Hemp Vs. Cannabis – What’s the Difference?
Scientifically speaking, cannabis and hemp are the same plant – sharing the same family (Cannabaceae), the same genus (Cannabis) and the same species (Cannabis Sativa). The only difference comes from how they are bred and how hey are used. In short, the only difference between the two plants is the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) concentration – the compound that gets you high.
The plant name “cannabis” refers to a group of three plants with psychoactive properties, known as Cannabis Sativa , Cannabis Indica, and Cannabis Ruderalis. Cannabis Sativa grows tall and skinny and is native more tropical regions including Asia, Africa and Central America. Cannabis Indica grows much shorter and bushier than sativa plants and is native to more arid and mountainous regions like India and Afghanistan. Both Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Sativa varieties are typically what are found in a cannabis dispensary containing high concentrations of THC. Cannabis ruderalis is a short and stalky plant with thick and sturdy stems that typically contains low concentrations of THC.
Through generations of cross breeding, it has become more and more difficult to make a clear distinction between the different varieties of the plant.
Is Cannabis Legal in the U.S.?
Cannabis as a whole (including all forms of the plant) was outlawed in 29 states by 1931 due to the Prohibition era’s view of all intoxicants. Shortly after, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 imposed an excise sales tax on the sale, possession or transfer of all hemp products, which effectively criminalized all but industrial uses for the plant. Industrial hemp was grown and sold in the U.S. until the end of WWII and the last legal hemp fields were planted in 1957 in Wisconsin. In 1970, Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, repealing the Marijuana Tax Act and listing Marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug – along with LSD, heroin and ecstasy. It was labeled as having zero medicinal properties.
Many years down the road, California passed the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which legalized the plant in California for medicinal purposes. Colorado and Washington were the first to fully legalize the plant for recreational use and many states have followed in their footsteps.
What is Hemp?
Hemp is a member of the cannabis family that was historically cultivated and grown for its fiber or seeds more recently as a source of CBD (cannabidiol) and other cannabinoids. Hemp, by current U.S. Federal definition, is cannabis that contains less than 0.3% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Although industrial hemp is a member of the Cannabis Sativa species, it does not contain enough of the cannabinoid THC to get you “high”. The lower THC content does allow for much higher concentrations of other compounds within the plant, including CBD and CBG (cannabigerol).
Why is Hemp important?
Hemp farming is among the oldest industries on the planet, going back more than 10,000 years, and has historically been used for its strong fibers which can be used for clothing and textiles and more recently for plastics, construction materials and even building homes. Even the seeds from the hemp plant are highly nutritious and a great source of nutrients, protein and omega fatty acids. Nowadays, the plant is also extracted through various processes to isolate CBD and/or a wide range of other compounds from the plant to be used in food and nutritional supplements.
Is Hemp and CBD Legal?
Hemp is now federally legal, with states given the opportunity to implement their own laws regarding the cultivation and sale of the hemp plant.
After nearly century of prohibition in the U.S., hemp only recently again became legal to grow and use in the United States under federal law. With the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, individual states were permitted to implement laws allowing state departments of agriculture and universities to grow hemp for research or pilot programs. The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, signed into law in December of 2018, removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, jumpstarting the sleeping industry and making it federally legal for U.S. farmers to grow, process and sell hemp commercially.
According to the Brightfield Group, a leading in hemp industry research, the U.S. hemp-derived CBD market is expected to reach $23.7 billion by 2023. After the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, thousands of farmers are entering the industry and ramping up production.
Compounds in Hemp and Cannabis
Hemp and cannabis contain over 450 distinct compounds – including cannabinoids, terpenoids, flavonoids, and omega fatty acids – each with a variety of potential effects. Of all these compounds, only one of which has been proven to give the intoxicating effect of being “high” – THC.
Most compounds in hemp are present at very low levels, with a select few making up a majority of the plant’s weight. THC and other cannabinoids are produced in only one place on the cannabis plant – in its trichomes.
Hemp trichomes are the small, sticky, hair-like, mushroom-shaped appendages found on the plant’s surface – typically concentrated around the flowers, but also be found in lower concentrations throughout the plant.
Trichomes in the hemp plant contain resin glands that produce terpenes, cannabinoids, flavonoids and other compounds. These trichomes are also what give the plant a crystal-like shine, often resembling a sugar-coating.
Trichomes are not exclusive to the hemp plant and are also produced by other plants in nature. Varying in physical attributes and functionality between different plant species, trichomes typically function to protect a plant from natural herbivore predators, or act as a sticky receptacle to collect pollen.
Terpenes are what create the aroma or essence of plants and other items in nature. Found predominately in plants, terpenes are what give pine trees the scent of pine, flowers their floral aromas, or lemons their citrusy qualities. Furthermore, terpenes are typically what are used to create a majority of “natural flavors” found in many common food products.
By definition, terpenes are a large and diverse class of organic compounds (any large group of volatile unsaturated hydrocarbons), produced by plants and stored within their essential oils. They often have a powerful scent and, in nature, may assist in deferring and protecting the plants from herbivores, or even attracting pollinating organisms.
According to a review article from 2019, over 150 unique terpenes have been identified in hemp in various combinations, based on strain genetics and growing conditions (weather, soil, maturation, etc.). These unique terpene profile combinations are the primary reason why so many hemp strains have their own distinctive fragrance. Squeezing a hemp flower or breaking one open can amplify the aroma and bring out a complex bouquet of scents.
Aside from their aromatic characteristics, terpenes can also produce their own therapeutic qualities that synergize with cannabinoids from the hemp plant (“the entourage effect”). Some terpenes have shown to induce states of relaxation, assist with sleep, help increase circulation, assist with digestion, or even promote uplifting and energetic effects. More so, some have been found to contain beneficial properties as an anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal and antioxidant!
