Article by: Josephine Cannella-Krehl, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, UF/IFAS Industrial Hemp Pilot Project Advisory Committee, FDACS Medical Advisory Committee,
Correspondence to: www.mmjknowledge.com, (850) 653-6928
Edited by Zack Brym and D’Alicia Straughter
This insights article is part of the blog series Perspectives from the Hemp Industry.
A Bit About Hemp and Marijuana
Hemp has been described to be among the strongest fibers in the world, among the most nutritionally balanced of oilseeds, and among the frontier of plant-based medicine. Hemp is a dynamic crop that can be harvested for a wide range of products, including fabrics and textiles (canvas, rope, netting, etc.); paper and construction materials; animal bedding; personal care items (soap, shampoo, and cosmetics, etc.); nutritional supplements, foods, and beverages.
Historically, hemp is a non-intoxicating variety of Cannabis sativa L., grown for utility purposes, think seed and fiber, while marijuana, was grown for ritual purposes, think leaves and flower buds (USDA ERS, 2000). From a strictly botanical perspective, hemp and marijuana are the same plant species (Cannabis sativa L.) but are different varieties (or cultivars) of the plant. Cannabis plants are distinguished by their chemical and genetic compositions driven by legal definitions and regulatory oversight. Hemp contains less than 0.3% dry weight of the psychoactive compound, delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) while marijuana may contain much higher levels of THC (Congressional Research Service, 2019).
Up until the 1930s, cannabis was grown as both an industrial commodity (hemp) and as an herbal therapeutic (marijuana). Marijuana was commonly used in medicinal preparations and was included in the American Pharmacopeia well into the late 1930s. Physicians regularly prescribed it as an herbal medication to treat a host of medical conditions including asthma, seizures, rheumatism, and pain.
With the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937, cannabis was placed under the regulatory control of the U.S. Treasury Department. This Act when passed restricted cannabis production, requiring hemp growers to register, and become licensed with the Federal Government. Interestingly, the Marijuana Tax Act was passed even though it was strongly opposed by the American Medical Association at the time. The AMA argued that passing the Act would interfere with a physician’s ability to prescribe and a pharmacy’s ability to sell medical cannabis because of the high taxes that would be imposed on them. Despite the objections, the Act was passed, and the United States “lost” access to an important therapeutic treatment option, in addition to an incredibly valuable and useful commodity. In 1970, cannabis was further restricted when it was placed on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act (Lee, 2021). As a result, all varieties of the plant, marijuana and hemp, became Federally illegal.
It was not until recent years, with the passage of the Federal Farm Bill of 2014, that modern changes happened for hemp led by state-run pilot projects. The 2018 Federal Farm Bill changed hemp’s status again, paving the way for the commercial cultivation, manufacturing and production of hemp and hemp products across the United States. These Federal changes coincided with Florida’s renewed interest in marijuana and hemp. Florida’s first medical marijuana law was passed in 2014 and the first industrial hemp law in 2017. Both programs have evolved in recent years and Florida’s medical marijuana and industrial hemp industries continue to develop. As these cannabis industries operate with what is in essence the same plant, there’s been a lot of confusion surrounding hemp and marijuana.
In Florida, hemp is regulated under the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) and medical marijuana under the Florida Department of Health. In 2020, FDACS began issuing hemp cultivation licenses, allowing hemp to be grown legally in Florida, for the first time in decades. Hemp growers are exploring crops for industrial purposes as well as for producing CBD-rich oils extracted from flowers.
Hemp is low in THC but can still contain significant amounts of cannabidiol (CBD), a compound with potential for medical applications. CBD is a non-euphoric cannabinoid, meaning it will not get you high. Marijuana, on the other hand, contains varying levels of both THC and CBD. Both THC and CBD interact with receptors in our bodies and can offer considerable therapeutic benefits.
Since CBD can come from both hemp and marijuana, many people are left wondering…
What’s the difference between CBD from hemp and CBD from marijuana?
CBD that comes from hemp and marijuana are chemically equivalent and derived from the same enzyme. Some CBD products contain other cannabinoids and those products (sometimes called “full spectrum” or “broad spectrum”) can have different cannabinoid composition based on origin from hemp or marijuana plants and processing methods. These products may then more accurately fall into the category of “medical cannabis” because hemp and marijuana can be cultivated to produce CBD for medicine. It remains important legally to distinguish between hemp and marijuana derived CBD along with the consideration for what other cannabinoids (think THC) may be present in the product. Yet, marijuana, and perhaps cannabis more generally, continues to carry a negative stigma that may hinder discussion of plant-based medicine.
Another common question people have is…
Are CBD products created equally?
The answer to this question is a resounding and emphatic, “No!” CBD products can differ in cannabinoid composition, but they also drastically differ in their quality. Yet, CBD products from hemp are widely available for “over the counter” purchase at health food markets, grocery stores, and gas stations.
Since “over the counter” hemp-derived CBD products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), consumers need to be well educated when exploring potential product options. As defined under Florida law, hemp products with CBD must contain no more than 0.3% concentration of delta-9 THC. Product labels should declare concentrations of cannabinoids contained in the product.
Yet, in a recent study with 25 over the counter products tested, 15 contained levels of CBD well under the amounts listed on the label and 3 of them contained over the Federally legal limits of THC (Gurley et al., 2020)! Additionally, 4 of the products contained synthetic cannabinoids and adulterants, presenting potential adverse consequences to consumers’ health. In this study, most product label claims were determined to be fraudulent. The labels did not accurately reflect the actual CBD content of the product. What’s more, FDACS has found lead levels exceeding legal limits in 6-8% of products tested. Consumers should be cautions of product claims.
For additional assurance in Florida, CBD from Medical Marijuana Treatment Center (MMTC) dispensaries are strictly regulated by the Florida Department of Health. These Department of Health approved CBD products are only available for purchase through an MMTC. Furthermore, only State approved patients, registered through the Office of Medical Marijuana Use, are eligible to purchase them.
Consumers of CBD products should carefully review the contents and quality standards reported for the product. This quality standards report should be provided through a 3rd party to help consumers confirm what is on the label is what’s in the product or that common contaminants are not found. These types of assurances are essential when it comes to safe use of CBD products and maximum benefit to an individual’s health and wellbeing.
Congressional Research Service. 2019. Defining Hemp: A Fact Sheet. CRS Report R44742. https://sgp.fas.org/crs/misc/R44742.pdf
Lee, Martin A. 2021. Cannabis versus Hemp. Project CBD. https://www.projectcbd.org/guidance/cannabis-versus-hemp
Gurley, Bill J., Timothy P. Murphy, Waseem Gul, Larry A. Walker & Mahmoud El Sohly.2020.Content versus Label Claims in Cannabidiol (CBD)-Containing Products Obtained from Commercial Outlets in the State of Mississippi,Journal of Dietary Supplements,17:5,599-607,DOI: 10.1080/19390211.2020.1766634
USDA ERS. 2000. Identification: Industrial Hemp or Marijuana? In Industrial Hemp in the United States: Status and Market Potential. AGES-001E. Washington, DC. https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/41740/15852_ages001eb_1_.pdf