Just a quick disclaimer; we don’t make health claims about CBD, we just share the research. You’ll always find references to scientific literature to substantiate what we share. This is for informational use only. Always speak to your doctor before making any changes to your healthcare regimen.
Theres a lot of confusion around the terminology used for telling cannabis plants apart. Cannabis can come in all shapes and sizes, and be both illegal and legal. Read on and you’ll be an expert on all things cannabis, especially where to find the best CBD.
Cannabis & Hemp: Whats the Difference?
Cannabis is a genus of flowering plants which has a number of species that fall under it; Cannabis Sativa L., Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Ruderalis.
Cannabis Sativa L
This species typically grows in hot, dry climates such as in Africa, Central America, Southeast and Western Asia.
Cannabis Sativa L. can be split into two different types: Hemp & Marijuana. These terms are the unscientific, non-botanical terms for differentiating plants that have low vs high amounts of THC.
THC is the psychoactive compound thats illegal because it gets people high. It naturally occurs (along with CBD) in all species of Cannabis plants, but varies the most across the Cannabis Sativa L. species.
Its for this reason that some types of Cannabis Sativa L are illegal, and some aren’t. Here’s how they’re told apart.
Hemp is a name given for a particular type of Cannabis Sativa L. Whilst the term hemp is widely recognised, it’s actually a non-botanical name used to classify one type of Cannabis Sativa L from another.
Hemp is the term used to describe the type of Cannabis Sativa L. which has very low concentrations of THC (less than 0.3% to be exact). For this reason, it’s legal to cultivate and use to extract CBD, which it also contains.
Hemp contains moderate to high amounts of CBD. The CBD in hemp can be found throughout the plant, mainly in the flowers and to a lesser extent in the leaves, stalks and stems. The seeds contain little to no CBD, and are used for different purposes than the cannabinoid containing parts.
It’s also a fantastic source of fibre, which is often why it is referred to as the ‘fibre-type’ of Cannabis Sativa L.
Marijuana is another non-botanical term which refers to the other type of Cannabis Sativa L. It contains high levels of THC ranging anywhere in the region of 5-30%, and is often referred to as the ‘drug-type’ of Cannabis Sativa L.
Marijuana produces much larger, more resinous flowers than hemp. Cannabinoids are produced in the flowers of cannabis plants, by the resin producing glands known as trichomes. Marijuana produces significantly more resin than hemp, which is why THC is higher in these varieties of Cannabis Sativa L. You’d also expect to find low amounts of CBD in these plants.
This type of ‘Marijuana’ tends to produce uplifting, euphoric, energising and stimulating effects. Its often mentioned to give its users a cerebral ‘buzz’ thats great for productivity, creativity and reducing depression and anxiety. Its also been known to suppress appetite.
The Cannabis Indica species is indigenous to Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and Turkey. Its particularly resilient, and can endure harsh environments such as the Hindu Kush mountains of Asia.
All Cannabis Indica plants are drug-types or ‘marijuana’, because they consistently contain high concentrations of THC. They also contain low to moderate levels of CBD.
In the UK, all Cannabis Indica is illegal because of the high THC content. The Indica species provides more of a body ‘buzz’ and is said to be effective for pain, insomnia, anxiety, general relaxation and to stimulate appetite.
CBD From Hemp Or Marijuana: Whats The Difference?
Although CBD has the same molecular structure regardless of where it comes from, its effects can vary based on how its ‘packaged’. When I talk about packaging, I’m referring to the other plant compounds and cannabinoids you find with CBD in a full spectrum extract.
Hemp and marijuana have different chemical make-ups, meaning they contain different mixtures of cannabinoids and terpenes. The varied cannabinoid and terpene profiles of hemp and marijuana mean that they have different effects.
The main way cannabis plants are separated is by their cannabinoid content. They are separated into chemotypes based on the ratio of THC:CBD they contain:
Image Source: Broséus et al., 2010
Hemp based CBD extracts usually contain CBD in concentrations anywhere from 10 – 30%. A study of CBD levels in drug-type (marijuana), intermediate type (marijuana) and fibre-type (hemp) cannabis plants showed that hemp contained much higher levels of CBD than marijuana (1).
Image Source: Aizpurua-Olaizola et al., 2016
Despite containing high amounts of CBD, hemp derived extracts also have lower amounts of other (potentially) useful cannabinoids like CBC and THCV (2). Its no surprise that the same study found drug-type plants to contain a lot more THC than hemp, but they also appeared to contain much higher amounts of CBG.
Image Source: Aizpurua-Olaizola et al., 2016
Cannabinoids don’t act alone, but as a team. So whilst hemp may be a great source of CBD, it may not provide the greatest value, due to lower levels of CBG, THC, THCV and CBC. Similarly, marijuana may miss out on the benefits of CBD despite having high amounts of other cannabinoids.