Phytocannabinoids are chemical compounds (cannabinoids) produced by the hemp and cannabis plant that that interact with our body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). Most of these compounds are not intoxicating.
The most widely-known cannabinoids in hemp and cannabis are THC, CBD, CBG and CBN, but over 100 unique cannabinoids have been identified in the plant. Experts don’t have a full understanding of each cannabinoid and its effects, as most research has focused on the most prominent cannabinoids, including CBD and the psychoactive compound, THC.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a naturally occurring, psychoactive chemical compound (cannabinoid) from the cannabis plant. Psychoactive refers to the fact that you may experience the “high” renowned from cannabis found in the medical marijuana and recreational markets. THC is the only cannabinoid confirmed to have intoxicating effects on its own.
THC is produced in cannabis plants, including hemp – but the hemp plant contains only small, trace amounts of THC. Federal law currently defines “industrial hemp” as cannabis plants containing less than 0.3% THC by dry weight. This quantity is much less than what is typically required to get a user high.
Cannabidiol is a naturally occurring, non-psychoactive chemical compound (cannabinoid) from the Cannabis plant. Non-psychoactive refers to the fact that you will not get “high”, as you would from the cannabinoid THC. CBD is one of the most abundant cannabinoids in the hemp plant.
Molecularly, CBD from cannabis and CBD from hemp are the same, although most CBD products are made using the hemp plant since it is far more economical to produce. CBD can be extracted from the plant and used in many forms including edibles, oils, tinctures, capsules, lotions and more. There are many studies and large bodies of research on the benefits of consuming CBD and CBD-rich products. Researchers are still attempting to fully understand all the benefits and applications of this compound, but its benefits are becoming more and more apparent.
Cannabigerol is a naturally occurring, non-psychoactive chemical compound (cannabinoid) from the Cannabis plant – meaning it won’t get you “high”. There has recently been a large increase in the interest in the potential benefits of CBG.
CBG is usually present as less than 1% on most cannabis strains, but recent hemp genetics have seen CBG content of over 20%. Typically, cannabis strains that contain a high concentration of CBG result in a relatively lower concentration of CBD or THC.
CBG is considered to be the precursor to all other phytocannabinoids. This means that CBG turns into other cannabinoids, including CBD and THC. Researchers and scientists are currently diving deeper into the potential applications and uses of the cannabinoid.
Cannabinol is a naturally occurring, non-psychoactive chemical compound (cannabinoid) from the Cannabis plant – meaning it won’t get you “high”. CBN is best known as the cannabinoid produced when THC ages. That being said, it’s usually more concentrated in older or improperly dried and cured cannabis.
There are numerous studies on the effects of CBN and its health applications, but it’s most commonly noted for the “couch lock” effect.
Basic Anatomy of the Hemp Plant
Hemp plants are dioecious in nature, which means that there are separate male and female plants. Only about 7% of flowering plant species fit into this category, as the vast majority possess both male and female organs to fertilize their own flowers.
In the case of hemp, female plants produce flowers, while male plants produce pollen-filled sacs to fertilize the female plant’s flowers, causing the flowers to seed. This is especially important for hemp farmers, as it allows the grower to separate the male plants from the females and prevent the flowers from becoming seeded.
Sometimes hemp plants can also develop both male and female reproductive organs. These plants, called hermaphrodites, may develop from genetic and/or environmental factors – growing both flower buds and pollen sacs, with the ability to pollinate and reproduce on their own. When it comes to producing the highest quality flowers possible, most growers attempt to avoid hermaphrodite hemp plants and minimize seed content.
Because pollen from the male hemp plant can travel great distance when wind conditions are favorable, industry experts recommend a minimum distance of 10 miles between outdoor hemp fields. “pollen drift” from male hemp plants can cross-pollinate neighboring farms, causing the flowers to seed and greatly decreasing their value.
Another issue is the threat of cross-pollinating a CBD-producing hemp plant with pollen from a THC-producing cannabis plant, or visa versa. This would in-effect potentially increase the amount of THC in the plant to levels above the federal legal limit of 0.3% THC, or visa versa within the THC-producing plant. This has affected farmers all of the world for many years.
Forming at the base of branches and stems of female hemp plants, the flower is the most valuable and sought-after part of the hemp plant. Hemp flowers are the reproductive organs of the female hemp plant, where the highest concentrations of cannabinoids and terpenes are produced. High quality hemp flowers are dense, squishy, resinous nugs -bursting with delicious, pungent aromas. When fertilized by a male plant (or if the plant is a hermaphrodite), hemp flowers will develop seeds. Because seeded crops are considered inferior, most high-quality hemp nowadays is “sinsemilla,” which is Spanish for “without seeds”.
Hemp flower can be smoked, vaporized, extracted to make concentrated oils and tinctures, or it can be made into edible food products, beverages, topical products and more.
Hemp Sugar Leaves
Sugar leaves are small leaves that typically grow directly from the buds of the hemp plant. These are not the large, iconic fan leaves which cannabis is so famous for. Depending on the hemp strain and growing conditions, sometimes these sugar leaves are hidden within the hemp flower with the tips barely peeking out – while other times they may cover the entire flower.
Sugar leaves get their name from their relatively high concentration of shiny trichomes that develop on them during the flowering phase. Although they are not as potent as the flower, they can still be used for extraction to make a range of downstream products.
When you hear someone mention the quality of how a hemp bud is trimmed, they are usually referring to the sugar leaf content (how much still remains on the flower bud – untrimmed). If buds are poorly trimmed, or completely untrimmed, there will be plenty of sugar leaves present. Trim leaves are indeed smokable, but when too much of the sugar leaf content of a bud goes untrimmed, this will lead to a less desirable flavor and a much harsher smoke from the leaf’s excess chlorophyll content. We do not recommend smoking sugar leaves by themselves.
