Hemp CBD Vs. Cannabis CBD: What Are the Similarities and Differences?

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An assessment of internet searches by Americans reveals that millions of people are more interested in cannabidiol (CBD) than they are in other health topics and products. This is probably because of the increased destigmatization of cannabis and available research on its potential health benefits. As the interest grows, so does the availability of a wide range of CBD products, from edibles and topicals to droplets and vapes. 

You might wonder why some CBD products are readily available in various drugstores, while others are restricted to licensed dispensaries. The answer lies in where the CBD is derived from. You can derive CBD from either hemp plant or other cannabis species. 

Below, we explain what cannabinoids are and the basic acronyms of CBD and THC. Later, we tackle the similarities and differences between CBD sourced from hemp versus that sourced from the cannabis plant.

What Is Cannabis?

This is a family of plants, including both hemp and marijuana species, among others. Most doctors like to use the word cannabis instead of more casual terms like marijuana or pot. As you’re probably aware, marijuana has long been a victim of stigmatization. So, the term cannabis seeks to potentially destigmatize marijuana use.

What Are Cannabinoids?

These are active compounds present in cannabis plants. There are over 100 cannabinoids found in cannabis species. The common active compounds talked about by most people are called phytocannabinoids. CBD and THC are the two common phytocannabinoids. Let’s discuss them in detail below.

CBD (Cannabidiol)

This is an active compound present in cannabis. While CBD can provide more significant therapeutic benefits when combined with THC, on its own it boasts healing properties.

According to World Health Organization, CBD can potentially treat several major illnesses and conditions. These include:

  • Anxiety
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Pain
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Depression
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Hypoxia-ischemia injury
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Nausea
  • Psychosis
  • Inflammatory disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Diabetic complications
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Cardiovascular diseases

CBD can be made into several products. They include oils and tinctures for sublingual delivery. It’s also available in edibles such as candies, gummies, and beverages. We even have vaping and topical CBD products. 

CBD is very popular among a wide range of medicinal cannabis enthusiasts because it lacks the psychotropic component. This means that you can consume CBD without getting high or having any undesirable side effects associated with THC.

THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol)

This is an active compound present in cannabis plants. “Start with a low dose and go slow” is the slogan sung by health practitioners when referring to medicinal THC. THC is a psychotropic compound. This means that it can result in feelings of ecstasy and a head high

The effects of THC vary from one person to another. A small dose of THC might not cause any noticeable effects on one user but could cause adverse psychoactive effects on another individual. 

THC is helpful for anxiety control, pain relief, insomnia, and appetite stimulation. It does not work solo. It combines with other active compounds in cannabis to produce the desired high.

What Is Hemp?

Hemp is a variant of cannabis sativa that can be separated into male and female plants. It has a wide range of use cases. For example, it’s used to make items like paper, textile, ropes, and building materials. Manufacturers can also use the leaves and flowers of hemp to make CBD products.

Hemp Vs. Cannabis

For decades, hemp and other cannabis species were classified in the same category and illegalized formally under the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. This put a blanket ban on all types of cannabis. 

New Legislation

According to section 10113 of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is defined as a cannabis plant. But it has one difference: It cannot exceed 0.3% Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the compound associated with psychoactive effects in cannabis products. Thus, you won’t get high from using hemp-derived CBD. 

Under this new legislation, hemp is no longer classified as a Schedule 1 controlled drug. Instead, it’s now considered an agricultural commodity. Thus, selling, transporting, or possessing hemp CBD products is legal across the US, provided those products are created as per the regulations.

In contrast, any cannabis species that have more than 0.3% of THC is regarded as marijuana. All non-hemp cannabis is prohibited federally.

The Similarities

  • Both hemp and cannabis come from the same Cannabaceae family. They also produce CBD and THC plus hundreds of other cannabinoids and terpenes. 
  • Whether it’s derived from hemp or cannabis, the CBD molecular structure remains the same. 
  • Both hemp-derived CBD and cannabis CBD produce therapeutic effects. 

The Differences

Plant origin

Yes, hemp and marijuana belong to the same cannabis family plant. However, hemp is derived predominantly from the Cannabis Sativa species. On the other hand, cannabis can come from any of these three species:

In terms of appearance, hemp plants are usually tall and skinny, featuring skimpy foliage. They look like bamboo. Cannabis plants on the other hand are shorter, thicker, and bushier. 

THC Concentration

Hemp contains negligible amounts of THC concentrations, typically less than 0.3% by dry weight. THC is a psychotropic compound and among the different cannabinoids produced by the plant. It triggers cells in the brain to secrete dopamine, resulting in euphoria. It also meddles with how information is processed in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. 

Cannabis, by contrast, contains more than 0.3% THC, ranging all the way up to 30%. Generally, the more THC you consume, the more intoxicated you get. So you’re more likely to get high from consuming cannabis-derived CBD than hemp CBD

Resin Content

Resin content is a crucial factor that differentiates hemp and cannabis. Resin is a sticky substance naturally found on the flowers and leaves (trichomes) of both hemp and marijuana plants. This natural substance houses plenty of the active compounds that cannabis plants are known for, especially cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). 

