Hemp, marijuana and CBD are all related, but they differ in significant ways. Here’s what you need to know about their legality, effects and potential health benefits.
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“Pure” CBD, also called “CBD isolate,” is called that because all other cannabinoids have been removed. So have terpenes and flavonoids, which give marijuana its strong aroma and earthy flavor.
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There is no standardized dosage of CBD. Some retailers may have enough knowledge to make a recommendation for first-timers. There are also online resources – like this dosage calculator.
“The entourage effect is essentially the synergy, in terms of outcome, that has been observed when cannabinoids are combined with other minor cannabinoids and terpenes,” Riggle said. “The combined effect is more pronounced in combination than in isolation, helping to prolong or enhance the overall effects.”
For those who have the freedom to choose the plant source of their CBD, the experts tend to highlight the benefits of choosing whole-plant products when possible, whether that whole plant is hemp or marijuana.
The law is one significant consideration that influences consumer choice between hemp- or marijuana-based CBD goods. Following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, industrial hemp was removed from the government’s list of controlled substances.
The entourage effect
“Full-spectrum [CBD oil] is the extraction of all of the components — cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, etc. — of the hemp plant including low levels of THC,” explained Dr. Chanda Macias, CEO of Women Grow, an organization connecting female professionals in the cannabis industry; and CEO of National Holistic, a healing center based in Washington, D.C.
“Full-spectrum hemp can provide an entourage effect. The medicinal benefits of a hemp-derived entourage effect will depend on the medical condition, stage of the condition, patient physiology, and the dose response,” she explained. “I do believe, however, that CBD-rich marijuana extracts offer greater therapeutic value than full-spectrum hemp CBD, as it pertains to specific medical conditions.”
The cannabis species is generally broken down into three main types: cannabis sativa, cannabis indica, and hemp. The cannabis sativa plant contains THC and a wide variety of cannabinoids and terpenes and is typically a taller, thinner plant. The cannabis indica plant is also full of cannabinoids and terpenes but is typically a shorter, bushier plant.
“At this point, what we know about cannabinoid therapy is that it is highly individualistic and depends to a significant extent on the symptoms being treated,” Riggle said. “The clinical data is not there yet to provide a one-size-fits-all answer to this question.”
The tricky part is that there's some evidence suggesting CBD works best for pain when combined with a little THC, says Dr. Danesh. "Depending on what type of pain you have, you might be able to do just CBD, but sometimes you need CBD and THC." This makes accessing a product that will actually help you more difficult due to different regulations in each state. In New York, where Dr. Danesh practices, for example, CBD is available over the counter. But as soon as you add THC, you need a prescription.
It's also crucial to buy third-party-tested CBD for quality assurance (more on this later). Because the FDA doesn't regulate CBD, it is possible to buy a product that is more or less potent than advertised, or even contains small amounts of THC.
I’ve heard of edibles, tinctures, vape pens. What’s the best way to take CBD?
When people talk about hemp oil, they're referring to oil extracted from the seeds of the hemp plant. There are no cannabinoids—CBD or THC—in hemp oil. This ingredient is packed with healthy fats and often appears in beauty products for its moisturizing benefits.
As with any supplement, you want to know everything you're ingesting in addition to the main event. For example, "sometimes I notice that [CBD manufacturers] will add melatonin," says Dr. Chin.
Nearly every expert Health spoke to agreed that your CBD products should be tested by a third party to confirm the label's accuracy. This is a real concern in the industry—take the 2017 Journal of the American Medical Association study, for example, which tested 84 CBD products and found that 26% contained lower doses than stated on the bottle. Look for a quality assurance stamp or certificate of analysis from a third party (aka not the actual brand) or check the retailer's website if you don't see it on the product's label.