When growers leave the sugar leaves untrimmed on the buds, it’s typically for one or more of the following reasons:
Hemp flower is sold by weight. Trim leaves add extra weight to the product, which means more profit to the grower for less flower
Hand-trimming is time consuming and labor intensive, when done properly. This also means it’s more expensive.
Machine trimming can sometimes damage the buds and trichomes.
Some growers may not have access to manual labor or machine trimmers
The plants may have been produced solely for extraction, not to be smoked
Hemp Fan Leaves
The largest type of leaf on the hemp plant. These leaves are the source of the are the universally recognized symbol that is widely used to represent “marijuana”.
Positioned along branches that shoot off the main stem, fan leaves play an essential role in photosynthesis, collecting as much sunlight and solar energy as possible for the plant to flourish.
These serrated, multi-fingered leaves are packed with phytonutrients, but in much lower concentrations than in the plant’s flower buds and sugar leaves. The number of points on each leaf varies by genetics and strain – most commonly growing 5, 7, or 9-pointed leaves, but sometimes as high as 13 or more!
Containing only a small amount of trichomes and cannabinoids, raw hemp fan leaves are sometimes considered a superfood and can be used as a food product in salads, smoothies and other culinary creations. Otherwise, fan leaves are typically considered excess biomass and used for extraction or an ingredient in filtered hemp cigarettes.
After flowers of the female hemp plant are fertilized by pollen sacs of the male plant, they begin to form seeds within the flower buds. Mature seeds are dark brown and often display a tiger-striped pattern. Seeds that have not yet reached full maturity are relatively smaller and beige or tan in color.
Aside from their natural reproductive role, hemp seeds have a rich nutritional profile and can provide a range of uses and benefits. The seeds do not contain cannabinoids or produce any intoxicating effects, but they are packed with protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and all nine essential amino acids!
When you see a bag of hemp seeds online or at the store, you’re actually purchasing what are known as hemp hearts – or the soft inner kernels of the seeds. The hulls of the seeds can then be used to create hemp protein powders. Shelled hemp seeds, or hemp hearts, can be sprinkled on salads or yogurt, mixed into smoothies, or used to whatever culinary extent your heart desires. You can even make hemp milk, or create oil from the seeds to be used in foods or supplements.
Hemp Stalks and Stems
The backbone of the hemp plant. A main stalk grows vertically, while branches grow and extend outwards horizontally. Shooting off the main stalk, branches support the structure of the plant and give a place for leaves to grow. As the plant matures, its stems become more and more rigid, almost resembling wood. In certain regions, these monstrous weeds can grow to heights of over 15 feet tall in a single year – hence why the plant is becoming more and more popularized as a source of durable fibers and building materials. Hemp stalks can be processed and made into an array of products including building materials, plastics, textiles and paper.
The hemp plant is extremely versatile, with every part of the plant having a function after it’s harvested.
The term “biomass” is commonly used in the agricultural industry to describe any parts of a plant that are not used for food, or other primary purposes. Hemp biomass has a variety of different meanings (depending on who you ask), but typically hemp biomass refers to everything but the flowers and seeds of a hemp plant, or biproducts after the plant has been used for particular purpose.
Typically composed of trimmed sugar leaves, fan leaves and ground-up stalk, hemp biomass is far less concentrated with nutrients than the plant’s flowers, but it does still contain enough of the compounds to be extracted. Some farmers sell only the leaves to concentrate processors for extraction, while some farmers may mulch the entire plant. On the other hand, some hemp is grown solely for its fiber properties to make non-consumable products. These products include paper, fabrics, plastics, building materials, biofuels, compost and much more!
Full Spectrum Vs. Broad Spectrum Vs. Isolate
As discussed previously, the hemp plant contains over 450 distinct compounds, including cannabinoids, terpenoids, flavonoids, and omega fatty acids. Most compounds in hemp are present at very low levels, with a select few making up a majority of the plant’s weight. When purchasing hemp and CBD products, the inclusion of these compounds is what determines if the product is “full spectrum”, “broad spectrum”, or made by isolating only select compounds.
With all the hemp and CBD products on the market today, finding the right product for you can be extremely confusing, making it difficult to feel like you fully understand what you’re purchasing. Below we will define what these terms actually mean.
Full-Spectrum Hemp Flower
First off, let’s define what the term “full spectrum” means. “Full-spectrum” refers to a hemp product that contains all the original cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids that were naturally produced within the hemp plant. This means that pure unadulterated hemp flower is ultimate “full-spectrum” hemp product because it is contains all the compounds that it produced during its growth cycle, with nothing removed, altered, or extracted from it.
On the other hand, there are certain cases where hemp flower would not actually be considered full spectrum. Some hemp companies will extract all of the precious compounds out of their hemp flower and/or biomass material, then use the spent hemp waste as filler for hemp cigarettes or other products. In this case, because compounds have been removed from the hemp flower, the hemp material would not be considered a full-spectrum product.
Full-Spectrum Hemp Extract Vs. Broad-Spectrum Hemp Extract
When it comes to hemp and CBD extracts, there are numerous methods of removing botanical compounds from the plant material. Some extracts are focused on isolating just one cannabinoid (such as CBD), while others focus on pulling all of the botanical compounds from the plant. Just like in hemp flower, any extract product that contains all (or almost all) of the original compounds from the plant may be considered “full-spectrum extracts”. The term “Full Spectrum CBD Extract” just means that hemp material containing CBD was used in the extraction process and the brand is focusing on the fact that the extract contains CBD.
Here are three key components to keep in mind about full-spectrum hemp extract:
There are no industry standards for defining “full-spectrum” or “broad-spectrum”. Make sure to check out the test results of products to determine exactly what is in there.
