If you thought hemp and marijuana were the same thing – you are not alone. Let’s explore what hemp is and the history of cannabis to really understand the major differences between hemp and marijuana, or pot. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has completed its evaluation of three generally recognized as safe (GRAS) notices for hemp seed-derived food ingredients. Find out what the research says about hemp seeds, who should have them, and how they may affect your health.
Wait, What!? I Thought Hemp and Marijuana Were the Same Thing!
If you thought hemp and marijuana were the same thing – you are not alone. When it comes to understanding the difference between hemp and marijuana, it can get a little confusing and details are often improperly explained. With a greater amount of hemp products in the market, from supplements to beauty products, it is important to understand the exact nature of what you are buying. We aim to deconstruct this confusion and explain to you what hemp really is and dive a little into the history of cannabis, so that you can choose wisely and confidently.
Understanding the Difference: What Is Hemp? What Is Marijuana?
Before we lay out all of the differences between hemp and marijuana, it is important to note that one of the big similarities that probably leads to the confusion between the two is that they are both derived from the Cannabis plant.
Both hemp and marijuana are, in fact, taxonomically the same plant. This means that they are different names for the same genus, which would be Cannabis. But while marijuana comes from both the cannabis indica or cannabis sativa plant, hemp belongs solely to the cannabis sativa family.
A Brief History of Cannabis
The history of cannabis has been a turbulent one, and one that still faces confusion and misunderstanding. Due to how closely related the plants are, the government outlawed hemp and hemp seeds at the same time marijuana was made illegal. Cannabis was an early target of the “War on Drugs” in the 1970’s, and led to the misconception around hemp, lumping both hemp and marijuana into the same conversation.
Hemp was legalized in the United States in 2018 through the Farm Bill, which lifted the provisions on hemp that were previously classified as a drug on par with heroin. In the Agricultural Act of 2018, the definition was further changed to describe the non-intoxicating forms of Cannabis that is used specifically for its industrial uses. Hemp can produce essential resources in everyday textiles, industrial textiles, building materials, as well as health and body care. Because hemp is mostly the fiber of the plant, there is evidence of its uses throughout history up to 10,000 years ago. Early evidence shows hemp in rope and other industrial materials.
Today, hemp affords many legalities that marijuana does not. For instance, products made from hemp – including medicine , wellness , clothing and body care – can be purchased almost anywhere in stores and online. In fact, hemp is now known to have over 20,000 different applications, with a ton of innovation expected over the years to come.
Does Hemp Have THC?
A key difference between hemp and marijuana lies within – meaning, within their chemical composition. The cannabis genus is made up of over 110 known cannabinoids and hemp and marijuana’s cannabinoid profile is characteristically different. The greatest determination for whether the plant is hemp or marijuana depends on the spectrums and concentrations of psychoactive compound , THC .
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the chemical responsible for the intoxicating effects of marijuana, otherwise known as a high. So while marijuana is mostly made up of THC (sometimes reaching as high as 30%), hemp is made up of less than 0.3% THC. In other words, hemp won’t produce a high, which is great if that’s something you’d prefer to avoid.
Benefits of Hemp
Hemp is incredibly versatile and the entire hemp plant can be used in a myriad of ways . Follow along as we deconstruct some of the most popular uses of hemp.
Hemp Stalk: Using Hemp for Fiber and Hurds
The hemp plant’s stalk, also referred to as the stem, provides fiber and hurds. Fiber is used to produce textiles, rope, plastics and even building insulation. Hurds are used to create paper, fiber boards, and organic compost.
Hemp Seeds: Using Hemp for Food and Beauty Products
One of the most common uses is hemp seed oil, which is full of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids and other vitamins and minerals. You can use hemp seed oil in salad dressings and other cold dishes – we don’t recommend using it for cooking as it has a very low smoking point.
Other uses for hemp seeds are sprinkling them as is on protein bars, in smoothies, even sneaking it into your baked goods! You can have hemp milk, hemp butter, flour and protein powder. Why should you give hemp seed products a try? Because they’re incredibly rich in dietary fibers, protein, vitamins and minerals!
