is false on two counts. First of all, CBD from hemp is CBD from cannabis, because cannabis is simply the genus of all these plants. Secondly, CBD is a molecule with a specific three-dimensional structure, it knows not from whence it came. It’s only necessity to be CBD is the unique three-dimensional arrangement of its atoms. So, doesn't make a difference what genetic strain produced the CBD, if it is pure CBD then it’s going to act exactly in the same way in the body, regardless of where it was isolated from.

Other claims you will see are things like “CBD extracts from hemp are not as good as CBD extracts from cannabis because hemp does not have the needed terpenes for the entourage effect.” This statement is also false because again hemp is cannabis but to address the claims about the entourage effect we much first define what that means. The entourage effect in the cannabis world usually refers to the enhanced effectiveness of the cannabinoids offered by the inclusion of the native terpenes of the plant. Some will also state it to more generally refer to the greater effectiveness of using the whole plant extract as opposed to just a single isolated cannabinoid. In the essential oil and fragrant healing world, we would basically call this the synergistic impact, as in the synergy of all the molecules in the essential oil have a more prominent impact than just the sum of its individual parts. What the cannabis world has largely not figured out yet is that what they refer to as the terpene profile of cannabis is simply the essential oil of cannabis. The essential oil is just the volatile organic fraction of the plant obtained by steam or hydrodistillation. The essential oil is a secondary metabolite and basically determines the odor of the cannabis plant of interest. There are literally hundreds of genetic strains of cannabis and if you spent any time smelling the different strains you know that the odor can be all over the place. But regardless of the odor, the essential oil is typically mainly comprised of three main terpenes, namely myrcene, alpha-humulene, and beta-caryophyllene. Myrcene is a monoterpene while alpha-humulene and beta-caryophyllene are sesquiterpenes. The variance in odor, regardless of coming from “hemp” or “marijuana” is due to the varying ratios of these components along with the variance in all the other minor terpene and terpenoid components, which can range into the hundreds if you dig deep enough into your analysis. It would be quite likely that you could come across two genetic strains that could have very similar essential oil profiles, smell pretty much the same, and yet one would be higher in CBD and the other higher in THC. If not naturally occurring, then this certainly could be accomplished through selective breeding.

Recently, many companies are taking about “cannabis terpene isolates” and adding them to cannabis extracts to get the desired entourage effect. These are terpene fractions from the actual CO2 extraction of cannabis. These terpene fractions are very expensive but buyer beware, more often than not what is being sold on the market are often cheap terpene products that come from other botanicals, or even made synthetically, and its fairly easy for a lab like ours to determine the origin of terpenes by GC/MS analysis as our specialty is in terpene analysis of literally hundreds of botanicals and we have had to learn how to detect adulteration in all of them. The best thing to use for the entourage effect would simply be the true cannabis essential oil that is obtained by steam distillation of a variety of cannabis strains, but typically done on a production scale from low cannabinoid biomass as the steam distillation process is somewhat destructive to the plant material and would drastically reduce the extraction yield of the highly-valued cannabinoid containing parts which are saved for other extraction processes like CO2 or butane extractions.


In conclusion, when it comes to cannabis extracts, it’s critical to get informed. The cannabis industry is relati–vely new and it's booming. Because of this, it’s experiencing some of the similar issues of vast scale adulteration and outright fraud that the essential oil and mainstream extracts industry industries experienced decades ago. The cannabis business is so new and, now, so disconnected from the more standard enterprises because of the lawful obstructions. People have an enormous lack of scientific expertise and information about the cannabis world, but we hope that we play an important role in order help you to get the right information.

This article was written by an independent and third-party author specialising in CBD, hemp and cannabis research. Any opinion, advice or recommendation expressed in the article does not reflect the opinion of Formula Swiss AG or any of our employees. We do not make any claims about any of our products and refer to our disclaimer for more information.

August 17, 2018

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