Because everything in the plant is being extracted, the extract will still contain THC in amounts equal to or less than 0.3%. If the THC has been completely removed, it is not full-spectrum
Full-spectrum extracts may vary for a variety of reasons. This could include different strains/genetics being used, different hemp material qualities, what part of the plant is being extracted, how the plant was dried, the method of extraction, and more.
Broad-Spectrum Hemp Extract, on the other hand, typically refers to any hemp extract, where compounds present in hemp have been modified from their original ratio, or the THC has been completely removed.
Broad-spectrum hemp extracts are usually made by isolating individual compounds from the hemp plant (or from other plant sources) and recombining them into a mixture that attempts to mimic a full-spectrum extract. These broad-spectrum extracts can vary drastically between brands. Some companies even start with CBD isolate (to be discussed in the next section), then add in terpenes. Because there are currently no industry standards or regulations, some companies can be very misleading when they label their products as “broad-spectrum.”
CBD isolate refers to the fact that it contains only one isolated compound – CBD (cannabidiol). This process will yield pure CBD in crystal form (sometimes upwards of 99% CBD), free of all other cannabinoids, compounds, or plant material. The result is an odorless and tasteless product. CBD isolate is extremely versatile and is often added to oils to make [edibles and other products]. Because CBD isolate contains just one compound (CBD), it is neither a full-spectrum nor broad-spectrum product.
There are many ways that manufactures can produce CBD isolate, but the process typically begins with a traditional extraction process to remove the active compounds from the hemp plant material, then a further refinement process to separate the CBD from all other cannabinoids and plant matter. The result, depending on the process, is either CBD crystals, or a white powder. These substances are then typically mixed with an oil and/or formulated into various CBD-based products.
Methods of CBD Isolation
There is no universally standard method of extraction for CBD isolate, but there are two popular methods used by a majority of CBD isolate manufacturers – supercritical CO2 or ethanol extraction.
Supercritical CO2 extraction uses carbon dioxide at a very high pressure and very low temperature to strip the terpenes and cannabinoids from hemp flower. This process requires expensive equipment, but when done properly, CO2 extraction can yield an extremely pure product.
Ethanol extraction, on the other hand, is a simple and effective means of separating CBD from hemp plant material. This process uses ethanol (grain alcohol) to draw compounds out of the plant, suspending them in a liquid that prevents damage like oxidation. This method is great for creating full spectrum hemp extracts and tinctures, since the process aims to extract all cannabinoids, not just the CBD.
Once the initial round of extraction is complete, the extract must be “winterized.” Winterizing is the process of further refining the extract to contain predominately CBD. This process is done by combining the initial extract with 200 proof alcohol and freezing the mixture to coagulate any undesirable parts, including waxes and fats, and allowing them to be filtered out.
The Endocannabinoid System
To understand the benefits of putting hemp, or hemp derived products into our bodies, we must first understand the basics of how certain compounds in the plant work with our body. You have probably heard the word “cannabinoid” before, but what exactly does that word mean? Are all cannabinoids produced in hemp and cannabis? What do they do?
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds, produced by plants, and naturally in the human body. Cannabinoids produced in the human body are known as endocannabinoids, or “endogenous cannabinoids”. Cannabinoids produced by plants are called phytocannabinoids. There are numerous plants that produce cannabinoid-like compounds that interact with our bodies, but we’ll be focusing on compounds from the hemp plant.
As mentioned above, the human body naturally produces molecules called endocannabinoids, which are similar in structure to phytocannabinoids produced by the hemp plant. Our body contains a network of receptors called the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which works to assist in maintaining natural balance, or homeostasis within our body – playing a vital role in keeping our bodies in balance and acting as an essential regulator of bodily function. Even if you have never consumed hemp or cannabis products, the endocannabinoid system still exists and is active within your body.
Much like opiates, cannabinoids affect the consumer by interacting with specific receptors within our bodies. Located in various parts of the central nervous system, scientists have identified two types of cannabinoid receptors – CB1 And CB2. CB1 receptors are mainly located in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), while CB2 receptors are found in your peripheral nervous system (outside the brain and spinal cord). Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor, but the resulting effects will depend on which endocannabinoid binds to it and where the receptor is located.
Experts still don’t fully understand the ECS or all of its potential functions, but according to scientific research, we’ve so far learned that it plays a vital role in regulating a variety of functions and processes, including memory, mood, stress, sleep, appetite, metabolism, pain, inflammation, reproduction and fertility, motor control, muscle formation, bone growth, liver function, and more.
In essence, when an external force, including an injury or illness, throws off the body’s balance (or homeostasis) the endocannabinoid system works to help the body return to optimal functionality.
The Entourage Effect – Why Full-Spectrum is so Important
The hemp plant is extremely unique and provides an array of mysteries for modern scientists to continue chipping away at. One thing we do know is that humans have evolved alongside the plant for thousands of years and our bodies are intimately connected to it via our endocannabinoid system.
The hemp plant contains hundreds of therapeutic compounds including cannabinoids, terpenoids and flavonoids. Scientists have focused most of their research on the most prominent cannabinoids – THC and CBD, but we still understand relatively little of the plant as a whole.
The concept of the “entourage effect” suggests that the wide range of compounds within the hemp plant work synergistically to create different physical or psychological effects than consuming a single compound on its own. In 2011, Dr. Ethan Russo published a paper titled Taming THC: Potential Cannabis Synergy and Phytocannabinoid-Terpenoid Entouage Effect . In this document, Dr. Russo examined the interactions between various compounds in the hemp plant and their potential benefits for remedying various human conditions including anxiety, depression, pain, inflammation and more.
The entourage effect is the main reason why consuming full spectrum CBD hemp flower products is so important to maximizing the plant’s effectiveness within the body.