So, the more abundant amounts of resin a plant has, the more active compounds it contains. In this regard, cannabis has more resin on its trichomes compared to hemp. This means that cannabis produces more CBD content than industrial hemp, courtesy of its high resin concentration. To match the amount of marijuana-derived CBD, hemp cultivators have to grow many hemp plants to generate CBD oil

However, we now have novel crafted hemp varieties that have extraordinarily high CBD content. Below are hemp cultivars that contain anywhere between 12-20% of CBD, coupled with not more than 0.3% THC. These strains include:

  • Cobbler
  • Cherry Charlotte
  • Berry Blossom


The 2018 Farm Bill influences the availability of hemp-derived CBD. Because of the new legislation, hemp is now considered an agricultural commodity under federal law. Hence, it enjoys unrestricted access in terms of sale and transport across state lines. So, hemp CBD products are readily available in grocery stores, pharmacies and online across the country.

Marijuana CBD products, in contrast, are still illegal under federal law. There’s stringent regulation for marijuana products. Cannabis enthusiasts can make purchases only from licensed dispensaries in states that have legalized marijuana. 

States have their own set of laws on hemp and marijuana plants. To stay on the good side of the law, always confirm the legality of hemp or marijuana cannabidiol in your state. With this information, you can know what you can or cannot buy.

Product Type

The 2018 Farm Bill and the continued legalization of cannabis in some states have led to the innovation of an array of products containing CBD derived from hemp and cannabis. 

Hemp CBD products are majorly CBD oils, topicals, sprays, and tinctures. You will find these easily in most physical and online stores. 

On the other hand, you can only find cannabis CBD products in licensed dispensaries. These products include: 

  • CBD flower
  • Concentrates
  • Vape pens
  • Edibles
  • Water pipes 
  • Blunts
  • Rolling joints
  • Bubblers


Bioaccumulation is a process through which an organism takes in materials from the nearby environment more efficiently than it eliminates them. Hemp is a bio-accumulator. It absorbs chemicals and toxins. For this reason, hemp’s bio-accumulator property poses a potential hazard. 

Where do residual pesticides go after being sprayed in hemp crops? And what about the heavy metals in the soil? While hemp crops absorb these residual pesticides and heavy metals from their environment, they cannot efficiently discharge them as waste.

So, the issue of bioaccumulation affects the entire supply chain from the cultivators, manufacturers and consumers. The manufacturer faces the risk of creating contaminated products from industrial hemp grown in non-organic settings. The tainted hemp CBD products end up on retailer shelves as merchandise. In turn, the consumer’s health is at risk when they use these products that may contain unsafe levels of copper, nickel, lead, and various agrochemicals. 

Ideally, third-party testing is a sign of a quality hemp-derived CBD product. Also, the USDA organic certification is an important thing that you should look out for. This guarantees that the products have been grown and processed per federal regulations addressing various aspects, such as pest control, soil quality, and additive use. 

Therapeutic Effects

Yes, the molecular structure of cannabidiol may be the same in both hemp-derived and cannabis-derived CBD. However, this does not mean that they produce similar therapeutic effects. This is because of a phenomenon called the entourage effect. 

The entourage effect is the combined effect of several active compounds in cannabis. These compounds work together to deliver a more pronounced effect than when they work individually. Cannabis has a lot more active compounds than just CBD and THC. 

It has hundreds of other useful cannabinoids such as CBC, CBG, CBN, and terpenes, the aromatic compounds that give cannabis its characteristic scent. So, when CBD combines with all these diverse compounds, it forms a full-spectrum CBD product. The outcome manifests in the form of magnified therapeutic benefits to users.

A typical example: In a 2010 research study, a group of cancer patients was given either an extract containing almost similar ratios of CBD and THC or pure THC extract. The findings revealed that those given the THC/CBD extract experienced less pain than those who took the pure THC extract. 

The more abundant the amounts of resin a plant has, the more active compounds it contains. Because cannabis has more resin on its buds and leaves, it boasts a diversity of other useful cannabinoids and terpenes apart from CBD and THC. So, the synergy of all these active compounds in cannabis-derived CBD results in a full-spectrum product that delivers greater medical benefits.

CBD products derived from hemp have fewer cannabinoids like THC and terpenes. So, they still give an entourage effect but to a lesser extent.

CBD Isolate

This is a form of CBD. It comes in the form of powder or crystalline solid. However, it does not contain THC—the psychotropic compound of cannabis. 

If you want to consume CBD without any traces of THC, a CBD isolate is your best option. The CBD needed to form an isolate can be extracted from either hemp or marijuana. The end product, the cannabidiol isolate, consists of CBD molecules.

But hemp and CBD are not the same in this regard, either. Say you’re creating a CBD isolate. Because hemp has a reduced CBD content than marijuana, you would require more hemp crops to produce equal amounts of CBD isolate as marijuana. 

The Bottom Line

The millions of online searches for CBD illustrate growing interest in it as a natural remedy for many conditions. Of course, this will continue, especially with the continued legalization of marijuana in many states. You now have an array of CBD products to choose from, depending on your needs and preferences.

Ultimately, the decision of whether to opt for hemp-derived CBD or cannabis-derived CBD boils down to the state you live in. If you’re in a state that allows the purchase of both, you can make an informed decision now that you’re informed about the similarities and differences between the two.

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