Hemp-derived CBD vs Marijuana-derived CBD
Now that we’ve established you will not get high from hemp, let’s shift focus to the properties of hemp that give way to CBD. While the CBD compound is the same from both marijuana-derived CBD and hemp-derived CBD, they differ in the amount of cannabinoid content and effect profiles.
Cannabinoid Content and Effect Profiles
Hemp-derived CBD extract typically consists of a higher concentration of CBD and a THC level of 0.3% or less. Marijuana-derived CBD can come with significantly higher amounts of THC, going from 5% to as high as 30%. Bottom line: if you want CBD without any THC, hemp-derived CBD is your best best.
Those wishing to avoid THC should go with a CBD isolate product made from hemp rather than a full-spectrum CBD. A CBD isolate is the purest form of CBD – it contains around 99% cannabidiol without any additional cannabinoids, terpenes and plants components. In contrast to isolates, full-spectrum CBD retains the full spectrum of cannabinoids and has its own set of benefits such as the “entourage effect”, arguing that THC, even in small amounts below 0.3%, can help increase efficacy thru the bond with CB1 and CB2 receptors. To simplify, the “entourage effect” says that the plant works best as it was naturally grown. With all the different types of CBDs, it’s ultimately up to you to decide which is your preferred choice.
Though there is still some confusion around hemp and marijuana, it is important to understand that there is in fact a great difference in their application, usage, and chemical components. To put it simply, marijuana will get you high and hemp will not. Hemp also is an incredible utilitarian plant used all over the world and noted for its nutritious benefits. To confuse hemp and marijuana would be akin to confusing lemons and oranges. Understanding how they are dissimilar can be critical in helping inform you on how you use hemp and marijuana products in your life.
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FDA Responds to Three GRAS Notices for Hemp Seed-Derived Ingredients for Use in Human Food
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has completed its evaluation of three generally recognized as safe (GRAS) notices for hemp seed-derived food ingredients. The GRAS notices were submitted by Fresh Hemp Foods, Ltd. The agency has no questions about Fresh Hemp Food’s conclusion that the following ingredients are GRAS under their intended conditions of use: hulled hemp seed (GRN765), hemp seed protein powder (GRN771), and hemp seed oil (GRN778).
Foods containing hemp seed and hemp seed-derived ingredients are currently marketed in the US. Hemp seeds are the seeds of the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. Although hemp is from the same species as cannabis (marijuana), the seeds themselves do not naturally contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. The hemp seed-derived ingredients that are the subject of these GRAS notices contain only trace amounts of THC and CBD, which the seeds may pick up during harvesting and processing when they are in contact with other parts of the plant. Consumption of these hemp seed-derived ingredients is not capable of making consumers “high”.
The GRAS notices are for three different hemp seed-derived ingredients. The GRAS conclusions can apply to ingredients from other companies, if they are manufactured in a way that is consistent with the notices and they meet the listed specifications. Some of the intended uses for these ingredients include adding them as source of protein, carbohydrates, oil, and other nutrients to beverages (juices, smoothies, protein drinks, plant-based alternatives to dairy products), soups, dips, spreads, sauces, dressings, plant-based alternatives to meat products, desserts, baked goods, cereals, snacks and nutrition bars. Products that contain any of these hemp seed-derived ingredients must declare them by name on the ingredient list.
These GRAS conclusions do not affect the FDA’s position on the addition of CBD and THC to food. As stated on FDA and Marijuana: Questions and Answers, it is a prohibited act under section 301(ll) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to introduce into interstate commerce a food to which CBD or THC has been added.
Hemp Seeds: Are They Good for You?
Hemp seeds are a rich source of nutrients. Part of the hemp plant, these seeds are technically a nut that can be eaten raw or used to make milk, oil, cheese substitutes, or protein powder.
While related to the cannabis plant, hemp seeds have little to none of the psychoactive compound THC found in marijuana. For centuries the seeds have been used for oral and topical applications to treat and prevent certain health issues. A growing body of modern clinical research is backing up many of these claims.