Lab Testing for Hemp and CBD
The primary reasons for hemp lab testing is to ensure the purity, potency and legal compliance of the crop or product. When purchasing any hemp or CBD products, it is always important to make sure that the product has been tested by a credible independent 3rd party laboratory. This will ensure that the product is safe to consume, the quality and potency levels are up to par, and the product is legal to purchase (under 0.3% THC). Because [at the time this article was written] there are currently no testing requirements or standards for hemp derived CBD products, it’s important to make sure that you’re not being deceived by the manufacturer.
Laboratories typically offer services to test for potency, terpene profile, pesticide content, residual solvents, mold, fungus, bacteria, heavy metals, mycotoxins, and foreign materials. There are many labs across the country that will test hemp harvests and products, but making sure that the laboratory is ISO certified and also DEA certified will help ensure the highest accuracy and consistency within the tests.
Because hemp products come in a range of forms (including pure flower, pre-rolls, vaporizers, tinctures, salves, beverages, etc.), testing methodology is also extremely important. Using a lab that specializes in the type of product in question will yield the most accurate results. For example, a lab may specialize in testing hemp flower, but may be inexperienced in a product such as a CBD oil.
Certificates of Analysis (COA)
Once an independent 3rd party laboratory has tested a hemp crop or product, the manufacturer will receive a Certificate of Analysis (COA) listing out the lab’s findings. This COA is what the manufacturer can then share with the consumer to show what is contained within the product, outlining the product’s potency and how safe the product is to consume.
If a brand does not make a COA for their products easily accessible for their consumers, they may not actually be testing each batch of products they produce, or worse off, they may be hiding something they don’t want their consumers to see. Also be sure that the COA can be traced back to the lab that performed the test. This way you can do some research on the lab itself to further determine the lab’s credibility and the validity of the COA.
CBD products are still unregulated and there are no established rules yet for acceptable levels of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, heavy metals, and other contaminants. Screening for them is not yet required, and there are no restrictions on selling products that contain them. The only thing that matters legally is staying below the 0.3% THC threshold.
There are thousands of hemp and CBD product brands out there, so if one is not being 100% transparent with its products, there are plenty of other options to choose from!
CBD Dosing Considerations – How much CBD to Take?
Because everyone’s bodies are unique and different, it is impossible to determine standardized dosages that will work equally well for everyone. Effects and results vary from person-to-person and dosage will depend on numerous variables, including the consumer’s age, weight, gender, metabolism rate, CBD tolerance and more. Absorption is also affected by the method in which the CBD is consumed.
Finding a dosage that works best for you will require an experimentation and adjustment period. Fortunately, it’s very difficult, and potentially impossible to overdose on CBD. According to 2011 study and an update from 2017, “…Chronic use and high doses of up to 1500 mg per day have been repeatedly shown to be well tolerated by humans..” The study also highlighted the fact that different people respond to different doses of CBD.
According to a report by the World Health Organization, no adverse health outcomes were found in regards to consuming CBD, but there were several medical applications found for the cannabinoid. Keep in mind that although studies have been performed, there is still a good amount that we don’t know about CBD. Before trying CBD, talk to your doctor about an appropriate dosage and any potential risks.
Another consideration, when consuming hemp and CBD products, is how well each type of product will be absorbed and utilized by your body. Are you actually receiving as much of the cannabinoid as the products advertise?
Bioavailability and Absorption Rate
Just because a product may be labeled as “10 mg” of CBD per dose, this does not mean that your body is actually absorbing and utilizing all 10 mg. In order for CBD or other cannabinoids to be effective in the body, they must first reach your endocannabinoid system – which means it must first be absorbed into your bloodstream, organs and tissues. The term “bioavailability” isn’t a term specific to hemp and CBD, but is instead a scientific term referencing the availability of a drug and compounds to the body’s organs, tissues and cells.
According to Principles of Clinical Pharmacology, “Bioavailability has been defined as the relative amount of a drug administered in a pharmaceutical product that enters the systemic circulation in an unchanged form and the rate at which this occurs.” Systemic circulation is the part of the vascular system that carries blood from the left ventricle to organs and tissues of the body. In more basic terms, CBD bioavailability is the amount of CBD that remains unchanged in its original form once it reaches the bloodstream, organs and tissues of the consumer’s body. The higher the bioavailability of a hemp CBD product, the better (and more efficient).
Every category of consumable CBD product (foods, topicals, tinctures, flower & pre-rolls, etc.) typically has a different absorption rate and bioavailability when consumed or applied topically to your body. The delivery method also directly effects how quickly the effects of the CBD can be felt.
Absorption rate is of critical importance when determining your CBD dosage and deciding how much of a particular product to take. If you’re attempting to consume 20 mg of CBD, but the absorption rate of the product you’re consuming is only 15%, that means that your body may only be utilizing 3 mg or less of the CBD you consumed. Inhaled CBD (smoking and vaping) are among the most efficient means of ingesting CBD, while oral formulations, such as capsules, tinctures, foods and beverages have the lowest bioavailability of all delivery methods.
CBD Consumption Methods: Types of Hemp and CBD Products and their Bioavailability
The therapeutic and medicinal benefits of CBD have been well-documented, which has resulted in a rapidly increasing popularity of hemp CBD products. CBD can be useful for various conditions, but with the glut of options available on the market, you want to select the ones that will be the most effective and efficient, meaning the highest bioavailability and how long they take to work.
Although CBD products are a relatively new phenomena, there are numerous studies on the therapeutic and medicinal benefits of CBD. Due to the medical and recreational cannabis markets, THC has been studied in much more detail.
