Hemp CBD Oil vs. THC from Medical Marijuana

In our blog post, Decades of Hemp: A Hemp Timeline, we discussed the history of hemp. Here we will discuss the botany of cannabis and how hemp derived CBD oil is different from THC from medical marijuana. There is a lot of confusion surrounding the distinction between hemp and marijuana. Hemp is often lumped together with marijuana, this is incorrect, and is what lead to hemp prohibition. Thankfully, hemp prohibition is now over, the 2018 Farm Bill has made hemp and hemp extracts federally legal.1

Hemp & The Cannabis Family

Science classifies plants by family, genus, species, and variety. Cannabaceae is the family that cannabis, hops, and hackberries belong to. Cannabis is a genus of Cannabaceae and includes three species: Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica, and Cannabis Ruderalis. Hemp and medical marijuana are part of the same family, but they are different species and therefore aren’t the same plant. Hemp and marijuana are basically cousins, and hops is their fun grand-uncle.

Hemp is a variety of the species Cannabis Sativa, and marijuana belongs to the species Cannabis Indica. Since both hemp and marijuana are both in the cannabis family, people often refer to both using the word ‘cannabis’. While this may be correct its vague. Hemp is cannabis and marijuana is cannabis. However, hemp is not marijuana and marijuana is not hemp.

Cannabaceae Family
From Left: Hops, Hackberry, and Cannabis Sativa (Hemp) are all part of the Cannabaceae Family.

Hemp vs. Marijuana Plants

Superficial Differences

There are a few differences between hemp and marijuana plants that make them easy to distinguish from one another. The leaves are different, plant height is different, and so is the overall shape of the plant. Marijuana plants are short and bushy, the leaves are also fatter. Whereas hemp grows tall, similar to bamboo, and the leaves are skinnier. Medical marijuana plants are bred to have large crystalline flowers or buds. Hemp also produces flowers, but they are much less substantial. It’s also common to find marijuana plants bred to have a dark purple color similar to the image above. 

Hemp for CBD Oil Extraction

Medical marijuana plants are bred to have high levels of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and low levels of cannabidiol (CBD). In today’s culture, countless strains of medical marijuana exist that have extremely high levels of THC, these plants were bred specifically for this reason by growers looking to differentiate their product. Plants like this can’t be found growing naturally, and growers put a lot of effort into breeding them.

Hemp naturally has very low levels of THC and high levels of CBD. This is why CBD oil is extracted from hemp, and not marijuana. It would be illogical to extract CBD from a plant that is high in THC and low in CBD if your goal is to create a product with a low THC level. There are some new strains of medical marijuana that have balanced levels of THC and CBD. However, those would not be able to easily meet the requirement of having less than 0.3% THC, which is the federally legal amount for full spectrum hemp derived CBD oil products.

Full Spectrum Hemp CBD Oil vs. THC

The most important difference between CBD and THC is that THC is psychoactive, and CBD is non-psychoactive. There are over 100 cannabinoid compounds that exist in cannabis plants.2 Most cannabinoids are non-psychoactive meaning they won’t get you high. CBD and THC are currently the most widely used and studied.

Full spectrum hemp CBD oil contains most cannabinoids, including THC. Researchers have proposed that full spectrum CBD oil is more effective in treating inflammation than CBD isolate.3 The amount of THC in full spectrum hemp CBD oil is extremely minimal, federally legal, and is not enough to feel. For example, most medical marijuana strains are about 15%-20% or more THC, compared to hemp CBD oil, which contains no more than 0.3% THC.

Medical marijuana is often prescribed to treat conditions that full spectrum CBD oil can help with:

  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Seizures
  • Arthritis
  • Insomnia

Researchers are also beginning to compare CBD oil and THC. For example, Cannabis, Cannabinoids, and Sleep: a Review of the Literature suggests that CBD may be better than THC for some with excessive daytime sleepiness and REM sleep behavior disorder.4

Full Spectrum Hemp CBD Oil is Federally Legal

Medical marijuana is legal in several states such as California and Colorado. Hemp and hemp extracts were made federally legal under the 2018 Farm Bill, which was signed into law on December 20, 2018.1 Before this bill was signed into law, hemp CBD oil was legal on a state-by-state basis. Learn more about the history of hemp CBD oil in our article, Decades of Hemp: A Hemp Timeline.


  1. https://hempsupporter.com/the-farm-bill-has-been-signed/
  2. https://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/list-major-cannabinoids-cannabis-effects
  3. https://file.scirp.org/pdf/PP_2015021016351567.pdf
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28349316

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