Hemp seeds’ nutty flavor and versatility also make them a great substitute for the levels of protein, essential fatty acids, and other nutritional benefits found in meat and dairy products.
Hemp seeds can be:
- Eaten raw, roasted, or cooked
- Shelled as hemp hearts
- Cold-pressed to produce hemp seed oil
- Used for non-dairy hemp milk and hemp cheese
A 30 gram serving (three-tablespoons) of raw hemp seeds contains:
- Calories: 166 : 9.47 grams
- Fat: 14.6 grams
- Carbohydrates: 2.6 grams : 1.2 grams
- Sugar: 0.45 grams
Hemp seeds are also good source of:
Hemp seeds also contain high levels of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids.
Studies have shown that the ideal ratio for the fatty acids in hemp seeds is 3 to 1. At this ratio, these fatty acids help to support healthy cholesterol levels, immune system function, and may help regulate your metabolism.
Potential Health Benefits of Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds are an excellent source of plant-based protein. They contain all nine essential amino acids, and research suggests that hemp’s protein content is well-absorbed by our bodies.
In addition to this protein load, hemp seeds history is tied to their potential health benefits. Many modern studies have backed up several of these claims.
Hemp seeds’ health benefits include:
Hemp seeds are a great source of magnesium, which helps regulate your heartbeat and is linked to the prevention of coronary heart disease. They also contain Linoleic acid, which one study found reduced participants’ cholesterol levels by 15% and may act to reduce blood pressure.
One of the omega-6 fatty acids in hemp seeds is gamma-linolenic acid (GLA,) which may have anti-inflammatory effects similar to drugs like ibuprofen. One study found a 75% reduction in arthritis-associated pain in participants after nine months of GLA supplementation.
Hemp oil can be used in cooking to add nutritional benefits to your meal, and it can also be applied topically to the skin. Studies have found that hemp seed oil can relieve the symptoms of eczema and improve dry or itchy skin.
Research is ongoing, but hemp seed oil’s antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects may also help to treat acne.
The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in hemp seeds is the optimal level for nutritional benefit. This balance supports both heart and cognitive health and is often lacking in most diets..
Hemp seeds also contain plant compounds called terpenes. While research is ongoing, studies suggest that terpenes may help protect the brain and prevent tumor growth.
Potential Risks of Hemp Seeds
While the fat content in hemp seeds comes primarily from its healthy essential fatty acids, eat them in moderation to meet your recommended daily consumption of fat. High fat intake can also cause nausea or diarrhea.
Other things to consider before adding hemp seeds to your diet include:
Hemp seeds may interact with certain medications including anticoagulants.
Studies have shown that hemp seeds reduce blood clotting, which can interact with blood-thinner prescriptions.
There is not enough clinical research to show that hemp is safe either orally or topically for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, so it is not recommended.
Hemp seed shells can contain trace amounts of THC, the active psychoactive compound in marijuana. People with a previous dependence on cannabis may consider looking for an alternative.
The fiber content in hemp seeds can cause digestive discomfort like bloating, nausea, or constipation in large amounts. Make sure to drink plenty of water when eating hemp seeds to help avoid gut problems.
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Biochemical Education: “The action of vitamin K and coumarin anticoagulants.”
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: “Evaluating the Quality of Protein From Hemp Seed (Cannabis sativa L.) Products Through the Use of the Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score Method.”
Journal of Dermatological Treatment: “Efficacy of dietary hempseed oil in patients with atopic dermatitis.”
Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostatis: “Dietary hempseed reduces platelet aggregation.”
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Plant Science: “Terpenes in Cannabis sativa – From plant genome to humans.”
PLOS One: “The ameliorative effect of hemp seed hexane extracts on the Propionibacterium acnes-induced inflammation and lipogenesis in sebocytes.”>
The British Medical Journal (BMJ): “The importance of a balanced ω-6 to ω-3 ratio in the prevention and management of obesity.”
The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behaviour Letter: “FDA on CBD in pregnancy and breastfeeding”