In the rapidly growing Hemp and CBD markets, consumers now have the luxury of a wide range of options for consumption methods and products. Each type of delivery methods comes with its own pros and cons, which can create huge differences in overall effectiveness and results. Most CBD products will fall into the following categories:
- Topical CBD Products – Lotions, balms, creams, ointments
- Edible CBD products – foods, candies, beverages, capsules
- Sublingual CBD products – Oils, tinctures, sprays, and lozenges
- Smokable CBD products – Hemp Flower, pre-rolls, and cigarettes
- Vaporized CBD products – Vape Pens and Extract cartridges
Because many CBD products are made using CBD oil, let’s first take a look at what CBD oil actually is…
CBD Oil and CBD Isolate – The Backbone of Most CBD Products
Because cannabinoids are fat soluble, CBD oil is a liquid that contains CBD (cannabidiol) extract infused in a carrier oil. The CBD extracts being used in CBD oil can be either full spectrum, broad spectrum, or a CBD isolate. The carrier oils being used are, in most cases, medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), such as coconut oil, which are easy to digest. Other carrier oils may include hemp seed oil, olive oil, or grapeseed oil – depending on the brand and product. Some manufacturers may add other ingredients, including essential oils, additional plant extracts, or flavorings to the finished products.
Because of the variability of hemp plants, CBD extraction methods, carrier oils being used, and other formulation factors, CBD oils can vary drastically in strength, color, flavor and consistency.
Edible CBD Products – Foods, Candies, Beverages and Capsules
Edibles are one of the most popular and discrete methods of consuming hemp CBD. Typical edible products include foods, beverages and capsules where CBD oil is added. Because cannabinoids are lipophilic molecules, they are typically only soluble in fats and are not readily absorbed in the body when eaten directly. Standard methods of making products for oral consumption entail dissolving the CBD and other cannabinoids into fats a human can digest, including butter (for baked goods), or a carrier oil (like coconut or MCT oil).
Edible CBD products may have some delicious and enticing product options out there, but are you really getting your money’s worth when it comes to their effectiveness?
When you consume CBD orally, it’s required to make it past both the digestive system and other metabolic systems, including the liver, before it’s absorbed – taking way longer for the effects to kick in and drastically reducing its effectiveness. Studies have shown that the bioavailability of CBD is extremely low and takes longer to absorb when swallowed – as low as a 4% – 20% absorption rate, depending on product potency. This means that up to 96% of the CBD that is consumed orally may be wasted and produce zero therapeutic results.
Regardless of the product’s CBD potency, if the CBD is not absorbed into your bloodstream, the strength of the product is irrelevant. Most edible CBD foods or capsules contain anywhere from 5 – 25 mg of CBD per serving, but due to its bioavailability, your body may only be utilizing 1 – 5 mg of the dose.
Sublingual CBD Products – Oils, Tinctures, Sprays and Lozenges
Although swallowing CBD has been proven to be the least effective method, consuming products sublingually may help to improve their effectiveness. Sublingual, or “under the tongue”, refers to administering a substance into the blood through tissues under the tongue. This entails holding a product under your tongue for a period of time, usually between 1 – 2 minutes before swallowing. Because the product is no longer passing through the digestive system and liver, more of the CBD may be preserved and absorbed by the body.
Different variations of CBD products can be administered underneath the tongue, including oils, tinctures, sprays, concentrates, lozenges and more. Sublingual products make up a large percentage of all CBD products on the market and are relatively easy to dose if labeled properly.
Compared to swallowing a CBD product, consuming CBD sublingually takes less time for the product to kick in and may have a higher bioavailability and absorption rate. There is little-to-no data that confirms the actual absorption rate of CBD when consumed sublingually, but we can guess that the range may be somewhere between 10% – 30%.
CBD Tinctures Vs. CBD Oils
There are many misuses of the term “tincture” when it comes to CBD products. Although often consumed in the same fashion as CBD oils (liquid droppers), tinctures are not produced in the same fashion as oils.
The term “tincture” refers to an alcohol-based extract, which is essentially CBD hemp plant material soaked in an alcohol solution. The alcohol solvent extracts the active ingredients from the plant matter and concentrates them as a liquid. Prior to prohibition in the U.S., when extraction methods were far less advanced, tinctures were the primary form of cannabis/hemp medicine.
CBD tinctures can be consumed in the same fashion as CBD oils – either mixed in food, or sublingually. Due to the flavor of the alcohol base, oftentimes CBD tinctures are mixed with certain carrier oils and/or other complementary ingredients to improve flavor.
Smokable CBD Products – Hemp Flower, Hemp Pre-Rolls, and Hemp Cigarettes
With the Federal legalization of hemp products in 2018, there are now more ways to consume CBD than you can shake a stick at. With as many innovative products as humans can conceive to create, there will always be one form that is most pure – the flower of the hemp plant. All premium CBD products must get their CBD from somewhere, and the richest and most potent concentrations are always found within the CBD hemp plant’s flower buds.
Nearly identical to the cannabis flower (visual, aroma, flavor), but with THC concentrations of under 0.3%, dried hemp CBD flower is a great way to experience the benefits of the plant without the high that comes with smoking its THC-producing cousin.
Smoking hemp flower is one of the fastest delivery methods of cannabidiol (CBD) and other cannabinoids into the body. When you smoke hemp flower, the heat is activating the cannabinoids present in the flower – a process known as decarboxylation, which allows the cannabinoids to interact with your endocannabinoid system. When inhaled, the cannabinoids enter the bloodstream through the lungs and effects are felt within the first few minutes – eliminating the wait that comes with orally consumed CBD products.
One of the biggest benefits of smoking CBD hemp flower is that the bioavailability and absorption rate of the cannabinoids in the body is significantly higher than other means of consumption (edibles, oils, etc.). The act of smoking CBD hemp is extremely effective because it bypasses the cannabinoids being broken down in the stomach and liver before entering the bloodstream.