Fortunately, drug-type and fibre-type plants can be crossed to provide the best of both worlds. Special types of marijuana (intermediate-types) have been bred to contain higher CBD concentrations.
Having a greater diversity and concentration of cannabinoids in extracts may add greater value when it comes to supporting health and wellbeing. For example, CBD has a greater effect on cancer cell destruction when combined with THC (5).
Whilst most users of CBD do just fine without THC, others may require a little bit of THC (and other cannabinoids), depending on their unique needs.
The intermediate-type plants (marijuana) studied above express levels of CBD:THC in a ratio of ~ 1.5:1, as well as containing moderate amounts of CBG. This may be a more attractive option for some CBD users looking for an extra edge.
Take pain relief for example, which has been found to be more effective with THC/CBD 1:1 rather than THC or CBD alone (9). CBG has also been found to be a powerful pain reliever (3). Also, CBD balances out the negative effects of THC, by blocking its intoxicating and anxiety promoting effects (9).
On the other hand, someone looking to use cannabis for anxiety may be better off with a hemp derived CBD extract, with very low levels of THC (<0.2%).
In summary, whether you get your CBD from hemp or marijuana depends on your unique needs, and of course the legal status of THC in your country.
Besides cannabinoids, cannabis plants also contain other compounds called terpenes. These are what give each plant its distinct smell and taste. They also have health giving properties of their own, and contribute to the pain relieving, mood enhancing, sleep inducing and uplifting effects of cannabis.
There’s a lot of variation in the mixture of terpenes across cannabis plants. This means that even if plants share the same cannabinoid profiles, they’ll have completely different effects.
The terpene profiles of different cannabis plants may influence where you source your CBD from. The terpenes in Cannabis Sativa L. plants tend to produce uplifting, stimulating and energising effects which are suggested to help depression, fatigue and productivity.
An analysis of Cannabis Sativa (Marijuana-type) plants found they contained the highest amounts of Terpenolene and Beta-caryophyllene (2) , which are believed to contribute to the uplifting effects of this variety of cannabis (10).
In contrast Cannabis Indica plants tend to produce more relaxing, stony and sedative effect that can be felt mostly in the body. These plants were found to contain much higher amounts of a specific group of terpenes; β–myrcene, linalool and nerolidol (2), which may account for its more sedative, relaxing and anti-anxiety effects (11), (12), (3).
Hemp on the other hand was found to have less terpene diversity and concentrations than both the above marijuana type plants (2). In another study, hemp was found to have lower concentrations of specific terpenes (sesquiterpenes) than marijuana (1).
Image Source: Aizpurua-Olaizola et al., 2016
Cannabis Indica is likely to provide a more sleep inducing, relaxing and restorative form of CBD, whereas Cannabis Sativa L. may offer a more energetic and uplifting CBD experience. The indica vs sativa rule is not perfect when it comes to defining a plants effects, there’s going to be crossover and variations. However, its a good rule of thumb.
The Entourage Effect
Whether your CBD comes from hemp or marijuana (sativa or indica) if its a full spectrum extract then you’ll still experience the entourage effect.
The entourage effect is a result of the interaction of the plants cannabinoids and terpenes, that produces a holistic effect which is greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, the effects combined are greater than each cannabinoid and terpenoid alone.
Different plants have different cannabinoid and terpene profiles, so provide unique entourage effects that may culminate to produce different effects:
- Sleepy vs awakening
- Appetite suppressing vs simulating
- Energising vs sedating
This begs the question…….
Which CBD is Best?
You can choose your desired CBD based on what you are looking to get out of it. Where you live also happens to make a big difference.
Hemp vs Marijuana: The Cannabinoids
Most of us will be restricted to using CBD from hemp, because THC is illegal in the UK. However, a few companies extract their CBD from marijuana, and filter out the THC. Although theres no THC to synergise with CBD; marijuana derived CBD may provide a rich source of other beneficial cannabinoids like CBC and CBG.
In countries where THC is legal, extracts may contain a 1:1 CBD/THC ratio, which may be the sweet spot for some people. Even a ratio of 20:1 CBD/THC may produce more desirable effects than CBD alone, which would be ideal for those who want more of an effect, but without the high from THC.
Indica vs Sativa: The Terpenes
If you’re lucky enough to get hold of a marijuana derived CBD extract with the THC filtered out, then thats a bonus since marijuana tends to contain a greater diversity and concentration of terpenes.
Some companies in the UK offer you the luxury of choosing an indica or sativa CBD extract. This allows you to enjoy your CBD with extra benefits. For example, an indica based CBD extract may help with relaxation and getting better sleep. Alternatively, a sativa based CBD extract may help with fatigue or low mood.
Something to bear in mind is that everyone is different, and has unique needs. One of the best ways to meet your individual needs is to systematically test different types of products. That way you can see what works best for you.