Decoding Cannabinoids: Exploring the Differences Between Hemp and Cannabis

Published on: 
Cannabis Science and Technology, May/June 2024, Volume 7, Issue 3
Pages: 12-13

Columns | <b>Extraction Science</b>

This article will cover what the differences are between hemp and cannabis, the products that are on the market today, and why it is important to know where your product is coming from.

At one point in time, it was easy to make the statement that CBD comes from hemp and THC comes from cannabis. However, these parallel industries have been developing rapidly and the dividing lines have blurred. Products like “hemp-derived” THC gummies or high-CBN tinctures can be found in both hemp and cannabis marketplaces. This article will cover what the differences are between hemp and cannabis, the products that are on the market today, and why it is important to know where your product is coming from.

In the realm of cannabis science, understanding the distinctions between cannabinoids derived from hemp and those from cannabis is crucial. While both plants belong to the Cannabis sativa species, they exhibit significant differences in their chemical compositions and legal classifications. Moreover, the availability of hemp-derived tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) products online adds another layer of complexity to the conversation. Let’s delve into the nuances of these cannabinoids and unravel why hemp-derived THC products have become increasingly accessible.

Cannabinoids are a class of chemical compounds found in cannabis plants, including both hemp and cannabis. These compounds interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, influencing various physiological processes, such as mood, memory, appetite, and pain sensation. Among the hundreds of cannabinoids identified, THC and cannabidiol (CBD) are the most well-known and studied.

Hemp vs. Cannabis: Understanding the Contrast

Hemp and cannabis share the same genus and species, but they differ significantly in their cannabinoid profiles and uses. Historically, hemp has been cultivated primarily for industrial purposes, such as textiles, paper, food, and wellness products. It contains high levels of CBD and low levels of THC, typically below 0.3% THC content by dry weight, as mandated by law in many jurisdictions.

On the other hand, cannabis, commonly referred to as marijuana, contains higher levels of THC. THC is the cannabinoid responsible for the “high” associated with cannabis consumption, along with varying levels of CBD and other “minor” cannabinoids. Cannabis strains can have THC concentrations ranging from a few percent to over 20%, depending on the cultivar.


Hemp-Derived THC Products: Legal and Regulatory Framework

The legality of THC products, whether derived from hemp or cannabis, hinges on the concentration of THC and the specific regulations governing their production and distribution. In many jurisdictions, hemp-derived products with less than 0.3% THC are considered legal, while cannabis-derived products may be subject to stricter regulations or outright prohibition.

The emergence of hemp-derived THC products online can be attributed to the Farm Bill of 2018 in the United States, which legalized the cultivation and commercialization of hemp and hemp-derived products with low THC content. This legislation opened doors for the production of a wide range of hemp-derived CBD and THC products, including oils, tinctures, edibles,
and topicals.

However, it’s essential to note that regulations surrounding hemp-derived THC products vary globally. These hemp-derived products that contain Delta-9 or Delta-8 THC are produced through chemical synthesis, which converts CBD into THC. While they are hemp-derived, the hemp market is far less regulated and quality controlled than the regulated cannabis markets. This could result in less safe hemp-derived THC products available to the market, but more profitable for hemp-derived THC businesses as there are tax benefits and fewer regulatory boundaries. The accessibility of these intoxicating hemp products is concerning to regulatory agencies and the regulated cannabis industry.

Cannabinoids Derived from Hemp

While hemp is renowned for its high CBD content and has expanded offerings to include hemp-derived THC products, it also contains a plethora of other cannabinoids with potential therapeutic benefits. Some of the cannabinoids that can be derived from hemp include:

  1. Cannabidiol (CBD): CBD is the most abundant cannabinoid in hemp and is known for its potential therapeutic properties, including anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anxiolytic, and neuroprotective effects. It has gained popularity for its purported role in alleviating various health conditions, such as anxiety, chronic pain, epilepsy,
    and insomnia.
  2. Cannabigerol (CBG): CBG is considered a precursor to other cannabinoids, including THC and CBD. Although present in low concentrations in most cannabis strains, hemp cultivars bred for high CBG content are now available. Preliminary research suggests that CBG may have potential anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and appetite-stimulating effects.
  3. Cannabinol (CBN): CBN is a degradation product of THC, formed as THC oxidizes over time. While typically found in trace amounts in fresh cannabis, aged or heated cannabis products may contain higher levels of CBN. Some studies suggest that CBN may have sedative effects and could potentially aid in sleep disorders.
  4. Cannabichromene (CBC): CBC is another non-intoxicating cannabinoid found in hemp and cannabis. Research indicates that CBC may exhibit anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, and analgesic properties. It also shows potential in promoting neurogenesis, the formation of new neurons in the brain.
  5. Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid (THCA): THCA is the precursor to THC and is found in raw, unheated cannabis plants. When exposed to heat through decarboxylation, THCA converts to THC, the psychoactive compound responsible for the euphoric effects of cannabis.

In addition to these cannabinoids, hemp also contains trace amounts of other minor cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and phytonutrients, which collectively contribute to the entourage effect—the synergistic interaction of various cannabis compounds that may enhance therapeutic outcomes.

Minor cannabinoids are produced on the hemp market as isolates and supplied by a number of reputable manufacturers. Quality assurance and supplier vetting is an important step in formulating hemp-derived products. Access to a supply of minor cannabinoid isolates has facilitated a burst of product innovation on the hemp market. The market has become hyper-competitive and an opportunity for consumers to gain access to a wide variety of product types and cannabinoid ratios.


Understanding the differences between cannabinoids derived from hemp and cannabis is paramount for consumers, healthcare professionals, and policymakers alike. While hemp-derived THC products offer a legal alternative for those seeking the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids, it’s essential to navigate this rapidly evolving landscape with caution and awareness of regulatory frameworks.

As research into cannabinoids continues to expand, we can anticipate further insights into their mechanisms of action, therapeutic potential, and optimal applications. In the meantime, exploring the diverse array of cannabinoids derived from hemp underscores the multifaceted nature of cannabis science and its profound implications for health and wellness.

About the Columnist

Lo Friesen is the founder, CEO, and Chief Extractor of Heylo. With a background in chemistry and clinical research, Lo was inspired to explore cannabis as a medicine and to enter the emerging industry. She joined Eden Labs, a leading CO2 extraction equipment manufacturer to support and expand a Research and Development department. There she managed the development of their latest and greatest CO2 extraction system. In 2017, after working with Eden Labs and another cannabis processor, Lo launched Heylo with a mission to help people get more out of life with cannabis.

How To Cite this Article

Friesen, L., Decoding Cannabinoids: Exploring the Differences Between Hemp and Cannabis, Cannabis Science and Technology20247(3), 12-13.