According to a 2009 study, bioavailability of THC, when smoked, can be as high as 56% – higher than nearly any other means of consumption. Another study, titled “A Systematic Review on the Pharmacokinetics of Cannabidiol in Humans reported average bioavailability of CBD, when smoked, to be an average of 31%.
On average, CBD hemp flower may contain anywhere from 10 – 20% CBD, depending on strain and growing conditions. This means that just 1 g of CBD hemp flower may contain 100 – 200 mg of CBD. With a bioavailability of 31% – 56%, your body can absorb over 100 mg of CBD by smoking just 1 gram of quality hemp CBD flower!
Typically consumed in a pre-roll, pipe or bong; smoking pure unaltered CBD hemp flower allows the consumer to experience the full-spectrum of over 100 cannabinoids, with all of the beneficial compounds, flavonoids and terpenes that create the entourage effect!
Nearly every CBD-rich hemp strain produces flowers that are unique in their visual appearance, aroma, flavor and effects. This is part of the fun of trying out a variety of strains, vs. having a product or brand formulate the strain for you in a liquid or edible product.
Hemp pre-rolls are among the easiest, most popular, and most affordable means of consuming hemp flower – allowing the consumer to enjoy hemp CBD flower without having to purchase or utilize an additional smoking apparatus. When purchasing hemp pre-rolls or cigarettes, make sure that you are purchasing products that contain only slow cured 100% hemp flower, and there are zero additives or chemicals. Other cheaper products may be enticing to try but what you save financially, you will lose in experience, flavor, and effects.
One very important part of smokable flower that determines it’s value is the post-harvest procedures and how the plant was dried and [sometimes] cured.
For hemp flower connoisseurs who demand premium quality, properly slow cured flower is non-negotiable. Only properly cured flowers will yield the beautiful appeal and shimmer of milky white trichomes, along with the delicious flavor, pungent aromas and higher potency to match. Any hemp flower products marketed as “premium” requires this essential post-drying step.
Post-Harvest: Drying Hemp Flower
If you have ever been curious as to why some hemp or cannabis tastes harsher or less flavorful than others, the issue most often stems from improper drying and curing processes. A farmer can grow the highest quality, most aromatic hemp on the planet, only to waste its amazing qualities with inadequate drying and curing techniques.
Just like all plant matter, hemp begins to degrade as soon as it has been harvested. Before CBD hemp flower can be smoked, the harvested plant must undergo a drying process to remove excess moisture.
If the plant is properly cut, hung and dried in well-ventilated rooms, with temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees F and humidity levels between 45-55%, the flowers will continue to gain potency. The aromatic essential oils (terpenes) that give the hemp plant its pungent and unique aromas are quite volatile and can degrade and evaporate at temperatures as low as 70 degrees F. Attempting to quickly dry the plant at higher temperatures (as with an industrial drier) halts this process much quicker, destroys these compounds and decreases the quality, flavors, aromas and effects of the flower.
On the other hand, too low of temperatures and insufficient air circulation will cause the plant’s flowers to retain excessive levels of chlorophyll, which tends to create as grassy or hay odor. If hung improperly, the flowers can also begin to mold.
Depending on the density of the harvested hemp flowers and the environmental conditions, it can take anywhere from 7 – 15 days for the initial phase of drying to be completed. After the plant is sufficiently dry, it will either be sold into market, or it will undergo a slow curing process to maximize the quality.
Why does some hemp seem flavorless and low quality?
Even if the grower has done everything by the book, including proper drying, the curing process is often the determining factor for creating the best smoking experience possible. Nowadays, with hemp and CBD becoming such a large part of our everyday lives, hemp farming is becoming extremely competitive and many farmers and processors are looking for faster and cheaper ways to prepare their products for sale, rather than focusing on quality.
Currently, most hemp crops are being grown for CBD extraction, which means only a small percentage of hemp farmers are focusing on growing premium hemp flower for smoking. Because extraction companies who manufacture isolated CBD oils are not usually interested in flavor profile, or compounds other than CBD within the plant, they will utilize, or purchase from growers who utilize industrial driers for a cheaper products tend to smell and taste of grass and hay..
So, how do select growers and farms produce super high-quality flowers with beautiful flavors and aromas? The answer is proper slow-curing processes.
Post-Harvest: Proper Slow Curing for Premium CBD Hemp Flower
For hemp flower connoisseurs who demand premium quality, a proper slow cure is non-negotiable. Only properly cured flowers will yield the beautiful appeal and shimmer of milky white trichomes, along with the delicious flavor, pungent aromas and higher potency to match. Any hemp flower products marketed as “premium” requires this essential post-drying step.
What is Curing and Why is it Important?
The act of “curing” consumable products can be traced far back into human history. Long before refrigeration and other modern food preservation techniques, curing foods was the primary method of preservation for storage and later consumption. Although there have been numerous curing techniques used throughout history, the underlying goal remains the same: to remove bacteria and moisture to preserve the product for long-term storage and later consumption. This process is one of the most important inventions in history, increasing the ability for civilizations to grow and flourish.
In the case of hemp, Immediately after harvest, the plant begins to degrade as enzymes and bacteria break down excess sugars and starches. The curing process, in-essence, forces the hemp plant to use of those sugars, starches and excessive nutrients before they dry out and are trapped within the plant – requiring a very particular combination of the storage and climate conditions.
So what exactly is “slow curing” and how does it work?
After the drying process, premium quality flowers which will be undergoing a slow curing process, are trimmed of their remaining leaves, either by hand or through a trimming machine. Once the flower buds are trimmed, the curing process begins, which entails sealing the flower buds in air-tight containers and storing them in a dry, dark environment for long periods of time. As slow curing is an artisan process that requires time and patience, the flowers must be checked on daily and tended to for the first couple of weeks to allow excess moisture to escape and prevent molding. Artisan growers will typically cure the hemp flowers for anywhere from 4 – 8 weeks, but curing even longer can improve quality even further. The result is a phenomenal product packed with everything that makes hemp flower so unique and enjoyable to smoke.
