Hemp and marijuana are two different varieties of the same plant family, cannabis sativa.
Both hemp and marijuana have cannabidiols (CBD), non-psychoactive chemicals that, according to advocates, can reduce anxiety, relieve pain and, at least in the case of industrial hemp, be a new type of cash crop for American farmers.
In this case, hemp contains high amounts of CBD compared to marijuana, which has much less.
Both hemp and marijuana also contain THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis that is used by people to get “high.” The main difference between the two is that hemp has very little THC, while some marijuana strains contain more than 30 percent. People smoke marijuana to get high, but not hemp.
The Legalization of Hemp
In December of 2018, shortly before legislators left for the holidays, Congress passed and the president signed the Hemp Farming Act of 2018.
The act lifts some restrictions on the growth and sale of hemp, which can’t contain more than 0.3 percent of THC and won’t get a person “high.”
Modern strains of marijuana, by comparison, can be as potent as 30+ percent THC.
Hemp and marijuana were classified as Schedule I narcotics in the 1970s Controlled Substance Act, along with drugs like cocaine and heroin. These are substances that the federal government believes have no medicinal qualities and a high potential for abuse.
Will Hemp be Regulated in the United States?
The latest update to the Farm Bill will radically transform the industrial hemp market, making it a mainstream crop in the coming years. That said, it will be a highly regulated product.
At least one reason for such strict regulations stems from law enforcement concerns that the more THC-rich form of cannabis can easily be grown and hidden amidst crops of industrial hemp.
The Farm Bill also removes hemp-derived products, such as CBD, from Schedule I status, but there’s a catch.
“The Farm Bill ensures that any cannabinoid – a set of chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant – that is derived from hemp will be legal, if and only if that hemp is produced in a manner consistent with the Farm Bill, associated federal regulations, associated state regulations, and by a licensed grower,” writes Brookings contributor John Hudak.
Cannabinoids manufactured in any other setting, Hudak adds, will remain illegal under federal law, at least for the most part.
CBD Products Made From Hemp
The Food and Drug administration just approved its first ever pharmaceutical-grade CBD medication, Epidiolex, in the summer of 2018.
Epidiolex is directly derived from marijuana and prescribed for the treatment of seizures related to two rare forms of epilepsy.
CBD products are readily available in a majority of U.S. states, especially states with liberal medicinal and recreational marijuana laws.
Because of federal regulations preventing large-scale studies of Schedule I drugs, there’s been a lack of research into how CBD can improve people’s health.
The Health Benefits of CBD
In addition to epilepsy, CBD is often touted for some of the following health benefits:
- Useful for people suffering certain forms of anxiety or stress
- It is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties
- Some evidence that it helps those suffering from insomnia to get to sleep and stay asleep
- A growing field of research suggests CBD helps inhibit chronic, neuropathic pain
“Some CBD manufacturers have come under government scrutiny for wild, indefensible claims, such that CBD is a cure-all for cancer, which it is not,” Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a contributing editor Harvard Health Publishing,” writes.
“We need more research, but CBD may prove to be an option for managing anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain.”
With 33 states now allowing for the sale and consumption of marijuana in some form – recreational, medicinal or both – the dominos continue to fall where marijuana legislation is concerned, albeit with strict regulation.
It’s growing more and more feasible that in the years to come, the federal government will eventually remove marijuana and other cannabis-derived products from its Schedule I classification.