Difference Between Medical Cannabis & Industrial Hemp

How they’re the same

Both are yields from the Cannabis Sativa plant. Both have a distinctive fragrance and leaf pattern. Both grow quickly and create sustainable products

But that’s about where the similarities end. 

Industrial Hemp

At this moment, Industrial hemp refers to any yield from a planting of Cannabis Sativa that contains less than .3% delta-9 THC by weight.

This makes sense when you’re talking about hemp plants grown for fiber to make industrial materials (like wood and composites and hempcrete) and clothing and rope, or hemp plants grown to yield their protein- and oil-rich hemp seeds, or grain.

But when we’re talking about plants grown from which to extract CBD, the distinction is less easy to track and understand. 

CBD genetics, for example, have been bred over the years to have characteristics similar to medical marijuana, but to contain as much as 18% CBD by weight rather than 20% THC by weight. 

What this means is that mature CBD-rich genetics are visually indistinct from mature THC-rich genetics. 

This lack of distinction has created massive complications for farmers, law enforcement, and regulatory bodies like the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) and individual state departments of agriculture. Here are some of the realities of that: 

  1. Law enforcement officers have no way of knowing whether a person transporting a large amount of CBD flower is actually transporting illegal cannabis flower, or pot. There’s no good way for them to find out because despite some field testing options, the lesser-presence of THC in CBD flower could create a false positive.

  2. The USDA and state departments of agriculture have not had to regulate medical-adjacent crops in the past. Even though CBD flower is not intoxicating, it is still extracted for both nutraceutical and pharmaceutical purposes.

  3. It is possible for CBD plants to actually develop higher-than-legal THC levels, which means an Industrial Hemp farmer may have to destroy crops that cost thousands of dollars and thousands of hours to grow, per acre. CBD farmers are growing outdoors as often as indoors, which means in addition to concerns about potentially “hot” plants, there’s also the weather to contend with. 

Medical Cannabis

Medical Cannabis is regulated by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), and not at all by the USDA. 

Very little medical cannabis is grown outdoors. 

Mature medical cannabis plants have characteristics like resined leaves and dense flowers and brown or white “hairs.” 

Medical Cannabis’s supply chain is established and tightly controlled. Yields are collected from mostly indoor growing facilities, delivered to labs that test them to exacting standards, then process them into carefully controlled pharmaceutical products, and then supplied to dispensaries nationwide. 

Each of these are regulated by individual state bodies as well as federal bodies. 

Medical Cannabis is not available to everyone, people who use medical cannabis must be doing so in consultation with their physician. 

There are those in the industrial hemp space who believe that CBD-rich cannabis genetics should be regulated in the same way and by the same bodies as THC-rich cannabis genetics. And in fact Medical Cannabis facilities are already processing and creating CBD products

It will be interesting to see how this industry shifts and evolves as additional states legalize recreational cannabis.

Image Credits.