A proper slow cure will also prepare your hemp flower for long term storage, without the threat of mold. Properly cured hemp flowers, stored in a cool, dark environment and an air-tight container can store for well over a year.
So, why don’t all hemp growers put their crops through the slow curing process, you ask? Well, it takes a lot of time, space and TLC before the product can be sold. Because it takes more time to reach the market as it goes through the slow curing process, this tends to make it more expensive for growers to produce.
Just take one look at flower in the extremely competitive recreational cannabis industry and you’ll notice that flower products don’t stand a chance in the market if they aren’t properly cured and bursting with pungent aromas. When smoked, slow cured flower is light years beyond a flower that has only been dried. This part of the experience is of the utmost importance to the consumer and is a critical component of what makes trying out different strains so exciting!
Vaporized CBD Products – Vape Pens, Extract Cartridges and Dry Herb Vapes
In the past few years, vaporizers have become a popular means of consumption of various substances, including hemp, marijuana and nicotine. Vaporizers are typically portable electronic batteries that heat oil or “e-juice” to a temperature just high enough to vaporize the oil or liquid, rather than combust it – producing an aerosol or ‘mist’, rather than smoke. Vaporizers can make consumption much more discreet than smoking, but you are not typically receiving the same experience as a full-flower product.
If you purchase CBD vape cartridges or pens made from a CBD isolate, rather than a full-spectrum extract, you are not receiving any of the other over 100 cannabinoids that are produced by the hemp plant. Even with a full-spectrum extract, there are other items contained in vaporizers that may put the consumer at risk.
CBD Vape Flavorings, Additives and Other Substances
Vaporizers deliver a comparable absorption rate and bioavailability to smokable hemp products, but there are certain things you must watch out for – especially around the product’s ingredients. For CBD vaporizers, these ingredients can include CBD oil, flavorings, additives, and other substances, including propylene glycol.
Propylene glycol, according to the US National Library of Medicine and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, is a synthetic liquid substance that absorbs water. Although propylene glycol is categorized by the FDA as “GRAS” (generally recognized as safe), it is a petroleum-based, colorless liquid chemical that is also found in antifreeze, paints, plastics, cleaners, deodorants and more. This chemical is even illegal in Europe, but totally legal in the U.S.
The safety and health effects of using electronic vaporizers still are not well known, as the products have not existed long enough to collect sufficient long-term safety data. There have been many reported cases of illnesses resulting from vaporizers, including numerous deaths in the illicit cannabis market from unsafe additives. Several states have even banned flavored vape products.
When looking for CBD vape pens and cartridges, make sure you’re seeking out vapes that contain only cannabis-derived ingredients. If the ingredients are made purely from hemp extracts, flavorings will be from naturally-derived terpenes – although some companies add-in terpenes from other plants, which are not hemp-derived.
CBD Vapes and Contaminants
Hemp is a bioaccumulator plant, meaning it is particularly effective at absorbing chemicals from its surroundings – which then become trapped within the plant. This is the main reason why hemp was planted in the area around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant – in attempt to clean waste from the soil. Unfortunately, consuming hemp plants that are grown in highly treated or contaminated soil can expose humans to long-term health issues.
Because hemp is still widely unregulated market, there are no enforceable limits on the use of agrochemicals that could potentially be absorbed by the hemp plant. With most hemp farmers, the goal is to obtain the highest concentration of CBD as possible for extraction (to be used in vapes, supplements, foods, etc.). When extracting the plant, chemicals such as pesticides or heavy metals are often concentrated and magnified alongside the cannabinoids and other compounds being extracted and isolated. With the lack of compliance standards, some hemp-derived CBD products have been found to be contaminated with potentially dangerous amounts of pesticides, nickel, copper, lead and other agrochemicals.
Even the vaporizing devices themselves can be dangerous. According to a 2018 study from Johns Hopkins, the aerosol or vapor produced by vape pens and other vaporizing devices contained “significant amounts of toxic metals, including lead.” It was noted this was likely caused by low quality heating coils within the mechanism. There have even been cases of explosions with electronic cigarette batteries, where the battery can overheat and cause a chain reaction, including explosion or ignition. According to another study, “from 2015 to 2017, there were an estimated 2035 e-cigarette explosion and burn injuries presenting to US hospital emergency departments.”
Vaporizing Hemp Flower
There is an alternative option when it comes to the use of oil vaporizers and vape pens, and that is vaporizing whole hemp flowers. Dry herb vaporizers are used for loading ground-up plant material and heating the material to the point of vaporizing the compounds contained within the plant, without combusting. Heating without combustion reduces the ingestion of tar and carcinogens that can come with smoke.
With a dry herb vaporizer, you’re receiving the full-spectrum of the plant, preserving the terpenes and flavonoids that provide a range of so many unique flavors and experiences. Also, using a dry herb vaporizer uses the flower in its entirety, unprocessed with zero additives, chemicals or flavorings.
Unfortunately, dry herb vaporizers are quite a bit more expensive and also a bit less convenient, requiring you to purchase flower separate, grind the flower and load the chamber. A small price to pay for peace of mind vs. vape cartridges and vape pens.
Tree-Rolls® Premium CBD Hemp Products
Our goal with this Hemp 101 page is to help educate our readers and consumers and help guide you on your journey of finding the perfect CBD products for you.
All of our Tree-Rolls® products can be found by hovering over the “Shop” menu on our website. Here you will find our full line of 100% Hemp pre-rolls and Hemp + Herbs pre-rolls – all made with USA organically grown, full-spectrum hemp flower, containing less than 0.3% THC and made with ZERO additives, flavorings, tobacco, nicotine, or other nonsense chemicals.
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