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What’s the difference between Cannabis and Hemp-derived​ CBD?

Cannabis leaf. Copyright Sally O'Neil Photography.

CBD has been getting ALL the media attention recently, and with good reason (CBD has been used for centuries to successfully provide pain relief and to aid skin conditions), but in my plentiful research around CBD one thing is for SURE - not all CBD is created equal.

CBD can be extracted from two different Cannabis sativa plants that part of the same family. Hemp and Cannabis. So what's the difference and how does it affect the CBD we consume?


Hemp plants are low-resin pants, meaning they do not produce the sticky substance usually present in the cannabis that is often smoked. The hemp plant contains CBD but naturally very low amounts of THC (less than 0.3%).

Industrial hemp is grown to make fibre, paper, clothes and food. From an environmental standpoint, hemp typically produces less CBD during the extraction process than its cannabis counterpart, meaning more plants are required to produce CBD products.

NB: Hemp-derived CBD and Hemp Oil are NOT the same thing. That's a whole other blog post.

READ MORE: Your Questions About CBD Answered.


A sticky resin is formed in the buds and flowers of the female cannabis plant which contains both THC (recap: the stuff that gets you high) and potent CBD. This means that the plant has a wider range of intoxicating and medicinal uses.

Cannabis is more CBD-rich than it's hemp counterpart, which means legalising cannabis for CBD extraction would be easier on the ecosystem and produce less waste. Shoutout to Canada and some states of America for legalising it!

Is there a therapeutic difference?

On a molecular level CBD is CBD, regardless of source. Most CBD oils on the market are labelled 'full-spectrum extracts'. This means they contain CBD along with a range of other cannabinoids and terpenes found in the Cannabis Sativa plant. You won’t get high off of CBD products from either source as neither should contain more than 0.3% of THC.

It's the other things that come with your CBD oil that make hemp-based CBD oil quite different from one that’s cannabis-based. Hemp are 'bio-accumulator' plants that effectively draw toxins out of the soil (they were used to decontaminate Chernobyl-affected land!). This means that hemp-derived CBD products may contain a higher amount of naturally-occurring toxins. Knowing the growing conditions, quality of the soil, overall environment, and extraction methods is imperative to ensure you're not ingesting additional crap.

The hemp plant itself is not used for its medicinal benefits, whereas the cannabis plant has been used for centuries in that way. Armed with that knowledge, I know which CBD products I will be investing in for general wellbeing.


Is any of it legal?

The 2019 Farm Bill in the US made it legal to sell and consume industrial hemp-derived CBD products grown in the US and overseas. However, this does NOT cover CBD derived from the cannabis plant grown for consumption - even if the THC is removed. CBD derived from high-THC plants is a very grey area, even in the states where the substance itself is legal.

CONFUSED? Same. It's a mind-field in Australia right now.

Want more? Here's my recommended canna-reading list:

Cannabis for Chronic Pain: A Proven Prescription for Using Marijuana to Relieve Your Pain and Heal Your Life
CBD: A Patient's Guide to Medicinal Cannabis--Healing without the High
Cannabis And Cbd For Health And Wellness
Sally O'Neil - Editor in Chief

Sal is on a mission to prove that healthy and nutritious doesn’t have to be boring – and that even while staying in shape you can have your cake and eat it too. After losing 14kg from adopting a healthier lifestyle, she shares her journey with others on The Fit Foodie Blog. She also works as a commercial food photographer and stylist, is studying a Bachelor of Health Science in Nutrition and Dietetics, and is the author of two cookbooks: Love Move Eat (Bauer Media, 2017) and Meal Prep Plan (Murdoch, 2019).


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