Hemp is primarily grown for industrial purposes, and in recent years for CBD production.

A Breakdown of The Differences Between Hemp, CBD, and THC

By Kristi Pahr

Cannabis has been gaining popularity over the last decade like never before. Whether it’s marijuana, hemp, or CBD, it seems like cannabis is everywhere. But with so much increased exposure comes no small amount of confusion. After almost a century of marijuana prohibition in the U.S., many people are unsure if the products hitting the shelves are even legal, much less if they’re safe or beneficial. 

Adding to the confusion around legality, the jargon of the cannabis market can be difficult to understand. Hemp, hemp oil, CBD, and THC are sometimes used interchangeably but are undoubtedly different. But if they all come from the same plant, Cannabis sativa, how different can they be? Let’s take a closer look at these compounds.

The Differences Between Hemp, CBD, and THC

Despite the common origin from the Cannabis sativa plant, hemp, hemp oil, CBD, and THC are all quite different.

1. Hemp

In short, hemp is cannabis. Both hemp and marijuana come from the Cannabis sativa plant. But where marijuana contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that causes the euphoric feeling associated with consuming marijuana, hemp does not. Hemp cultivation is legal throughout the U.S. since it does not contain THC.

Hemp is primarily grown for industrial purposes, and in recent years for cannabidiol (CBD) production. Hemp fiber is used in textiles, ropes, animal bedding, and mulch, while the seeds are used in birdseed mixes and the preparation of hemp oil. CBD is removed from leaves, stems, and flowers via a complicated extraction process and is then processed to create the numerous CBD-infused products we have on the market today.

2. Hemp Oil

Hemp oil, also known as hemp seed oil, is extracted from cannabis seeds and has been available for many years. Because it’s made from seeds and not leaves, stems, or flowers, it does not contain THC or CBD. Hemp oil’s high fatty acid profile makes it a popular supplement taken in capsule form, and it is also used in cooking and baking. Like hemp, hemp oil is legal in the States.

Hemp oil is chock full of polyunsaturated fats like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and all nine amino acids, making it a powerful antioxidant and a precursor to protein creation within the body. It also contains a variety of vitamins and minerals and has a high concentration of iron, making it ideal for fighting off iron deficiency. 

Research has also shown that hemp oil helps alleviate premenstrual syndrome (PMS),  menopause, and it has strong antibacterial properties.

3. CBD

CBD is the wellness market’s newest rockstar and can be found in product preparations ranging from makeup to chocolate bars and everything in between. Its rich therapeutic profile and low incidence of side effects have made CBD one of the most popular supplements over the last few years.

CBD is a phytocannabinoid, a dynamic chemical constituent of the cannabis plant. CBD, along with dozens of other phytocannabinoids, combine to give cannabis its unique health and wellness properties. By interacting with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) of the human body, CBD can bring targeted relief to a variety of conditions: chronic pain, skin problems, and anxiety, to name a few. 

Unlike its chemical cousin THC, CBD doesn’t have any psychoactive effects, and consumption does not result in a high and is therefore legal in all 50 states.

4. THC

THC is another phytocannabinoid and is arguably the most well-known of the dozens so far discovered. THC is the component of the cannabis plant that is responsible for the euphoric, or high, feeling associated with marijuana consumption.

While it has medicinal benefits of its own, it is difficult to come by in many parts of the United States, owing to its labeling as a schedule 1 controlled substance by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In states where marijuana is legal, research suggests it has “therapeutic potential” for conditions, such as glaucoma, nausea, and vomiting. 

Recreationally, marijuana has been used for millennia, with the earliest evidence of human consumption going back 2500 years. Today, marijuana is fully illegal in only six states, with the remaining 44 having either decriminalized, legalized for medical use, or legalized for recreational use. 

The Take-Home

Despite the common origin, hemp, hemp oil, CBD, and THC are all quite different. Cannabis is a dynamic and beneficial plant with far-ranging properties — not only in health and wellness but also in the textiles and industrial fields as well.


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Kristi Pahr is a freelance health and wellness writer and mother of two who spends most of her time caring for people other than herself. She is frequently exhausted and compensates with an intense caffeine addiction. Her work has appeared in Good Housekeeping, Real Simple, Men’s Health, and many others.

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